Commentary Magazine


Topic: al-Qaeda

Obama’s Anti-ISIS AUMF: A Classic Muddle

Yesterday I wrote “here we go again” with President Obama agonizing over another major foreign-policy decision–whether or not to arm Ukraine–even as our enemies push ahead with great determination and cunning. Today we are seeing yet another Obama MO: the tendency, once endless administration deliberations are finished, to produce a split-the-difference solution that doesn’t accomplish as much as it should.

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Yesterday I wrote “here we go again” with President Obama agonizing over another major foreign-policy decision–whether or not to arm Ukraine–even as our enemies push ahead with great determination and cunning. Today we are seeing yet another Obama MO: the tendency, once endless administration deliberations are finished, to produce a split-the-difference solution that doesn’t accomplish as much as it should.

I refer to the president’s request to Congress to pass an Authorization for the Limited Use of Military Force (ALUMF) against ISIS. Now, the U.S. has been bombing ISIS since August and the administration has been talking about how to produce an AUMF that will allow Congress to weigh in without unduly cramping the president’s options. The result of all these deliberations? A request that allows the president “to use the Armed Forces of the United States as the President determines to be necessary and appropriate against ISIL or associated persons or forces.” So far so good: this is the kind of robust authority that the president needs to fight this band of jihadist fanatics.

But then come the limitations. First, the authority does not extend to “the use of the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground operations.” Second, the authority will expire in three years. Presumably these are sops intended to appeal to Democrats in Congress and a few Republican isolationists who are upset about the prospect of the U.S. waging “another” war in the Middle East. But do they make any sense?

The way the first restriction is worded–what the heck is an “enduring offensive ground operation” and how does it differ from a “temporary defensive ground operation”?–will, admittedly, make it largely meaningless. But still: the intent is clear and it’s to prevent the U.S. from engaging in ground combat against ISIS even if there is no good tactical alternative to such action.

Likewise the deadline–a favorite Obama limitation on the use of military force–is not as binding as it sounds. After all, if Obama has been able to fight ISIS for more than six months based on his executive authority and with no AUMF, it stands to reason that a future president could continue such action even after the AUMF expires. But the symbolism is clear–it is meant to imply that the U.S. will end its anti-ISIS operation within three years, whether that group is defeated or not.

This may be welcome to the ears of anti-war Democrats, but to our allies and enemies in the Middle East this, along with the restriction on the use of ground combat forces, sends a message of irresolution that will make it tougher for our troops to accomplish their mission.

At least we can be grateful that Obama is not seeking the repeal or rewrite of the unlimited post-9/11 AUMF against al-Qaeda, something he has been talking about doing since at least 2013. The last thing the U.S. military and intelligence community need are greater limitations on their ability to combat the monsters who burn and behead hostages.

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The “Yemen Model” Goes Down in Flames

Yemen has been cited a couple of times in recent years by the Obama administration as a model for what it wants to accomplish in the Middle East. In 2011, after an Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the administration helped to engineer the peaceful transfer of power from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh to vice president (and staunch American ally) Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This was hailed as a model of democracy ascendant. More recently in September 2014 Obama hailed Yemen, along with Somalia, as a model of the kind of “small footprint” approach he favored for fighting terrorism–sending American advisers and drones but not combat troops.

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Yemen has been cited a couple of times in recent years by the Obama administration as a model for what it wants to accomplish in the Middle East. In 2011, after an Arab Spring uprising in Yemen, the administration helped to engineer the peaceful transfer of power from longtime president Ali Abdullah Saleh to vice president (and staunch American ally) Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. This was hailed as a model of democracy ascendant. More recently in September 2014 Obama hailed Yemen, along with Somalia, as a model of the kind of “small footprint” approach he favored for fighting terrorism–sending American advisers and drones but not combat troops.

