Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

A Clear-Eyed Assessment of ISIS

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is certainly a growing menace–in fact the most immediate threat that we face in the Middle East. And a formidable threat it is, having taken control of an area the size of the United Kingdom in Syria and Iraq. Its fighters are estimated to number as many as 17,000, and, after having looted Iraqi stockpiles, they are well equipped both with weapons (many of them Made in America) and money. ISIS has just demonstrated its growing reach by seizing the Tabqa air base from Bashar Assad’s regime, thus giving it effective control of Raqqa province in Syria where its de facto capital is located. But let’s not exaggerate the power that they possess.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is certainly a growing menace–in fact the most immediate threat that we face in the Middle East. And a formidable threat it is, having taken control of an area the size of the United Kingdom in Syria and Iraq. Its fighters are estimated to number as many as 17,000, and, after having looted Iraqi stockpiles, they are well equipped both with weapons (many of them Made in America) and money. ISIS has just demonstrated its growing reach by seizing the Tabqa air base from Bashar Assad’s regime, thus giving it effective control of Raqqa province in Syria where its de facto capital is located. But let’s not exaggerate the power that they possess.

The Guardian quotes one “regional diplomat” (whoever that may be) as saying:

The Islamic State is now the most capable military power in the Middle East outside Israel. They can determine outcomes in a few days that the Syrian rebels took two years to influence. Their capacity is in sharp contrast to the Syrian regime, which is only able to fight one battle at a time and has to fight hard for every success.

In the first two months of its life, the so-called Caliphate has achieved unparalleled success. It is in the process of creating foundations for substantial financial, military and political growth. It is the best equipped and most capable terror group in the world. It is unlike anything we have ever seen.

It’s true that ISIS has become the most capable terror group in the world–and far from the “junior varsity” that President Obama labeled it. But let’s put that achievement into perspective. As I argued in my book, Invisible Armies, terrorist groups are generally less capable than guerrilla forces, which are generally less capable than conventional armies. (Possessing weapons of mass destruction can upend that hierarchy but ISIS thankfully doesn’t have any WMD–yet.) Pretty much all terrorist groups aspire to become guerrilla armies, which in turn aspire to become conventional armies. In other words, calling a group the most powerful terrorist force in the world is akin to saying that a baseball team is the best in the minor leagues–it’s not the same thing as suggesting that it can beat the New York Yankees.

True, ISIS has been trying to progress from being merely a terrorist group to being a guerrilla and even a conventional army that is capable of seizing and holding terrain. It is also trying to develop a rudimentary administrative capacity to administer all the territory it has seized. And it has been making some dismaying leaps in capability, but it also displays considerable weakness.

Look, for example, how easily it was driven away from Mosul Dam by Kurdish and Iraqi soldiers with the help of U.S. airpower. As I have previously argued, the beheading of James Foley was another act of desperation designed to show that the group is still relevant. So too of news that it has just executed its own intelligence chief in Aleppo on suspicion of being a British spy–whether the charge was true or not, it is a sign of ISIS’s weakness and the extent it is feeling the strain of even the very limited counteroffensive it has encountered in northern Iraq.

To speak of ISIS in the same breath as the IDF–one of the most professional and capable military forces in the world, with 176,000 active-duty personnel, nearly 4,000 tanks and 10,000 armed fighting vehicles, almost 700 aircraft, 110 navy ships, and, lest we forget, nuclear weapons–is laughable. As a fighting force ISIS doesn’t even stack up very well with the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Iran, or Saudi Arabia (although the latter is the weakest of the bunch): any one of those could crush ISIS if it were fighting on its home soil. The reason ISIS has looked so formidable is that it is operating in the territory of two states, Syria and Iraq, which have seen a calamitous breakdown in central government authority. Its gains to date are more a reflection of the weakness of Bashar Assad and Nouri al Maliki than of its intrinsic strength.

While ISIS is a clear and present danger to the U.S. and its allies, let’s not make these black-clad jihadist fanatics out to be ten-foot-tall supermen. ISIS’s predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq, was soundly thrashed in Iraq in 2007-2008 and it could be again if the U.S. got serious about destroying it.

So far, alas, there is no such sign of seriousness coming from the White House, which continues to dither as ISIS gains new ground. The longer we wait to deal with ISIS, the more formidable it will get and the harder to dismantle.

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Why Back a Group Committed to Murder?

In the wake of the horrifying filmed murder of journalist James Foley, the international community seems to be united behind efforts, however disjointed and perhaps insufficient, to stop ISIS. Yet at the same time, many of the same voices as well as much of the Western diplomatic corps seems intent on saving another terror group in Hamas which revolves as much around murder as does ISIS.

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In the wake of the horrifying filmed murder of journalist James Foley, the international community seems to be united behind efforts, however disjointed and perhaps insufficient, to stop ISIS. Yet at the same time, many of the same voices as well as much of the Western diplomatic corps seems intent on saving another terror group in Hamas which revolves as much around murder as does ISIS.

It must be conceded that a lot of the protests and the diplomatic efforts aimed at propping up Hamas are generated by sympathy for the people of Gaza. The residents of the strip ruled by the Islamist group have suffered terribly as a result of the war that Hamas launched this summer and still refuses to end as they reject and violate each cease-fire deal offered them.

But the agitation to “Free Gaza” being heard on the streets of Western cities and in the media isn’t focused on freeing Gaza from Hamas but in support of the group’s demands that the international blockade of the strip ends. While that might make it a little easier for humanitarian assistance to reach the Palestinians (though it is often forgotten that Israel has sent convoys with such aid across the border and evacuated the wounded from Gaza every day during the conflict), everyone knows the main impact of easing the restrictions on the strip would be to help Hamas replenish its arsenal and to rebuild its command centers, bunkers, and terror tunnels.

Thus, the American initiative to re-start the stalled cease-fire talks in Gaza by involving Hamas allies Turkey and Qatar can have only one possible outcome: a new deal that would allow the terror group to exact concessions from Israel and Egypt. Those pressuring Israel to cease defending its people against the incessant rocket fire on its cities from Gaza aren’t so much helping the Palestinian people as they are empowering Hamas to go on shooting and killing.

This is a key point for those expressing anger at Israeli counter-attacks on Hamas should remember. Hamas’s goal isn’t to force Israel to leave the West Bank or to negotiate a peace deal offering the Palestinians an independent state. Israel has already offered the Palestinians such deals a number of times only to have the more moderate Fatah and the Palestinian Authority turn them down.

Rather, as recent events have made clear, Hamas’s only strategy now is to kill as many Jews as possible.

What else can explain rocket and mortar fire aimed at Israeli civilians every day? The death of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman—killed by a mortar hit on his parents’ car on Friday—and the hundreds of missiles that have continued to rain down on Israel this past week are sending a message to the world, if only it will listen.

This weekend, Hamas’s so-called political leader, Khaled Meshaal, informed the world from his Qatar hideout that members of his group were, in fact, responsible for the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers that set in motion hostilities this summer. This lust for murder was underlined by the group’s decision to follow up on the kidnapping by launching a war of attrition that has sent thousands of rockets down on Israel as well as the attacks launched from their terror tunnels.

These actions were not related to or motivated by specific Israeli policies or settlements but by a desire to fulfill Hamas’s genocidal covenant that calls for the destruction of Israel and the massacre and/or eviction of its Jewish population. Those are cold hard facts that those seeking to support “Free Gaza” on the streets and in the media should think about. Those facts should also lead the Obama administration and its European allies to think twice about concocting a diplomatic escape hatch for Hamas. Like ISIS, Hamas is all about terror and murder. As is generally recognized with ISIS, the only rational response to such a group is to eradicate them and to free Palestinians and Israelis from their reign of terror.

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Don’t Dismiss Perry’s Border Terror Charge

Rick Perry was in Washington yesterday speaking to the Heritage Foundation to a crowd swelled by the sympathy generated for him by the absurd charges on which an out-of-control Texas prosecutor indicted him. But not all of the attention generated related to that partisan farce. Perry also made a splash by attempting to link the crisis at the Texas border to concerns over terrorism. For that he has been widely lambasted by the liberal media. Is the scorn merited?

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Rick Perry was in Washington yesterday speaking to the Heritage Foundation to a crowd swelled by the sympathy generated for him by the absurd charges on which an out-of-control Texas prosecutor indicted him. But not all of the attention generated related to that partisan farce. Perry also made a splash by attempting to link the crisis at the Texas border to concerns over terrorism. For that he has been widely lambasted by the liberal media. Is the scorn merited?

It must be conceded that Perry’s attempt to conflate the border issue with the heightened interest about terrorism in the wake of the rise of ISIS in Iraq sounds suspiciously like a speech constructed by a marketing focus group. With the murder of journalist James Foley leading the news everywhere this week, the willingness of Perry to chime in about the threat by tying it to an issue on which he does have some standing to speak struck many as superficial. More than that, they mocked his warnings about terrorists crossing our southern border as divorced from reality and merely an attempt to scare potential Republican primary voters with the sort of red meat they love.

To take just one example, a blogger at the left-wing ThinkProgress site cited State Department and Pentagon statements to the effect that there was no evidence that either al-Qaeda or Hezbollah were operating in the Western Hemisphere. If that is true, then Perry is displaying the kind of foolishness that earned him such scorn during his disastrous presidential debates in 2012 or just blowing smoke in order to deceive the public.

But instead of dismissing the Perry reboot as another example of his dimwittedness, media critics would do well to look into the subject a little more closely. As it happens, despite Obama administration attempts to downplay the issue, the question of Islamist terror in the Western hemisphere is not a figment of Perry’s imagination or a red herring designed to inflame passions about border security. Terror groups such as Hezbollah that are backed by Iran have already been operating in Central and South America. As CNN reported in June of last year, there was plenty of evidence of terror activity as Iran and Hezbollah mined these regions for both funding and recruits.

As is the case of the Taliban, terror groups are heavily involved in the illegal drug trade. But the trail in the Southern Hemisphere doesn’t begin or end with connections to the trafficking of cocaine. As a report from the American Enterprise Institute from last year shows, Hezbollah does not operate as a “lone wolf” on this side of the Atlantic. Nor are its activities limited to Iran’s ally Venezuela, as there is reason to believe it is operating throughout the continent. As to the specific claim that there is no evidence of Hezbollah activity in Mexico, here’s what the AEI report said:

In recent years, Mexico has arrested numerous individuals associated with Hezbollah engaging in criminal activities – including smuggling of persons across the U.S. southwest border. For example, in September 2012, a Lebanese-born U.S. citizen, convicted in 2010 for a credit card scheme that raised $100,000 for Hezbollah, was arrested in Merida by Mexican authorities. Rafic Mohammad Labboun Allaboun, an imam from a mosque in San Jose, California, was traveling with a falsified passport issued by Belize. He was extradited to the United States.

If that is so, then what is to stop Hezbollah or any allied or rival Islamist group from using Central American connections to begin exporting its activities to the United States? Surely not the porous border with Mexico that has been flooded by tens of thousands of children attempting to enter the country illegally. Nor, given the high success rate of poorly organized coyotes, is there reason to believe the current security arrangements would stop a terror group from infiltrating the U.S., especially now that ISIS is on the rise and seeking to inflict greater pain on an American enemy that is bombing its positions in Iraq.

Instead of laughing off Perry’s rhetoric or pretending that Islamists have no interest in attacking the U.S. via its exposed southern border, Americans ought to be echoing the governor’s concerns. For the last few years, both liberals and libertarians on the right have been claiming that the threat from Islamist terror has been hyped out of proportion and vastly exaggerated. But the events unfolding in Iraq show that terrorism not only survived the death of Osama bin Laden but also may have metastasized on President Obama’s watch. A September 10th mentality may still be fashionable in some quarters of both major political parties but it does not constitute a viable approach for either foreign or security policy in 2016.

We don’t know whether Rick Perry will turn out to be a credible presidential candidate in 2016. But those who are laughing at his border terror speech are the ignoramuses in this particular debate, not the governor.

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A War of Attrition Hamas Won’t Win

Hamas terrorists scored one of their few “victories” in their war with Israel today when a mortar fired from Gaza struck a car across the border in Israel killing a four-year-old child. But while this may encourage the Islamists to believe they can win a long-running battle of attrition and force the Jewish state and/or Egypt to make concessions that will enable Hamas to hold onto Gaza as well as to rearm, the leaders of the terrorist movement are making a big mistake.

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Hamas terrorists scored one of their few “victories” in their war with Israel today when a mortar fired from Gaza struck a car across the border in Israel killing a four-year-old child. But while this may encourage the Islamists to believe they can win a long-running battle of attrition and force the Jewish state and/or Egypt to make concessions that will enable Hamas to hold onto Gaza as well as to rearm, the leaders of the terrorist movement are making a big mistake.

Palestinians will celebrate the death of the four-year-old as an act of revenge for all those who were killed in Gaza this summer as part of the war launched by Hamas. But while the foreign press that has either been intimidated by Hamas or willingly touts their point of view will try to place this event in a context in which many Palestinian children have died, the fact remains that Israel is shooting at terrorists who hide among civilians. Hamas aims its weapons specifically at civilians. Though almost all of its rockets aimed at Israeli citizens have been shot down or fell helpless in open areas, the Iron Dome missile defense system can’t stop mortar fire shot directly over the border and occasionally one hits its target.

Israelis know that if most of Hamas’s rockets were as successful as their one mortar shell today, perhaps the world would regard their plight with more sympathy. But in the absence of scores or hundreds of dead Jews, one child’s murder along with the terrorization of huge portions of their country isn’t likely to generate empathy for them.

Yet neither grief over today’s atrocity or a sense of isolation as the world treats the ongoing war on the Jewish state as an excuse for a surge in anti-Semitism will give Hamas the advantage it thinks it can win by refusing to halt the hostilities.

Hamas’s strategy in the cease-fire talks is clear. It knows that Israel’s government is not interested in paying the high price in casualties and international criticism that will result from another Gaza ground offensive whose object would be the elimination of the Islamist hold on the strip. But it knows that in order to justify its decision to go to war against Israel this summer to ordinary Palestinians it must produce some kind of concessions from the Jewish state. Their objective remains the loosening or the removal of the blockade of Gaza that has been enforced since the terrorist group seized the strip in a 2007 coup.

By continuing to make Israel bleed over the course of the coming days, weeks, or months without bringing down upon themselves the anger of the world, Hamas believes it can weaken the resolve of the Israelis and perhaps even generate some pressure on Egypt’s government as well. This belief is rooted in a common misperception about the Israelis that is often voiced throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. While they are forced to acknowledge Israel’s military, technological, and economic superiority over its enemies, they believe the Jews have a weak point that can be ruthlessly exploited.

Unlike Hamas, which cold-heartedly and deliberately puts Palestinian civilians in harm’s way in order to protect its fighters and arsenal, Israel prioritizes the protection of its population. Moreover, it goes to great lengths to redeem hostages, even paying for the remains of dead Israelis with live terrorist prisoners. That leads the Islamists to believe that no Israeli government can go on watching as its citizens are picked off and forced to run for shelter even when the Iron Dome is knocking down Hamas’s rockets. Thus, they think that if they can only hold on while they keep shooting, sooner or later the Israelis will buckle and grant them the victory they truly crave.

Hamas knows that any loosening of the blockade won’t do much for Palestinian civilians, but it will allow them to replenish their supply of rockets and other arms as well as to acquire the materials to start digging more tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks on Israeli civilians. Moreover, Hamas also knows that the talk about putting the Palestinian Authority in charge of border crossings in order to prevent the flow of arms is a joke. The PA is both weak and corrupt and its forces haven’t a prayer if forced to line up against Hamas cadres even if they were willing to take them on, which they almost certainly have no intention of doing.

The belief in the utility of a war of attrition against Israel is widely accepted by both the Jewish state’s enemies and many of its friends who think the status quo, whether in the West Bank or along the border with Gaza, is unsustainable. But they are wrong. The assumption that Israel can’t hold on in the face of this terrible threat with a clear end to it in sight is unfounded.

From the first day of its existence, Israel has always been faced with confrontations and dilemmas that seemed to be unsustainable. And yet they have been sustained while Israel not only survived but also thrived. The Arabs have always believed that in a long-term conflict the Jews would tire of having to defend their country against a siege aimed at their destruction. But after 66-plus years, it’s time for them to admit they were wrong.

As unpleasant as the standoff in the West Bank may be and as bloody as the border with Gaza has become, the overwhelming majority of Israelis know they have no alternative but to keep fighting and refusing to die. The fact that there is no “solution” in sight for the conflict, whether of the two-state kind or any other variety, is disheartening. But it hasn’t weakened the resolve of the Israeli people to carry on with their lives. Moreover, the experiences of the post-Oslo era have convinced most that any further concessions, such as the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 that created the Hamasistan that continues to shoot at Israeli cities, are a mistake that should not be repeated.

Hard as it may be for some to understand, the Middle East conflict really is as simple as this: the Jews have returned to their land, never to be separated from it again. And not all the mortars and rockets fired from Hamas will change that fact. If anyone appears tired, it is Hamas, which is rapidly running out of options and reduced to mass executions outside of Gaza mosques in order to maintain their rule. Those expecting Israel to lose this battle of attrition are backing the wrong horse.

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Does Britain Feel No Shame at the Killing of James Foley?

As more facts emerge about the horrible murder of U.S. journalist James Foley, it looks increasingly likely that his killers were three British jihadists. With Britain’s longstanding export-jihad now making some serious headlines you might have thought that the national debate in Britain would by now have become a storm of outrage and shame. But you wold be wrong.

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As more facts emerge about the horrible murder of U.S. journalist James Foley, it looks increasingly likely that his killers were three British jihadists. With Britain’s longstanding export-jihad now making some serious headlines you might have thought that the national debate in Britain would by now have become a storm of outrage and shame. But you wold be wrong.

Observers have warned that the British fighters for the Islamic State are among the most vicious and brutal, and yet there is no sense of shame or culpability gnawing away at the British soul, despite the havoc and terror that British jihadists are causing in Iraq and Syria. The news reporting is procedural, the politicians sound tired, apathy permeates the conversation every time the subject is raised. The only time that any flicker of alarm or interest can be detected is when it is pointed out that these people, hardened by battle and radical Islam, might return to Britain to continue their fight from the streets of British cities.

Even then, those in power plead powerlessness, running through a list of excuses as to why it won’t be so easy to prevent the jihadists from coming home to roost. Yet given that these individuals have joined an enemy fighting force, it is not at all clear why Western countries won’t simply strip these individuals of their citizenship in absentia. After all, with the shootings at the Jewish school in Toulouse and the Jewish museum in Brussels, we have already seen just how dangerous European Islamists returning from jihad can be.

There was of course serious public outrage in 2013 when two British Muslims murdered the soldier Lee Rigby on a south London sidewalk one quiet afternoon in May. Even then, however, the national debate was rapidly reoriented from discussing the culture and community that the killers had emerged from to instead initiating a wave of handwringing and finger pointing about whether the backlash to the murder had been Islamophobic.

Not only did the British public stand accused of having reacted with hatred to Rigby’s murder, but for many left-wing commentators, they also stood accused of having caused the murder through their Islamophobia. And once again, inasmuch as anyone is undertaking any soul searching at all over what British born Muslims are perpetrating in Iraq and Syria, there are those who are attempting to suggest British society has driven these young men to jihadism by alienating and discriminating against them.