The last few days have brutally exposed the falsity of these claims, which is no doubt why Yemen went entirely unmentioned in the State of the Union. The Houthi militia, a Shiite group armed and supported by Iran, has overrun Sana, the capital, and seized the presidential palace. It only agreed to release President Hadi after he agreed to share power with them. This does not sit well with Sunni tribes who are threatening war on the Houthis, which will undoubtedly draw them into league with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group which has taken responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, the main sponsor of the Hadi government and major adversary of Iran and its proxies, is vowing to cut off all aid to Yemen as long as the Houthis are in control. Yemen, in short, is on the verge of plunging into a Libya-like or Syria-like abyss, which would certainly make it representative of Obama’s foreign policy in the Middle East but not in the way the president intended.

The administration in recent weeks has softened its anti-Houthi rhetoric. Many inside and outside the administration are tempted to see the Houthis as allies because they are fighting AQAP. This is a big mistake. The Houthis are, like Hezbollah, an Iranian-sponsored militia whose slogan is “God is great; death to America; death to Israel.” They are hardly potential allies for Washington. Any attempt to align American policy with them will only drive Sunnis further into the camp of al-Qaeda–exactly the same phenomenon we have recently witnessed in Syria and Iraq where a perceived American tilt toward Iran and its murderous proxies has driven many Sunnis to side for protection with ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria.

There is no easy or obvious solution in Yemen beyond the continuing need to support relative moderates such as Hadi and to press for political solutions that can work rather than to simply be content with killing a few terrorists with air strikes–which seems to be the Obama administration’s preferred approach to the entire Middle East. The administration’s policy can be characterized as general lethargy and disengagement punctuated by periodic outbursts of carefully targeted violence. This is a policy that cannot possibly work, and it hasn’t. The administration hasn’t created the chaos that is gripping the Middle East–chaos that is a Petri dish for extremism–but it certainly hasn’t done much to stop it.

Even France’s president, Francois Hollande, is lambasting Obama for creating a power vacuum in the Middle East. When a French socialist, of all people, is attacking him for not being interventionist enough, that should tell Obama something. But if the State of the Union is any indication, he is feeling too cocky at the moment, because of better economic news, to seriously take on board and address the catastrophic failure of his foreign policy in Yemen and beyond.

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Every Presidential Candidate Should Pledge Release of Missing 9/11 Pages

More than 13 years have passed since al-Qaeda terrorists killed almost 3,000 Americans in al-Qaeda’s single-most devastating attack. In the interim, NATO forces collapsed the Pakistani-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Even if Afghanistan remains problematic, millions of Afghans have defied threats to march repeatedly to the polls and Afghanistan last year had its first ever-democratic transfer of power. Al-Qaeda has also changed. President Obama launched an operation that killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. And the United States has changed as well. There has, of course, been a change in administration (and, for that matter, a change in king in Saudi Arabia as well). More astounding, nearly three-quarters of U.S. senators and representatives entered office after 9/11. There are 35 million more Americans today than there were on 9/11, the equivalent of folding Canada’s population into that of the United States.

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More than 13 years have passed since al-Qaeda terrorists killed almost 3,000 Americans in al-Qaeda’s single-most devastating attack. In the interim, NATO forces collapsed the Pakistani-backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Even if Afghanistan remains problematic, millions of Afghans have defied threats to march repeatedly to the polls and Afghanistan last year had its first ever-democratic transfer of power. Al-Qaeda has also changed. President Obama launched an operation that killed al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden. And the United States has changed as well. There has, of course, been a change in administration (and, for that matter, a change in king in Saudi Arabia as well). More astounding, nearly three-quarters of U.S. senators and representatives entered office after 9/11. There are 35 million more Americans today than there were on 9/11, the equivalent of folding Canada’s population into that of the United States.