So far this accusation has not stuck. But Britain must recognize that it does indeed bear culpability for the fact that British bred jihadists have murdered an American journalist in Iraq. Britain has alienated its young Muslims, but not through bigotry and Isamophobia. For decades Muslim immigrants experienced no more hostility than the many others who made their way to Britain from the former colonies.

The reality is that ever since the early 1990s, British authorities embraced an ethos of multiculturalism that told immigrant groups that they should not integrate into the British way of life. The message was either that there was no such thing as British culture, just a conglomeration of other cultures, or that British culture was backward and not of any value. From schools, to local government, to social workers, the message was parroted that immigrant groups should embrace and reinforce their own cultures.

The fruits of this flawed policy of wilful alienation was the milieu from which Britain’s jihad export industry would eventually emerge. Britain must take responsibility for this, and for the fact that for years it has been the most conservative and hardline Muslim groups that the British government has empowered with the mantle of communal leadership, often misguidedly embracing these people as the chief representatives of the entire Islamic population in Britain. Indeed, even today politicians praise Muslim community leaders for allegedly working tirelessly to combat radicalization among their youth. And yet, with more British Muslims off on jihad than serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, one wonders just how much praise is really in order.

Following the news of the murder of James Foley a woman named Kadijah Dare took to the Internet to declare her intention to become the first female to behead a westerner in Syria. Ms. Dare hails from Lewisham in east London. Britain should feel a deep sense of shame that this is what it is exporting to the world. And along with shame it is about time that the British public expressed the kind of outrage that will force noticeable and substantial action against the subculture that is generating this horror.

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From Jayvee to Juggernaut: What Terrorists Learn from Obama’s Mistakes

The press has begun reminding the Obama administration that the president had earlier referred to terrorist groups like ISIS as petty wannabes: “a jayvee team.” Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described them as an unprecedented threat and more worrisome, from a national-security perspective, than al-Qaeda. How did such a ragtag band of impostors become, in less than a year, the most imposing group out there? The answer is easy: they never were a jayvee team. To understand where the Obama administration went wrong, it’s instructive to revisit Obama’s full answer to the New Yorker’s David Remnick for that January story.

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The press has begun reminding the Obama administration that the president had earlier referred to terrorist groups like ISIS as petty wannabes: “a jayvee team.” Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel described them as an unprecedented threat and more worrisome, from a national-security perspective, than al-Qaeda. How did such a ragtag band of impostors become, in less than a year, the most imposing group out there? The answer is easy: they never were a jayvee team. To understand where the Obama administration went wrong, it’s instructive to revisit Obama’s full answer to the New Yorker’s David Remnick for that January story.

After making the “jayvee” comment–which Remnick called “an uncharacteristically flip analogy”–Obama expanded on his thinking. He said: “I think there is a distinction between the capacity and reach of a bin Laden and a network that is actively planning major terrorist plots against the homeland versus jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

The major folly here was not, therefore, Obama underestimating one particular terrorist group or another. And it was not in the president’s naïve assumption that jihadists in particular hotspots don’t have global ambitions. Those are mistakes, surely. But the worst part was really in Obama’s complete lack of understanding in how individual terrorists operate.

Obama has always tried to draw lines between al-Qaeda and other groups because he wants to limit American action. But those lines were and are arbitrary. And because of that, Obama has tended to think of “new” terrorist groups as freshmen starting out at the bottom of the food chain. In fact, not only do they blur lines between groups and switch allegiances, but all terrorist groups benefit from the transnational architecture built over decades by Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, and other trailblazers.

A Washington Post story from earlier this month offered a good example of this:

U.S. spy agencies have begun to see groups of fighters abandoning al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Africa to join the rival Islamist organization that has seized territory in Iraq and Syria and been targeted in American airstrikes, U.S. officials said.

The movements are seen by U.S. ­counterterrorism analysts as a worrisome indication of the expanding appeal of a group known as the Islamic State that has overwhelmed military forces in the region and may now see itself in direct conflict with the United States.

“Small groups from a number of al-Qaeda affiliates have defected to ISIS,” as the group is also known, said a U.S. official with access to classified intelligence assessments. “And this problem will probably become more acute as ISIS continues to rack up victories.”

The influx has strengthened an organization already regarded as a menacing force in the Middle East, one that has toppled a series of Iraqi cities by launching assaults so quickly and in so many directions that security forces caught in the group’s path have so far been unable to respond with anything but retreat.

Nobody defects to the jayvee team. And it’s been fascinating to watch the Obama administration come to terms with that realization, and adjust its rhetoric accordingly. Every time the administration is confronted with the fact that the global war on terror was not a made-up construct in a fit of warmongering pique but a logical reaction to the fluid, metastasizing threat of global jihadist groups, it struggles to explain its own meaningless distinctions.

So our enemy was al-Qaeda, not terrorism or terrorists more broadly. That, of course, was completely and recklessly false. So now that we have a non-al-Qaeda threat, how does the administration justify its uncompromising fury toward just one group? Here’s Hagel:

“They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They’re tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything that we’ve seen,” Hagel said, adding that “the sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources now poses a whole new dynamic and a new paradigm of threats to this country.”

But that’s not really true either. They’re sophisticated, ideological, militarily advanced, and “tremendously well-funded.” But does Hagel think that doesn’t describe any terror groups that preceded them? Would he not have said that about al-Qaeda? Would he not say that has been true of Hezbollah for decades now? You could even argue it described the Taliban once upon a time.

The point is not to split hairs. The point is that the administration made a grave and dangerous error in its attitude toward al-Qaeda, claiming the fight could be limited to card-carrying and dues-paying members of that one club. Obama is simply repeating that mistake again with ISIS. Who will be the next jayvee team that turns into a juggernaut? Whoever it is, they will almost certainly take Obama by surprise.

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Like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Hamas Is Fair Game

Hamas supporters came out in their thousands today in Gaza for the funerals of three senior commanders of the terror group’s “military” wing. The trio, along with their chief, Mohammad Deif, whose fate is still unknown, was targeted by Israeli air strikes after days of renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities. While no one blinks an eye when the U.S. takes out leaders of al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadists throughout the Middle East, the deaths of these Hamas figures is being discussed as a provocation that may well lead to more fighting that could have been avoided. But the attempt to draw any meaningful distinctions between Hamas and al-Qaeda or ISIS murderers in Syria and Iraq is mistaken.

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Hamas supporters came out in their thousands today in Gaza for the funerals of three senior commanders of the terror group’s “military” wing. The trio, along with their chief, Mohammad Deif, whose fate is still unknown, was targeted by Israeli air strikes after days of renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities. While no one blinks an eye when the U.S. takes out leaders of al-Qaeda affiliates and other jihadists throughout the Middle East, the deaths of these Hamas figures is being discussed as a provocation that may well lead to more fighting that could have been avoided. But the attempt to draw any meaningful distinctions between Hamas and al-Qaeda or ISIS murderers in Syria and Iraq is mistaken.

The targeted killings of this latest group of Hamas murderers will, no doubt, set off the usual chorus of critiques of Israel from those who will claim that this action will somehow be the cause of more violence. As with acts of Israeli self-defense, we will be told that their deaths will sow the seeds of new generations of terrorists.

Throughout the history of Israel’s battles with Palestinian terror factions, Israel’s security services have been constantly lectured about the costs of their successes as well as their near misses.

Whenever attempts to take out known terrorists fail or result (as is often the case with similar attacks by the U.S. on al-Qaeda figures) in casualties among civilians or family members of the targets, Israel is lectured for its inability to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants. But when it does manage to take out Hamas members personally responsible for terror attacks, it is then told that doing so will anger the Palestinians so much that it will only cause them to double down on their war on the Jewish state.

But this is a circular argument. Palestinian terrorists have been waging war on the Jewish presence in the country for almost a century. Their determination to keep fighting has not been deterred by the Jewish acceptance of various partition plans to share the country or peace offers. Nor has it ever been primarily motivated by any particular Israeli counter-attack or defensive measure. Hamas will continue attacking Israel—as it has this week after the collapse of the latest ceasefire—not because they’re upset about what happened to Deif and his comrades but because their belief system will not allow them to make peace, no matter what the Israelis do. The next generations of terror are not motivated so much by specific tales of “martyrs”—be they terrorist killers or civilian casualties—as they are by the mission of avenging the real offense given by Israelis: their presence in their historic homeland that Hamas and other Palestinian factions believe should be cleansed of Jews.

It is precisely the implacable nature of the conflict with Hamas that makes the distinctions drawn between U.S. strikes on al-Qaeda and now ISIS so unfair and misleading.

While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other credulous liberals may believe the propaganda spewed by Hamas ally Qatar about it being a social welfare organization, the truth is that it is just as much a terror group as those more notorious groups that target Westerners and Americans. Though much of the Western media seems intent on sanitizing Hamas and ignoring its use of human shields, it needs no lessons in brutality from either al-Qaeda or ISIS, as the deaths of the Palestinians who have been killed for dissenting from their tyrannical rule of Gaza could attest.

As is the case with ISIS, there is no compromising with Hamas. Just as the Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Syria will not be bribed or cajoled into giving up their goal of imposing their religiously inspired nightmare vision on the world, neither will Hamas be satisfied with anything less than the eradication of Israel and the genocide of its Jewish population.

As with ISIS, there is no “political solution” to a conflict with Hamas, only a military one. So long as Hamas is allowed to remain in power in Gaza, there is no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Like Osama bin Laden and those who seek to kill Americans today, Hamas operatives are fair game for targeted assassinations. While the aim of Israeli Defense Force strikes on Hamas targets may not be any more perfect than those of their American counterparts elsewhere, they provide the only answer to an ideology that can’t be appeased.

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Victory Isn’t a Dirty Word

One of the points of discord between the Israeli military establishment (plus much of its political establishment) and the West is the concept of victory. President Obama has long been criticized for wanting to “end” wars instead of win them, painting a picture of a fatigued America on the run. Western Europe has not exactly been a model of resolve in the face of aggression either. But Israelis don’t have the luxury of retreat and can’t treat as quaint the notion of victory. Military victory, in fact, has been the necessary precursor to peace for Israel.