And yet, so much remains inexplicably unknown about that day. President George W. Bush redacted 28 pages of the 9/11 Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities report. A number of congressmen have read the redacted pages. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing Kentucky’s 4th Congressional district, said, “I had to stop every two or three pages and rearrange my perception of history.” He added, however, “There is nothing in there that would affect our national security,” and suggested it was a desire not to embarrass some states that led the Bush administration to withhold the Commission’s findings. Steven Lynch, a Democratic representing Massachusetts’ 8th Congressional district, agreed. “These documents speak for themselves. We have a situation where an extensive investigation was conducted, but then the Bush [administration] decided for whatever purposes to excise 28 pages from the report,” he said, adding: “Maybe there were legitimate reasons to keep this classified. But that time has long passed.” Former Sen. Bob Graham of Florida has also been at the forefront of efforts to declassify and release those 28 pages.

Lawrence Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower, addressed the issue of the 28-pages in a recent New Yorker article:

A former staff member of the 9/11 Commission who is intimately familiar with the material in the twenty-eight pages recommends against their declassification, warning that the release of inflammatory and speculative information could “ramp up passions” and damage U.S.-Saudi relations. Stephen Lynch agrees that the twenty-eight pages were buried in order to preserve the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. “Part of the reason it was classified was the fact that it would create a visceral response,” he told me. “There would be a backlash.”

Both Republican and Democratic administrations abuse declassification. Simply put, the purpose of classification is to protect sources and methods. Protection from political embarrassment and exposure of hypocrisy are not legal reasons to shield information from the public. Now, certainly, some of the information in the 28-pages might have been derived from sensitive sources, but more than 13 years on, the idea that keeping them secret would protect methods is risible. If the U.S. intelligence community and its capabilities haven’t evolved in the last 13 years, then the real scandal is how exposed and insecure the United States really is. Fortunately, however, the intelligence community has largely kept up with the times.

If any Saudi officials were culpable in the 9/11 attacks—or members of any other government—then the least of what they should be concerned about is embarrassment and public antipathy for their actions. The passage of time already inures the Saudis to the rage that might result; after all, Riyadh can claim that it is reformed and changed. While Saudi counter-terror cooperation was half-hearted at best up to and perhaps in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, once Saudi Arabia began experiencing blowback from the monster it helped create and fund, it became a far more honest partner. Saudi Arabia today is no Pakistan, Qatar, or Turkey. But no country should get a free pass for the involvement of any of its citizens, princes, or officials in an attack on the United States. In effect, arbitrarily classifying material or delaying its declassification is politicization of intelligence, plain and simple.

As for the bin Laden documents: President Obama rhetorically both casts himself as the anti-Bush and has promised to be the most transparent president ever. And yet, when it comes to opacity on issues of terror, Obama is really no different than his predecessor. The issue for Obama is not simply the 28 pages. When Navy SEALS raided bin Laden’s compound, they removed millions of files. The second the SEALS landed in Abbottabad, there began a countdown on the utility of the intelligence seized.

The Obama administration, however, has ignored the bin Laden cache’s operational expiration date, and released only 17 documents. While still chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Mike Rogers argued that far more than the 17 documents might be released, and that the United States could learn from their contents. Administrations should stop underestimating the American ability to handle complexity and deal with the reality of the world, rather than the simplistic notion of adversaries and diplomacy that too often they seek to project.

On January 20, 2017, a new president will take the oath of office. Already, a handful of Democrats and perhaps a dozen Republicans are exploring their options, starting the carefully calibrated game of footsie with the press. Journalists should not let any candidate off the hook. Every aspirant to the presidency should pledge him or herself to full transparency and to complete the historical reckoning from 9/11 that all the victims, their families, and, indeed, every American deserves.

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Obama’s Pass-the-Buck Foreign Policy

So how’s the anti-ISIS campaign the administration launched back in August going? Not so well, as a couple of news articles make clear.

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So how’s the anti-ISIS campaign the administration launched back in August going? Not so well, as a couple of news articles make clear.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iraqis are frustrated with the U.S. campaign which they deride as “too slow and too small.” The U.S. has been especially remiss in not doing more to mobilize Sunni tribes; most of our aid is going to Kurdish forces, even though they can’t take and hold Sunni Arab areas, and to government security forces, even though they are deeply penetrated by Iranian militias that are anathema to Sunnis.