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One of the points of discord between the Israeli military establishment (plus much of its political establishment) and the West is the concept of victory. President Obama has long been criticized for wanting to “end” wars instead of win them, painting a picture of a fatigued America on the run. Western Europe has not exactly been a model of resolve in the face of aggression either. But Israelis don’t have the luxury of retreat and can’t treat as quaint the notion of victory. Military victory, in fact, has been the necessary precursor to peace for Israel.

And now again we see Israel’s enemy, this time Hamas, on the ropes. Yet the international community either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t care. To wit: yesterday Israel killed three top Hamas commanders, including two involved in the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. One of those terrorists, Mohammed Abu Shamaleh, was also the head of Hamas’s southern command. There were rumors, not confirmed but not debunked either, that Israel had also taken out Hamas military chief Muhammad Deif.

Hamas’s latest series of rocket barrages does not appear to have much of a strategy, and calls to mind Hamas’s visible desperation after Israel found and destroyed most of the terror tunnel network earlier in Operation Protective Edge. Furthermore, Walter Russell Mead points to a Wall Street Journal report on a planned donor conference led by Norway and hosted by Egypt to raise money for the postwar rebuilding of Gaza–a conference whose hosts don’t want Hamas in control of the cash:

“The people of Gaza are suffering, and emergency help is urgently needed,” said Borge Brende, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. “Basic infrastructure must be repaired, so that people get electricity, water and sewage.”

The Norwegian government said the damages in Gaza were still being assessed, but were more significant than after the 2008-2009 war. This is the third time in five years that donors have to support a reconstruction of Gaza, the government said.

“The donors want to send a clear signal that basic conditions in Gaza have to change. Gaza can’t be reconstructed as it was,” said Mr. Brende. “The international society can’t simply be expected to contribute to another reconstruction.”

Mr. Brende said the donors want President Mahmoud Abbas to receive the aid, with his Western-backed government of technocrats responsible for handling the reconstruction of Gaza.

That article is making two points: first, that Gazans will need basic infrastructure built after the war, and second–crucially–that Hamas is not the proper vehicle for that aid. It calls attention to something Israel and its supporters have been saying, and which the war has proved, time and again: giving money and goods to Hamas will not help the people of Gaza. It will, in fact, hurt them because it will enable their further deprivation at the hands of Hamas as well as turn them into human shields when Hamas uses the money and supplies to attack Israel.

This is something critics of Israel’s continued military campaign keep missing. Today, Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev tries to coax Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama into patching things up. After blaming Netanyahu for John Kerry’s absence from the ceasefire talks, Shalev writes:

But without America – even a weakened America headed by a reluctant president – there can be no long-lasting arrangement in Gaza: only America can guarantee Israel’s commitments, only America can give proper backing to the Palestinian Authority and only America can lead the kind of international effort that is needed in order to rebuild Gaza and hopefully bring about its disarmament as well. And with all due respect to the regional changes that Netanyahu mentioned in his press conference, only America is capable of facilitating the kind of diplomatic process that would lead to the “new political horizon” that Netanyahu alluded to on Wednesday, in a transparent effort to woo coalition partners on his left as well as Israel’s more centrist-minded public.

America the indispensable. Which it is. And yet, I can’t help but point out that there’s something missing here. Why was Kerry “ejected” (Shalev’s word) from the talks? It’s not because Kerry was trying to “lead the kind of international effort that is needed in order to rebuild Gaza and hopefully bring about its disarmament as well.” Kerry’s failure, in fact, was that he wasn’t doing so.

Kerry had been duped (to be generous) into presenting the kind of ceasefire that Israel’s enemies wanted and would have enabled Hamas to live to fight another day, perhaps even using those tunnels that were later destroyed. Kerry wasn’t on pace to bring about Gaza’s disarmament. What Shalev (correctly) wants out of a resolution to this conflict would have been made impossible if Kerry had his way.

Hamas once again appears to be on the ropes. A ceasefire that truly brings peace and prevents future war and terror is surely desirable. In its absence, the Israeli government shouldn’t be blamed for pursuing victory.

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Why the Passive Voice on Confronting ISIS?

There is something to be said for having an aloof, unemotional intellectual as commander in chief. He is more likely to avoid the kind of trap that Ronald Reagan fell into when, deeply distressed by the fate of American hostages seized in Lebanon, he authorized what became known as an “arms for hostages” swap with Iran. (In fairness, Reagan probably convinced himself that’s not what he was doing–that he was actually undertaking a broader opening to Iran.) This deal did get a few hostages out of captivity, but Iran’s proxies in Lebanon promptly seized more hostages, thus showing for neither the first time nor the last time why it doesn’t make sense to deal with terrorists.

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There is something to be said for having an aloof, unemotional intellectual as commander in chief. He is more likely to avoid the kind of trap that Ronald Reagan fell into when, deeply distressed by the fate of American hostages seized in Lebanon, he authorized what became known as an “arms for hostages” swap with Iran. (In fairness, Reagan probably convinced himself that’s not what he was doing–that he was actually undertaking a broader opening to Iran.) This deal did get a few hostages out of captivity, but Iran’s proxies in Lebanon promptly seized more hostages, thus showing for neither the first time nor the last time why it doesn’t make sense to deal with terrorists.

President Obama was not able to resist the temptation to make a deal in return for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl but he was right to do so–notwithstanding the tragic consequences–in the case of kidnapped American journalist James Foley. It is now emerging that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria wanted a ransom of more than $100 million for his release. European states routinely make such deals, turning them into al-Qaeda’s biggest financial supporters. (By one estimate Europeans have paid $125 million in ransom to al-Qaeda and its affiliates since 2008.) The problem is that while paying ransom may succeed in freeing one hostage or one group of hostages, it is almost certainly consigning more innocents to hellish captivity. The fact that the Obama administration refuses to pay up is to its credit; that Europeans are willing to deal with terrorists is to their ever-lasting shame.

And not only did Obama refuse to pay up, he ordered Delta Force to undertake a high-risk mission to free the hostages from a location in Syria deep in ISIS-controlled territory. That, too, was the right call. It shows, once again, that this is a president who is willing to pull the trigger on Special Operations missions that past presidents might have decided were too risky to authorize. Unfortunately that mission failed and James Foley wound up being barbarically murdered.

Obama was eloquent in denouncing this act of televised sadism, but he was unclear about what he will do in response. The most he would say was: “The people of Iraq, who with our support are taking the fight to ISIL, must continue coming together to expel these terrorists from their communities. The people of Syria, whose story Jim Foley told, do not deserve to live under the shadow of a tyrant or terrorists. They have our support in their pursuit of a future rooted in dignity.” Note how passive this paragraph is–Obama is deliberately putting the onus on Iraqis and Syrians to fight ISIS without committing the U.S. to that group’s destruction.

Secretary of State John Kerry also issued a strong statement of condemnation, which concluded: “ISIL and the wickedness it represents must be destroyed, and those responsible for this heinous, vicious atrocity will be held accountable.” Note again the curious sentence construction, which leaves unclear who exactly will “destroy” ISIS and who will hold Foley’s murderers “accountable.”

Unfortunately the president’s words and those of his aides don’t mean much in the world today–not after they have allowed red lines to be crossed with impunity from Syria to Ukraine. Strong action is needed and that action should be designed, as I have previously said, to annihilate ISIS.

General John Allen (USMC, ret.), Obama’s former commander in Afghanistan, gets it. He just wrote: “A comprehensive American and international response now — NOW — is vital to the destruction of this threat. The execution of James Foley is an act we should not forgive nor should we forget, it embodies and brings home to us all what this group represents. The Islamic State is an entity beyond the pale of humanity and it must be eradicated. If we delay now, we will pay later.”

I agree with General Allen, but does President Obama? It’s hard to tell. Alas, the longer we wait the more chance ISIS has to go to ground and thus withstand American military action. Already there are credible reports of ISIS “emirs” fleeing Iraq for Syria. But why should they find haven there? The Iraq-Syria border barely exists anymore. The U.S., working closely with local allies (Kurds, Sunni tribesmen, Iraqi security forces, Free Syrian Army fighters) must pursue ISIS wherever it hides and destroy it. It is far from clear, however, that President Obama will order any such action. It is a paradox that this president, so decisive in ordering Special Operations strikes, appears to be so hesitant and hand-wringing when it comes to larger decisions. The time for bureaucratic deliberation is fast disappearing; it is time, as General Allen says, for action now.

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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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Time to Annihilate ISIS; Here’s How

The videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley reveals both the barbarism and the weakness of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

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The videotaped beheading of American journalist James Foley reveals both the barbarism and the weakness of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

The barbarism is obvious: how else would one describe the carefully choreographed and televised murder of this innocent reporter who had been kidnapped in Syria? This merely confirms what Army Colonel Joel Rayburn, one of the most astute observers of Iraq around, has previously said: that ISIS is a Middle East version of the Khmer Rouge. It is, in short, a death cult that will commit unimaginable crimes against humanity unless it is stopped.

What of ISIS’s weakness? That too was revealed by the video, which was a poor response to the military setbacks ISIS has suffered in the past week as Kurdish peshmerga militia have managed to retake Mosul Dam with the assistance of American firepower (and most likely U.S. Special Operations Forces, although their involvement has not been publicized). Recall the last time that al-Qaeda publicly murdered an American journalist. That would have been my former Wall Street Journal colleague Daniel Pearl, who was killed in early 2002 at a time when, thanks to the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was on the run. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed Pearl for the same reason some ISIS fanatic killed Foley: to convey an impression of strength. But such desperate measures instead telegraph, well, desperation–and far from cowing anyone they are only likely to redouble the resolve of the civilized world to smash this group of genocidal jihadists.