The fact that the U.S. isn’t doing more is leading to the growth of conspiracy theories which hold that the U.S. secretly wants ISIS to succeed. And this despite the fact that there has been some progress in Iraq in checking ISIS’s advance and even pushing it out of some contested areas–if not out of Mosul and Fallujah, the major cities it captured last year.

The situation is even worse in Syria. Another Journal article notes that “jihadist fighters have enlarged their hold in Syria since the U.S. started hitting the group’s strongholds there in September.” About the only thing the U.S. has accomplished in Syria is to prevent the border town of Kobani, held by Kurds, from falling to ISIS. Everywhere else ISIS remains on the offensive. The fact that ISIS enjoys a safe haven in Syria also makes it virtually impossible to defeat it in Iraq: If you squeeze too hard in Iraq, ISIS fighters can always retreat and regroup across the border.

Much of the problem in Syria is that the U.S. has no reliable proxy on the ground to coordinate and exploit air strikes. Yet the Obama administration still refuses to launch the kind of crash training program for the Free Syrian Army that it should have undertaken years ago. Nor will it declare a no-fly zone to prevent Assad’s air force from bombing moderate rebels or set up buffer zones along Syria’s borders where anti-Assad forces can mobilize a more moderate alternative to ISIS and the al-Nusra Front. Admittedly, given the administration’s scandalous and stupid neglect of Syria, it may be too late to accomplish any of this–but the attempt must still be made.

The fact that the administration isn’t doing more suggests that President Obama may well be content to run out the clock on his administration–only two more years to go!–and hand off the problem to his successor. But while that may be the most politically expedient path, it is not a course likely to defeat the jihadist menace that looms not only over the Middle East but over France and the U.S., among other Western states, as well.

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Interplay Between Turkey and al-Qaeda Revealed?

Over at the American Enterprise Institute website, I argue that the Turkish government has been the biggest hypocrite to send a representative to march against terrorism in Paris because, well, Turkey is pretty much a state sponsor of terror. An interlocutor in Turkey responds by pointing to new documents which appear to show a much more direct cooperation between the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) and al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.

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Over at the American Enterprise Institute website, I argue that the Turkish government has been the biggest hypocrite to send a representative to march against terrorism in Paris because, well, Turkey is pretty much a state sponsor of terror. An interlocutor in Turkey responds by pointing to new documents which appear to show a much more direct cooperation between the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) and al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria.

Such documents—which appear to be legitimate and the leaking of which the Turkish government has responded to by trying to shut down accounts housing them, and perhaps Twitter and Facebook as well—are, according to initial reports, the statements of those questioned when the Turkish military raided trucks heading into Syria carrying arms and weaponry. The trucks, it turns out, were driven by employees of the MIT. The arms were apparently destined for more radical groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

When the police stopped the trucks, the Erdoğan regime was furious, and ordered the press not to report on the incident, declaring it “a state secret.” Alas, just as dictators in North Korea, Iran, Eritrea, or the former Soviet Union have learned, it is impossible to completely control news and the flow of information.

Turkey is not simply wrong on policy; it appears to be a full-blown sponsor of terrorism. Simply put, the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) likely would not exist if it were not for Turkish assistance and Qatari financing. At the very least, the United States, every member of the European Union, and every Arab state should call Turkish ambassadors in and read them the riot act. If the documents are real, Turkey should no longer avoid designation as a state sponsor of terrorism. And it’s long past time the United States and its Canadian and European allies began a serious dialogue about Turkey’s role in NATO.

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ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Deadly Rivalry

There is little ideological or moral difference between al-Qaeda and ISIS. Both are fanatical terrorist organizations with a Sunni jihadist ideology and complete disdain for life. ISIS was even once affiliated with al-Qaeda, having been previously known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. But now they are deadly rivals. The al-Nusra Front is the official al-Qaeda franchise in Syria and it is at war with ISIS. Like Apple and Samsung or Adidas and Nike, al-Qaeda and ISIS are locked in a battle for market share. Those companies compete by bringing to market better products. So do terrorist organizations, only their “products” are high-profile atrocities.