What is needed now is not strongly worded condemnation of Foley’s murder, much less a hashtag campaign. What is needed is a politico-military strategy to annihilate ISIS rather than simply chip around the edges of its burgeoning empire. In the Spectator of London I recently outlined what such a strategy should look like. In brief, it will require a commitment of some 10,000 U.S. advisors and Special Operators, along with enhanced air power, to work with moderate elements in both Iraq and Syria–meaning not only the peshmerga but also the Sunni tribes, elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Free Syrian Army–to stage a major offensive to rout ISIS out of its newly conquered strongholds. The fact that Nouri al-Maliki is leaving power in Baghdad clears away a major obstacle to such a campaign.

Now it is simply a matter of resources and resolve on the part of the U.S. and its allies. That, of course, remains the big unknown–how far will President Obama go? He has been willing in the last few weeks to apply a liberal interpretation of his original mandate for U.S. forces in Iraq, which was to protect Americans in Erbil and Baghdad. But beyond protecting the Yazidis and retaking Mosul Dam we still need a strategy to annihilate ISIS. It can be done–and if done right it will be the best, indeed the only worthy, response to James Foley’s barbaric demise.

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Israel’s Record on Civilian Casualties Compares Well to America’s

Writing in the Washington Post last Friday, Natan Sharansky argued that Western nations are quite right to hold Israel to a higher standard than its nondemocratic neighbors; the problem is that they hold Israel to a higher standard than they hold themselves. Many Westerners would doubtless deny doing so. But for proof, just compare the recent war in Gaza to the Iraq War.

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Writing in the Washington Post last Friday, Natan Sharansky argued that Western nations are quite right to hold Israel to a higher standard than its nondemocratic neighbors; the problem is that they hold Israel to a higher standard than they hold themselves. Many Westerners would doubtless deny doing so. But for proof, just compare the recent war in Gaza to the Iraq War.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009, of the victims of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq whose age and gender could be determined, 46 percent were women and 39 percent were children. The study, based on data from Iraq Body Count, covered the period from March 2003 to March 2008, but specifically excluded airstrikes carried out during periods of intense fighting, such as the initial U.S. invasion and the 2004 battle of Fallujah. In other words, it excluded those periods when fire was likely to be heaviest and most indiscriminate due to the need to protect troops at risk.

By contrast, according to statistics published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 12 percent of all Palestinians killed in Gaza were women and 23 percent were children (239 women and 459 children out of 1,976 fatalities). Thus even if OCHA’s numbers are accurate, the percentages of women and children killed in Gaza were far lower than the percentages killed in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq. Yet one would expect them to be higher, for at least three reasons.

First, unlike the NEJM study, OCHA’s figures cover the entire war, including periods of intense fighting when soldiers’ lives were at risk. In other words, they include the battles involving the heaviest fire, which NEJM’s study excluded. Second, the NEJM figures referred only to airstrikes, which utilize precision weapons; OCHA’s figures also include people killed by non-precision weaponry such as artillery fire. Third, though the claim that Gaza is one of the world’s mostly densely populated places is nonsense, almost all the fighting took place in dense urban areas: Since Hamas’s strategy depends on massive civilian casualties, it locates its rocket launchers and tunnels mainly in such areas. In contrast, U.S. airstrikes in Iraq weren’t limited to dense urban areas.

In short, even if OCHA’s figures are credible, Israel comes off well by comparison with coalition forces in Iraq. But in fact, they aren’t. First, OCHA doesn’t say whether any of these “children” were combatants, though it’s hardly unheard of for 16- or 17-year-old Palestinians to bear arms. More importantly, however, it doesn’t say how many of these women and children were actually killed by Hamas rather than Israel.

As I’ve noted before, almost a sixth of all Palestinian rockets launched at Israel–475 out of 3,137–actually landed in Gaza, where, given the lack of either Iron Dome or civilian bomb shelters, they would have been far more lethal than they were in Israel. In one documented case alone, a misfired Hamas rocket killed 10 people in a park, including eight children.

Moreover, as I’ve also noted, Hamas’s practice of booby-trapping and storing rockets in houses, mosques, and clinics means that many Israeli strikes inadvertently set off massive secondary explosions. In other words, many Palestinian “victims of Israeli attacks” were likely killed not by the Israeli strike itself, but by secondary explosions caused by Hamas’s own bombs.

Americans rightly expect the world to understand that when U.S. airstrikes decimate a Yemeni wedding party or kill civilians in Iraq, it isn’t because the U.S. is bloodthirsty, but because mistakes happen in wartime, especially when fighting terrorists who don’t wear uniforms and operate from amid civilian populations. But Israel is entitled to that same understanding.

Instead, the White House, Pentagon, and State Department have all accused Israel in the harshest terms of doing too little to prevent civilian casualties. Given that Israel’s record on this score, as the NEJM study shows, is even better than America’s, that is the height of hypocrisy.

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Yes, Egypt Is Playing a Constructive Role in Gaza Conflict

With Hamas’s strategy of using human shields and threatening journalists, the blame-the-Jews strain running as strong as ever around the world, and the undeniably atrocious behavior of John Kerry, Egypt has mostly avoided the world’s ire as the conflict in Gaza continues. But with Cairo hosting the repeatedly failed talks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s luck was bound to run out. And now his government is being unfairly castigated for its role in the ceasefire negotiations.

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With Hamas’s strategy of using human shields and threatening journalists, the blame-the-Jews strain running as strong as ever around the world, and the undeniably atrocious behavior of John Kerry, Egypt has mostly avoided the world’s ire as the conflict in Gaza continues. But with Cairo hosting the repeatedly failed talks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s luck was bound to run out. And now his government is being unfairly castigated for its role in the ceasefire negotiations.

The complaint centers on Egypt’s post-Morsi role in the region. When the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was in power in Cairo, its Palestinian offshoot Hamas had a powerful friend next door. When violence last flared up between Israel and Hamas, Cairo facilitated a ceasefire–a process which left Hamas mostly unscathed and able to replenish its arsenal for the next round of fighting. But Sisi heads a military government that deposed the Brotherhood’s men in a coup. As such, Sisi doesn’t want Hamas to be able to rearm at will and cause trouble indefinitely.

It’s a logical position, and one that should be echoed in the West. But not everyone’s happy with Sisi’s lack of urgency in ending the fighting. An example of this argument comes from Michele Dunne and Nathan Brown:

This subtle shift — from mediator with interests, to interested party that also mediates — has led to a longer and bloodier Gaza war than might otherwise have been the case. And while a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas — and particularly the population of Gaza — the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.

Egypt has always brought its own long-standing national security interests to the table in previous Gaza mediation efforts. Cairo has never wanted militants or weapons to enter Egypt from Gaza, nor has it wanted to take over responsibility for humanitarian or security affairs there, having had the unhappy experience of occupying the Gaza Strip for almost 20 years following 1948. Egyptian intelligence officials have always taken the lead in dealing with Gaza — even during the yearlong presidency of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi. While one might have thought that Morsi would have opened the floodgates to Hamas, the Brotherhood’s ideological bedfellow, in actuality Egypt kept the border with Gaza largely closed during his presidency and continued efforts to destroy tunnels. Whatever his personal sympathies, Morsi stayed within the lines of a policy designed to ensure that Egypt was not stuck holding the Gaza hot potato.

But after removing Morsi in a July 2013 coup, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, then defense minister and now president, transformed Egypt’s policy toward Gaza into part of his larger domestic and international political agenda. He is clearly using Gaza to prosecute his own relentless crackdown against the Brotherhood — an effort that also helps cement his alignment with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

There are a few problems with this argument.

First of all, Nunne and Brown claim that Hamas has punctured its isolation thanks to Cairo’s tough line. I’m not at all convinced this is really the case, but let’s say it is. The more important question than whether the world is talking to Hamas is how the world is talking about Hamas. There is an unprecedented consensus that this is the moment to disarm Hamas and demilitarize Gaza. Is it a pipe dream? Maybe. But the Israeli/Egyptian opposition to letting Hamas off the hook has raised serious discussions about ending the Gaza blockade in return for demilitarizing the strip. And this idea has broad support at the Pentagon, in Europe, and among Arab states in the Middle East.

It might be true that if this doesn’t happen, Dunne and Brown have a case. But that leads to the second problem with their thesis: they have fallen into the classic trap of prioritizing ending this war over preventing future wars. They are nearly mutually exclusive goals. “This war” is not really a separate war, after all, from the last one or the one before that. As long as Hamas is in power in Gaza and able to rearm and threaten Israel, each truce is temporary and each ceasefire comes with an expiration date.

Another problem is that Dunne and Brown give Morsi a bit too much credit for containing Hamas. It’s true that Morsi cracked down on tunnels to Egypt. But as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month:

Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.

That’s a significant difference. Enabling weapons flows to Hamas guarantees future violence, so it’s a bit rich to see Morsi praised and Sisi criticized on this score.

And finally, Dunne and Brown–and the other critics of Egypt’s new role under Sisi–don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Sisi’s goals align quite nicely with those of the West. Doesn’t the West want terrorist groups like Hamas, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the rest to be defeated? I would think so.

And this is even more important in light of the news yesterday that Israel derailed an attempted West Bank coup by Hamas. According to Israel’s security officials, as the Times of Israel reported, “the plot was orchestrated by senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri, who is based in Turkey and enjoys the support of the local officials there.”

Any assessment of the balance of power in the Middle East has to incorporate the fact that Turkey is now not only helping Hamas, but enabling the planning of a coup against Mahmoud Abbas’s government in the West Bank. Egypt’s shift to dedicated foe of Hamas is a boon to the West’s otherwise fading influence in the region, and persuasively rebuts the idea that Cairo’s actions don’t align with Western strategic objectives.

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The Arab Bank and the Future of Terror

A lot of lip service is paid these days by both the U.S. government and the mainstream media about the need to stop terrorism and to isolate those who support it. But a trial that began on Thursday in federal court in New York City may have as much to do with whether it will be possible to isolate terrorists and their funders as anything done by Washington.

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A lot of lip service is paid these days by both the U.S. government and the mainstream media about the need to stop terrorism and to isolate those who support it. But a trial that began on Thursday in federal court in New York City may have as much to do with whether it will be possible to isolate terrorists and their funders as anything done by Washington.

The case is Linde v. Arab Bank, a lawsuit that seeks to hold the Arab Bank, a Jordanian bank with branches throughout the Middle East accountable for the fact that it served for six years as the conduit for funding the Hamas terrorist organization. It was the Arab Bank to which families of Hamas suicide bombers and other terrorists to collect payment for their services. While the operations of Hamas fundraisers in the United States, like the Holy Land Foundation (for which the Council on American Islamic Relations or CAIR initially served as a political front) have been shut down by the federal government, this is the first time a foreign bank that was used to funnel money to Hamas will be called to account in court for its role in promoting murder and mayhem.

The case, which has taken many years of hard work and complicated litigation by the Israel Law Center to bring to court. The 297 plaintiffs in the case are the survivors or the families of those Americans killed in 24 Hamas terrorist attacks from 2001 to 2004 when the Arab Bank was laundering money for the group. But the bank hasn’t been their only opponent. From the inception of this case, the U.S. State Department has fiercely opposed efforts to enforce the federal Anti-Terrorism Act that specifically targets the funders of acts of terror committed against Americans.

As I noted back in April, the State Department backed the refusal of the bank to comply with court rulings that required it to produce records of its clients but fortunately the U.S. Supreme Court turned down their appeal leaving Judge Nina Gershon to tell the jury in the case that it may infer from their non-compliance that it did provide financial services to terror groups via Saudi funders.

At stake here is whether, as the State Department argues, it is unfair for foreign banks that comply with laws in their own countries, to be brought to book in the U.S. for their role in spreading terror. Given the enormous financial resources behind the defense as well as the opposition of the diplomatic establishment to any effort to treat Hamas in the same manner that al-Qaeda and its funders have been dealt with by the courts the odds have always been against the plaintiffs.

But even a cursory look at the facts of the case shows that if the courts take the law as seriously as they should, this is an open and shut case. Despite its pleas of innocence, there’s little doubt that the Beirut branch of the Arab Bank knew exactly what it was doing when it took the money from Hamas spokesperson Osama Hamdan and then subsequently distributed to the relatives of terrorists who blew themselves up in some of the most horrific acts of terrorism of the last decade including the 2001 Sbarro Pizza bombing in Jerusalem. Under U.S. law, Americans who were killed or injured in such acts of terrorism have a right to sue those who funded the murderers.

Yet some observers, like those quoted in a New York Times article on the case, believe a victory for the plaintiffs will make it harder for banks to do business in “strife torn areas” of the globe. They further argue that a ruling against Arab Bank would set a precedent in which all financial institutions could be held accountable for the crimes of their clients.

But this is nonsense. Banks are not liable if criminals have accounts there. But when banks become the conduit for the movement of funds to terrorism, they are not playing a passive role in the crime. They are directly facilitating groups that traffic in murder for ideological reasons. In the case of Arab Bank, which openly supported the siege of Israel in its own publications, the defense that it didn’t know what it was doing is hardly credible.

Moreover, as we have learned in the last decade since 9/11, straightforward law enforcement efforts aren’t enough to shut down terrorism. The only way to effectively choke off terror groups like al-Qaeda or Hamas is to shut down their financial networks that use institutions like the defendant to both bankroll their operations and provide what amounts to insurance policies for suicide bombers.

If the plaintiffs in Linde v. Arab Bank prevail, as they should, it will deal a critical blow to Islamists and others who use the banking system to launder the vast sums they get from Arab and other Muslim sources to pursue a genocidal war against Jews and Israel. If they do, the State Department will complain but the world will be a lot safer.

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Why Wasn’t Obama Better Informed?

That was an extraordinary interview that President Obama gave to Tom Friedman last week, and it bears some more analysis on top of what Jonathan has already said.

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That was an extraordinary interview that President Obama gave to Tom Friedman last week, and it bears some more analysis on top of what Jonathan has already said.

The big thing that struck me was the president’s habit of blaming others for the world’s problems instead of taking personal responsibility. “Our politics are dysfunctional,” he said, and he blamed “the rise of the Republican far fight,” “gerrymandering, the Balkanization of the news media and uncontrolled money in politics.” These are all real factors but it’s striking the extent to which Obama won’t take any responsibility for aggravating the partisan divide and for not doing more to reach out to Republicans.

Next he blamed Iraqis for the problems the country has faced since the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. “The fact is, said the president, in Iraq a residual U.S. troop presence would never have been needed had the Shiite majority there not ‘squandered an opportunity’ to share power with Sunnis and Kurds.” True, but this disaster was entirely foreseeable; in fact it was foreseen by many of us who warned that absent U.S. troops, Iraq would not be able to function. Of course Iraqis deserve primary responsibility for their own woes, but it is striking the extent to which Obama won’t acknowledge how his mistake (in not trying harder to keep U.S. troops there) contributed to the current disaster.

He took a similar line regarding Syria, disparaging the Free Syrian Army which he has refused to help: “With ‘respect to Syria,’ said the president, the notion that arming the rebels would have made a difference has ‘always been a fantasy. This idea that we could provide some light arms or even more sophisticated arms to what was essentially an opposition made up of former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth, and that they were going to be able to battle not only a well-armed state but also a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, a battle-hardened Hezbollah, that was never in the cards.’ ”

Someone in the 18th century could well have described America’s own independence fighters as “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists and so forth” and pooh-poohed the idea that they could stand against the “well-armed” British state. Yet they manage to defeat the British Empire with copious French arms, French training, and French naval power. In Syria we don’t know what the Free Syrian Army could have done if we had offered robust support from the beginning of the rebellion, as Hillary Clinton says she advocated, but it’s pretty disingenuous for Obama to blame these fighters for not having “as much capacity as you would hope” when we have failed to give them the capacity they desire.

The only personal responsibility Obama seemed to take was for the mess in Libya, although even here he insisted on sharing blame with our European allies: “I think,” he said, “we [and] our European partners underestimated the need to come in full force if you’re going to do this,” meaning if you’re going to topple Gaddafi. Yet curiously enough Obama never explained why he made this elementary mistake, which should have been obvious after the early failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It’s not as if there was any secret about the possibility of post-Gaddafi disintegration in Libya or the need to send trainers and peacekeeping forces to avert such a disaster. I, for one, wrote regularly on this theme in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times not to mention in COMMENTARY. And I wasn’t alone. My boss at the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, issued a similar warning in the Financial Times. You might think the president might have noticed one of these articles. Even if he hadn’t, his own advisers and intelligence experts should have been issuing similar warnings to him–if they didn’t, then they were guilty of gross negligence.

So why, one wonders, did Obama disregard these warnings not only in 2011 but in subsequent years even as Libya’s problems grew more and more severe? It’s nice that in one case at least the president is taking some ownership for a colossal error, but what’s amazing is that he’s still not fixing it. Instead he’s talking like a dispassionate analyst rather than as the commander in chief who has the capabilities of the world’s most powerful country at his command.

It is the president’s curious passivity, I believe, which accounts for the rapid disintegration of public confidence in his presidency and in particular in his foreign policy. Americans may not want to be entangled in foreign wars, but they want a strong, decisive president. That is certainly not the image Obama is projecting.

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Change the Game in Gaza Talks

It’s no secret that Hamas seeks to win through post-war diplomacy what it cannot on the battlefield. Israelis—or at least Israel’s intellectual elite—can be their own worst enemies in this regard, as they seek Western gratification by downplaying Israel’s security needs and spinning reality. Just look at the pages of Haaretz on any given day. And Israel journalist Ronen Bergman describes the conclusions of many in this recent piece in the New York Times.

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It’s no secret that Hamas seeks to win through post-war diplomacy what it cannot on the battlefield. Israelis—or at least Israel’s intellectual elite—can be their own worst enemies in this regard, as they seek Western gratification by downplaying Israel’s security needs and spinning reality. Just look at the pages of Haaretz on any given day. And Israel journalist Ronen Bergman describes the conclusions of many in this recent piece in the New York Times.

Dictatorships–and the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are both dictatorships–have an advantage in shaping messages, because democratic discourse makes message discipline more difficult. That’s not to castigate democracy; individual liberty should be paramount. Still, the situation Israel finds itself in is reminiscent of the aftermath of the 2006 Hezbollah war, when so many journalists concluded Israel had lost, and never bothered to report Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s admission to Lebanese journalists that had he known how Israel was going to react in the face of Hezbollah’s kidnap attempt across Israel’s northern border, he never would have launched the mission. Nor did they report the protests of Iranian labor unions who condemned Iran’s funding of so-called Lebanese resistance at the expense of Iranian people in need.

It’s time Israel changes the game. As the Gaza talks continue, Hamas will certainly try to win the diplomatic round of its fight with Israel. Hamas knows that the international community seldom assesses the true impact of its aid and many diplomats and foreign officials are loath to let a good crisis go to waste, never mind the implications of their actions. So here is the New York Times castigating Israel for not fulfilling the Oslo Accords’ call for a Gaza seaport, never mind that Hamas doesn’t accept the Oslo Accords. Norway, of course, has begun preparations for a new donor conference for Gaza, in effect rewarding Hamas for the violence it began with is missile salvos and diverted humanitarian supplies channeled into tunnel and bunker construction. And here’s the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which by its own founding charter should have ceased to exist a half century ago, using the crisis in order to fundraise, never mind its own complicity in the crisis by allowing its schools to be transformed into weapons depots.