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There is little ideological or moral difference between al-Qaeda and ISIS. Both are fanatical terrorist organizations with a Sunni jihadist ideology and complete disdain for life. ISIS was even once affiliated with al-Qaeda, having been previously known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. But now they are deadly rivals. The al-Nusra Front is the official al-Qaeda franchise in Syria and it is at war with ISIS. Like Apple and Samsung or Adidas and Nike, al-Qaeda and ISIS are locked in a battle for market share. Those companies compete by bringing to market better products. So do terrorist organizations, only their “products” are high-profile atrocities.

The Charlie Hebdo massacre, now claimed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in a video entitled “Vengeance for the Prophet: A Message Regarding the Blessed Battle of Paris,” should be seen in this light. It is, if nothing else, a powerful reminder to the world, after having read about little but ISIS for the past year, that al-Qaeda still matters. ISIS may have made global headlines with grisly beheading videos but it has never struck in a major Western capital before.

It is still unclear, of course, the extent to which AQAP was involved in the attack. Its level of involvement was probably less than al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 or Lashkar e Taiba’s role in the Mumbai massacre, but both of the murderous Kouachi brothers, Said and Cherif, apparently traveled to Yemen to train with AQAP. This helps to explain their familiarity with AK-47s, even if their tradecraft always remains questionable–they left an identification card in their getaway car.

And even if AQAP was largely responsible for the attack, one of the jihadists killed in Paris–Amedy Coulibaly–claimed allegiance with ISIS. One suspects that in jihadist circles this is a branding statement similar to one’s choice of smart phone or warm-up jacket.

In some ways the Paris attacks may be seen to represent a potent new style of terror–not as complex as 9/11 or Mumbai but not an entirely “lone wolf” style attack, such as the hostage-taking in Sydney last month. The attack is linked to a global terrorist organization but was carried out by homegrown extremists. This is a model that, in business parlance, is easily “scalable”–there are, unfortunately, lots of radicalized Muslims in Europe and even some in the United States, and many of them can travel to places like Pakistan and Yemen where it is easy to link up with major terrorist groups.

The Western response must be twofold.

First, do more to shatter groups such as ISIS and AQAP–to prevent them from controlling territory that they can use as a training base for foreign jihadists. We are very far from achieving this objective today, given widespread reports that 1,000 foreigners a month are traveling to Syria to join the fight. Defeats for AQAP and ISIS also dim their luster and make it less likely they will attract more adherents in the West–no one wants to join a lost cause, not even a would-be suicide bomber.

Second, do more to track down and stop homegrown jihadists before they strike again. The French security services, for all their effectiveness (and it is considerable), failed in this regard because all three culprits had been in and out of custody. All three were known to be violent jihadists yet they were free to roam at will, apparently falling off the French radar screen because the security services were so overwhelmed with tracking fighters heading to and from Syria. The French government is right to push for expanded surveillance powers. The U.S., Britain, and other frontline states should follow suit–or at the very least not stop effective surveillance programs which became so unfairly controversial after Edward Snowden’s treasonous revelations.

France, the U.S., Britain, and other states also need to think about how they should act once jihadists are identified–is it possible to detain them or even expel them before there is solid evidence that they are about to carry out a massacre? Such actions may seem antithetical to the idea of free speech–no one should be punished for their beliefs. And there is no question that abuses have been carried out in the past in the name of preventing terrorism, for instance during the Red Scare of 1919-1920 when hundreds of socialists and anarchists were deported.

But courts do grant protective orders against those who are believed to be violent without waiting for them to carry out an actual violent act. Might it be time to institute some similar system with those who advocate terrorism–not fundamentalist Islam but actual terrorist violence? I’m not sure of the answer, because this would raise legitimate civil-liberties concerns, but it is at least a question worth exploring in the wake of attacks such as the one in Paris–or at the Boston Marathon. We cannot just sit back as ISIS and al-Qaeda play out their deadly rivalry at our expense.