Diplomacy is war by other means. Israel’s diplomats have long been the keystone cops of Israeli officialdom, as the best and the brightest try more for careers in the private sector, military, or intelligence. Let us hope that they hold firm at the table and, rather than mow grass with all due respect to Efraim Inbar, they seek to change the game permanently.

Israeli historian and writer Moshe Dann emails with some good ideas:

The government of Israel could require that funds for reconstruction be used to build in uninhabited areas south of Gaza City and far from Israel’s borders. Under no circumstances should UNRWA be allowed to rebuild its facilities, as they have proven incapable of supervising their properties. In addition, El Arish can be used by Gazans as a port for exporting produce. Gazans should be allowed to relocate in the uninhabited areas between El Arish and the Gaza Strip, as well as other areas of Sinai. Reconstructions funds should be allocated to build a water desalination plant. Neighborhoods which were used to fire rockets should not be reconstructed. They should be used only for public purposes — parks, playgrounds, etc.

Let’s put the El Arish question aside for another day. Dann is absolutely right that UNRWA should not be permitted to rebuild facilities which it allowed to be corrupted. I would go further and suggest that any deal include the provision for the phased withdrawal of UNRWA altogether. The Palestinians want to govern their own affairs? Let them, without the promise of endless subsidy.

The urban planning—some of which admittedly takes on a security dimensions—is under-discussed but extremely important. With Western diplomats and UN officials essentially acting as zoning officers, telling Israel where it can and cannot build, there is no reason why they cannot reprise that role in the Gaza Strip.

A ceasefire is not enough, nor should the Gaza Strip become the scene for some sort of lethal Groundhog Day. It’s time to change the rules of the diplomatic game.

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Obama’s Failures Once Helped Rand Paul; Are They Now Impeding Him?

It might be better to be lucky than good, but so far Rand Paul has been both. His political skill has been clearest in his attempts to build coalitions within the GOP and conservative movement (with Democrats too, but they won’t play much of a role in helping him win the GOP nomination): his marathon filibuster attracted support from less vocal critics of domestic surveillance; his outreach to the Jewish community has allayed some concerns about his approach to Israel; and he has been a strong voice for a pro-life libertarianism.

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It might be better to be lucky than good, but so far Rand Paul has been both. His political skill has been clearest in his attempts to build coalitions within the GOP and conservative movement (with Democrats too, but they won’t play much of a role in helping him win the GOP nomination): his marathon filibuster attracted support from less vocal critics of domestic surveillance; his outreach to the Jewish community has allayed some concerns about his approach to Israel; and he has been a strong voice for a pro-life libertarianism.

Luck has been at his side as well. Events tend to shape elections, though it’s not always clear just how much. (The 2008 financial crash probably didn’t cost John McCain the election to Barack Obama, but it certainly didn’t help. The Russia-Georgia war of that year was expected to be helpful to McCain, but it didn’t provide any noticeable bounce.) There’s no question, however, that current events during Rand Paul’s first term in the Senate have been in his wheelhouse.

The NSA scandal, a botched undeclared war in Libya, bureaucratic belly flops like the ObamaCare exchange, and abuse-of-power scandals like the IRS targeting have all helped Paul and his supporters make the case that the government needs to be reined in. Back in December, a Gallup poll found a record high percent of Americans consider big government to be a bigger threat to the country than big business or big labor. And last February, Pew found that for the first time in decades a majority of Americans considered the federal government to be a threat to their rights and freedoms.

And then, like any story about conservatives that is years old, the New York Times even caught on, publishing a magazine essay last week asking: “Has the ‘Libertarian Moment’ Finally Arrived?” The story ran a cover photo of Rand Paul.

Paul’s luck was bound to run out eventually, and just as he could thank President Obama’s string of domestic failures and abuses for his momentum, so too can he rue Obama’s colossal foreign-policy failures for the fact that events have reversed the tide on him. The Lightbringer giveth, the Lightbringer taketh away.

A stable global order is a great time to be a noninterventionist. The Age of Obama, alas, is not. President Obama’s attempt to pull America back from a tenuous global balance was a bit like the would-be amateur magician’s first attempt to pull the tablecloth away without disturbing the plates and glassware. It wasn’t really thought through, and everything came crashing down.

And so we find ourselves going back into Iraq and trying to put out the fires Obama and John Kerry started elsewhere in the Middle East. Even Hillary Clinton has abandoned her former boss, joining with the interventionists to try to restore some order and push back the advance of terror pseudostates. What say you, Rand Paul? The senator, after a few days of silence, offered his thoughts on the airstrikes to push back ISIS in Iraq:

“I have mixed feelings about it. I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to helping with arms or maybe even bombing, but I am concerned that ISIS is big and powerful because we protected them in Syria for a year,” Paul said.

Paul has cemented himself as one of the leading potential Republican 2016 presidential candidates with a libertarian brand of conservatism that includes skepticism of foreign military intervention. However, he was initially conspicuously silent on the airstrikes and did not respond to requests to comment on the issue from multiple media outlets including Business Insider.

Along with implying ISIS grew because the U.S. did not back other groups in the fighting in Syria, Paul pointed out some of the same foreign policy hawks who support the current airstrikes also wanted to launch military operations against Assad.

“Do you know who also hates ISIS and who is bombing them? Assad, the Syrian government. So a year ago, the same people who want to bomb ISIS wanted to bomb Syria last year,” said Paul. “Syria and ISIS are on opposite sides of the war. We’re now bombing both sides of one war that has spread into another country.”

Paul said the examples of Syria and ISIS show why some Americans might want a more “moderate” foreign policy.

In addition to not really answering the question (though we can certainly allow for some nuance), Paul seems to suggest that lack of intervention in Syria helped create this crisis, which apparently is a case for less intervention. Also, he senses hypocrisy in those who want to intervene against ISIS and also against Assad while Assad is fighting ISIS too.

Yet the point only really holds if those are the only two sides in the dispute. They’re not. There are also non-ISIS, non-Assad aligned forces. In seeking to help the Kurds and save the Yazidis in Iraq, for example, we’re not actively allying ourselves with Assad next door. We’re trying to do two things simultaneously: prevent genocide and build up the defensive capabilities of an American-aligned minority enclave in Kurdistan. Those who support intervention believe we have a responsibility to our allies and would gain strategically by strengthening a proxy that could shoulder some of the burden during our period of retrenchment.

That may or may not be correct ultimately (I think it is, and I think our experience with Israel and Jordan shows the potential). But I don’t think Paul comes off as being comfortable at all with this debate. Perhaps his luck has run out, or maybe it’s on temporary leave. But foreign policy has reasserted itself, and with two years left in Obama’s term, it’s likely to stick around.

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Is America to Blame for Iraq Violence?

Over the past few days, I’ve been in a number of debates in the media in which analysts and former government officials blame the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the United States and, more specifically, on the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003. Here’s one from this morning, for example. And University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, a popular polemicist on the left, had this to say.

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Over the past few days, I’ve been in a number of debates in the media in which analysts and former government officials blame the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on the United States and, more specifically, on the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003. Here’s one from this morning, for example. And University of Michigan professor Juan Cole, a popular polemicist on the left, had this to say.

The accusation that the United States is responsible for the travesty wrought by ISIS is nonsense. And while some Iraqi civilians died at the hands of American forces—and for these American forces take responsibility—the notion that the United States is responsible for the entirety of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who died during the years of the American military’s presence is sheer and utter nonsense. Some take that even further and go so far as to argue that the United States should give reparations to Iraq because of the war.

There are many problems with such arguments: The first is that they single out the United States intervention among many. The world is a complicated place, but this myopic and self-flagellating narrative suggests that the United States is the only player in the region. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and Jordan actively funded and supported the Sunni-led insurgency, while the Islamic Republic of Iran supported Shi‘ite militias. The United States acted under its Chapter VII authority from 1990 and, even if armchair analysts want to argue that it was legally necessary to go back for re-approval to the United Nations Security Council (and therefore set the precedent of the expiration of Chapter VII resolutions), the United Nations did ultimately bless the United States as steward. The United States lost hundreds of soldiers fighting these insurgents who targeted civilians. These men and women died to protect Iraqi civilians, and many more would have died had it not been for American efforts. That proponents who blame America first and only ignore the impact of these other states is as reflective as it is dishonest.

While it’s easy to blame insurgent violence on outsiders—and, indeed, Iraqis have always blamed foreign fighters disproportionately to absolve themselves of their own role—the fact of the matter is many Iraqis turned their guns on their fellow countrymen. Responsibility for such action rests on those pulling the trigger, those giving religious imprimatur to their actions, those accepting money to enable it. If there’s one thing that could make the Middle East a far better, more peaceful place, it is personal accountability. Conspiracies thrive as a means to absolve individuals and communities of responsibility. It is condescending if not racist to suggest Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, or members of any other community should be absolved of accountability for actions in which they individually participated, funded, or supported.

One of the most corrosive practices of journalism is the use of the passive voice: Newspapers relate how, for example, “a bomb went off at a school and killed 20” but never bother to report who planted the bomb or what efforts went into that terror attack. Terrorism is seldom random. Three weeks before a bomb explodes killing those school children, terrorists or informants scoped out that site among others and determined at what time they could have maximum impact. Whenever a journalist uses the passive voice, it’s an indication that they either do not know the subject of the action or they want to obfuscate it. It is a lot harder to be sympathetic to terrorists or suggest they are motivated by the most reasonable of grievances—as Institute for Policy Studies analyst Phyllis Bennis did yesterday on the Baltimore NPR affiliate (link not yet available)—when audiences are forced to confront the reality of their actions.

There is also a logical fallacy to the idea that America is always responsible when such accusations are transposed onto policy. How many people have criticized America for doing nothing, for example, when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds (never mind that it was the Germans and the Dutch who sold the chemical precursors to Saddam, and not the United States)? And yet, in the face of atrocity, their policy advice is to do nothing? Likewise, if critics of U.S. policy consider the United States to be guilty of original sin for entering Iraq, then wouldn’t it compound the problem not to seek to prevent outcomes which lead to greater civilian deaths?

Syria shows clearly what happens when the United States does not intervene when it has an opportunity to do so. So too does Rwanda. While hard-hearted realists might say the United States had no business in Rwanda, the fact of the matter is that ISIS arose in Syria. Even if analysts wish to trace its evolution to its current form from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq, it shows moral inversion to suggest that al-Qaeda should be considered legitimate and indigenous in Iraq or, again, that the United States should not seek to crush it.

Would Iraq have been a better place had Saddam remained in power? Well, for the minority of Iraqis who were Arab Sunnis, perhaps. But not for Kurds living under the threat of continuing genocide, the Yezidis who are also Kurds (Yezidism being a religion and Kurds being an ethnicity), or for the majority of the country who were Shi‘ites. Baathism is an ethnic chauvinist party as much as Nazism. Nor is it fair to paint the entire Sunni Arab community as Baathists. While historians can still debate whether the invasion of Iraq was wise or not, what is beyond debate is the fact that Saddam planned to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction program. This is affirmed both by captured documents and interviews with former officials.

Saddam Hussein was 66 years old when the United States invaded Iraq, and 69 when he was executed. Today he would have been 77 years old, assuming he was still alive. Had he died, the world would have confronted an Iraq governed by his malevolent sons or, if they were unable to consolidate power, then the ethnic and sectarian discord that Iraq currently confronts.

Our commentariat’s self-flagellation is dishonest and destructive. Perhaps some pundits think it will score domestic political points, but it also plays into the hands of those who mean America harm, those who embrace conspiracy theories about our intent, and those who seek to shirk accountability for their own murderous objectives. The United States is not the center of the world, even though sometimes only the United States has the logistical ability and wherewithal to try to make the world a better place.

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If the Yazidis Were Mainstream Muslims, Would the West Still Save Them?

The decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and airlift supplies to save the besieged Yazidis from their Islamist pursuers is the right thing to do. Never was a genocide so easily prevented, and the United States has an obvious stake not just in Iraq’s future and the (relative) stability of the region but in containing, wherever possible, the spread of ISIS terrorism and tyranny. And yet, there is something disquieting in the self-satisfaction and backslapping pride the West is taking in this supposedly most moral of doctrines.

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The decision to strike ISIS in Iraq and airlift supplies to save the besieged Yazidis from their Islamist pursuers is the right thing to do. Never was a genocide so easily prevented, and the United States has an obvious stake not just in Iraq’s future and the (relative) stability of the region but in containing, wherever possible, the spread of ISIS terrorism and tyranny. And yet, there is something disquieting in the self-satisfaction and backslapping pride the West is taking in this supposedly most moral of doctrines.

The support for saving the Yazidis has brought the realist right and the humanitarian-interventionist left to join traditional interventionists in a broad call for action. It’s a heartening coalition, and it’s always encouraging to see what’s left of American realists assert the primacy of moral action, just as it is encouraging to see the remaining interventionist Democrats free themselves from the angry gaze of the antiwar left long enough to take a stand. Nonetheless, the rhetoric coming from some of these quarters, while meant well, does not reflect nearly as well on the Western conscience as it appears.

The Yazidis fit certain qualifications, according to this coalition of the willing. Foremost among them is that they are a persecuted community on the verge of being the victims of genocide. They are an ethnoreligious minority sect in Iraq (and elsewhere) whose theology has traces of Islamic and other influences, often mentioned alongside Zoroastrianism.

But what if they weren’t? What if they were mainstream Muslims indistinguishable from those around them, being persecuted because of a political rivalry gone violent? I think the answer is: the West wouldn’t lift a finger to save them. And this is not something to be proud of. Noninterventionists who support helping the Yazidis are certainly in the right here. But they also seem eager to check a box–to have something on their resume to dispute their characterization as heartless or borderline isolationist.

“I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world,” President Obama said when announcing the airstrikes. Fair enough, and he described the plight of the Yazidis:

In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice:  descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.

Good for the president for going back to Iraq when the situation called for it, and certainly preventing genocide is an admirable, if obvious, red line. But the Yazidis are neither the first nor the last Iraqi minority to find itself in the ISIS crosshairs. “Most analysts agree there’s not a religious or ethnic minority in northern Iraq — Shabaks, Turkmens, Yazidis, Christians — that isn’t in danger,” the Washington Post reported last week. After the establishment of a self-styled ISIS caliphate, the Post went on, “one day in mid-July, Christian homes were marked.” While the Christians were being erased, “militants were hunting Shiite Turkmens, who speak a language that derives from Turkish and, according to Islamic State dogma, are apostates.” And on and on.

There’s another argument being deployed that I’m not particularly fond of. In an otherwise eloquent and forceful column, Ross Douthat writes that the case for action has three elements: “a distinctive obligation, a distinctive (and thus potentially more expansive) evil,” and “a clear strategic plan”:

But in this case, such a plan is visible. We do not need to re-invade or restabilize Iraq to deal ISIS a blow and help its victims, because Kurdistan is already relatively stable, and the line of conflict is relatively clear. And the Kurds themselves, crucially, are a known quantity with a longstanding relationship to the United States — something that wasn’t on offer in Libya or Syria.

Yes, we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. Except the same good guys–the Kurds–and the same bad guys–ISIS–are in Syria too. The borders in this conflict have become essentially meaningless. There are enclaves we’d like to protect, minorities in the line of fire, and savage terrorists all throughout the region.

What’s the message to other groups, especially Sunni or Shiite Muslims, staring into the barrel of a gun? You’re not on the edge of extinction? You’re not being killed with certain kinds of chemical weapons, only other kinds of chemical weapons that aren’t on a random list, plus conventional weapons? You look or sound too much like the other guys for us to figure out who’s who?

We should save the Yazidis. But we should do so because it’s the right call, not because they look and sound distinctive enough for us to tell the difference between them and their enemies.

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Israel’s Friend in Need

On July 21-22, Christians United for Israel (CUFI–the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, with nearly 1.8 million members and 10 times more Facebook “likes” (1,229,000) than AIPAC (79,000) and J Street (24,000) combined–held its ninth Washington Summit since its formation in 2006 by Pastor John Hagee.

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On July 21-22, Christians United for Israel (CUFI–the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, with nearly 1.8 million members and 10 times more Facebook “likes” (1,229,000) than AIPAC (79,000) and J Street (24,000) combined–held its ninth Washington Summit since its formation in 2006 by Pastor John Hagee.

Nearly 5,000 delegates, from all 50 states, heard an array of top-tier speakers (including a stirring address from Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, and panels with Elliott Abrams, William Kristol, and James Woolsey, among others). Then they lobbied Congress, with their principal talking point being that any final deal with Iran must deny it not simply a nuclear weapon but a “nuclear weapons capability … allowing Iran to develop all of the components of a bomb so long as they don’t put these components together is not a solution”.

At the Summit, Charles Krauthammer told the delegates he did “not know of an organization in the world more important to Israel than CUFI.” In the two weeks following the Summit, CUFI demonstrated–not once but twice–the kind of commitment that amply supports Krauthammer’s assertion.

On July 31, CUFI ran a full-page ad–reading “Israel’s Enemies Are Our Enemies/ Israel’s Fight is Our Fight/ We Stand with Israel”–in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. The ad cited the provisions in the Hamas Covenant asserting Islam will “obliterate” Israel; that there is no solution except “jihad”; and that Muslims are directed to kill the Jews.

On August 1, CUFI ran the same ad in USA Today, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Chicago Sun Times, the Denver Post, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. On August 5, CUFI ran it again in the Arizona Republic, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle, the Miami Herald, the NY Daily News, the NY Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Seattle Times. Within a week, CUFI had run full-page ads in 19 major newspapers throughout the country.

Second, on August 5, CUFI sent 51 pastors–one from each state and the District of Columbia–on a solidarity mission to Israel. In his letter to each pastor, Pastor Hagee wrote that the trip was intended to show “support for the Jewish people at a time when the nations of the world have expressed unilateral condemnation for Israel’s choice to defend her citizens.” The pastors went to the Western Wall to pray; then visited the mother of one of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in June; then traveled south to Sderot, as dangerous a city as there is in Israel, a mile from the border with Gaza; met with former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold and British Col. Richard Kemp, among others; were briefed by the IDF about Iron Dome; and returned to America on August 9.

In 2008, Pastor Hagee described CUFI’s beginnings to a large Jewish audience in Los Angeles, discussing his personal awakening to Zionism and his decision in 2006 to bring together 400 leading evangelicals in America to form CUFI:

And briefly, I said Israel is in a state of danger, we have a Bible mandate to stand up and speak up for Israel, we have never done anything as a Christian group that gets close to a unified canopy under which every person who calls himself a Bible-believing evangelical can speak up for Israel. And we’re a one issue organization – Israel, Israel, Israel. Don’t start bringing up all of these evangelical hot button issues about which you’ve been fighting for thirty years, because we have to stay focused on what we’re doing.

. . . And I said we’re going to go once a year to Washington and take as many of our leaders as we can. We’re not going to stand out on the grass and sing “Amazing Grace,” because Congress could care less about “Amazing Grace.” They only care when you go in their offices, look them in the eye and say “I’m a Christian and I support Israel” and you give them a list of talking points for every one of them, and every senator and every congressmen hears the same message … on one day.

This year CUFI–under the leadership of Pastor Hagee, who at 74 shows no signs of slowing down in his extraordinary efforts to support the Jewish state–not only lobbied Congress on existential issues facing Israel, but held a summit whose spirit is reflected in this video, and went to remarkable lengths to bring Israel’s importance to the attention of the American public and its representatives, as well as to epitomize Christian solidarity in a 51-pastor visit in the midst of the Hamas war. Pro-Israel Jews everywhere owe CUFI a large debt of gratitude and support.

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