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No “Clash of Civilizations”

The terrorists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris–Saïd and Chérif Kouachi–were of course Muslims, born in Paris to parents of Algerian origin. So too Amedy Coulibaly, who shot hostages in a kosher supermarket before being killed by police, was a Muslim, in his case of African origin. Their acts were applauded by various jihadists and fellow travelers around the world who praised them for “avenging the prophet.”

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The terrorists who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris–Saïd and Chérif Kouachi–were of course Muslims, born in Paris to parents of Algerian origin. So too Amedy Coulibaly, who shot hostages in a kosher supermarket before being killed by police, was a Muslim, in his case of African origin. Their acts were applauded by various jihadists and fellow travelers around the world who praised them for “avenging the prophet.”

It would be easy, therefore, to conclude that this terrorist atrocity, the latest of many, is symptomatic of a general Muslim assault on the West–that the world is dividing, as Samuel Huntington famously predicted, into a battle of civilizations and that “our” civilization is destined to be at war with “theirs.” But that easy us-vs.-them narrative is complicated by a few facts.

Such as the fact that Ahmed Merabet, a police officer gunned down during the Charlie Hebdo attack, was himself a Muslim of Algerian origin. His brother said: “My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims. Islam is a religion of peace and love. As far as my brother’s death is concerned it was a waste. He was very proud of the name Ahmed Merabet, proud to represent the police and of defending the values of the Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity.”

So too Lassana Bathily of Mali, the employee who hid 15 people at the kosher supermarket from Coulibaly, was a Muslim. As was Mohamed Douhane, one of the senior police commanders directing the response to the attacks. He even visited Israel in 2008 along with a delegation of other French Muslim leaders.

What to make of these contrasting facts? Is Islam a religion of peace, as many claim, or is it a religion dedicated to making war on unbelievers and infidels, as others assert? Are the terrorists the true Muslims–or are the law-abiding French Muslims truer to their faith?

The answer is “yes.” Both are true at once. Islam, like every other broad-based religion, is subject to numerous conflicting interpretations. Some use it to justify hateful violence; others use it to justify a path of nonviolence. It is impossible to say which is the true version because Islam is a decentralized faith that, unlike Catholicism, has no pope to rule on matters of theology.

Surveys indicate that the broad majority of Muslims around the world are not in the violent, jihadist camp. A Pew poll in 2013, for example, found that across 11 Muslim countries, 67 percent of those surveyed said they are somewhat or very concerned about Islamic extremism and 57 percent said they had an unfavorable view of al-Qaeda while 51 percent had an unfavorable view of the Taliban. Moreover, “about three-quarters or more in Pakistan (89%), Indonesia (81%), Nigeria (78%) and Tunisia (77%), say suicide bombings or other acts of violence that target civilians are never justified.” Indeed the only place where a majority of Muslims justified suicide bombings was in the Palestinian territories.

It seems safe, then, to say that most Muslims around the world are moderate. But there is a substantial minority of extremists which, in absolute numbers, pose a serious threat, given the fact that there are an estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. While those extremists pose a substantial threat to the West, they present an even bigger threat to fellow Muslims. The vast majority of victims of Islamist terrorist organization such as the Taliban, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Hezbollah have been fellow Muslims. Such organizations, after all, are principally bent on dominating their own societies, thus by definition oppressing and killing fellow Muslims; they generally attack the West only as an auxiliary line of operations. One of the truly disturbing aspects of modern-day Islamist movements is the ease with which they declare their Muslim enemies to be “takfir” (i.e. apostates) and therefore liable to be killed.

What is going on, then, is not a war between civilizations but a war within Islamic civilization pitting an armed, militant minority against a peaceful but easily cowed majority. Any talk of waging “war on Islam” is thus deeply misguided and harmful. What we in the West need to do is to help moderate Muslims wage war on the radicals. Sound impossible? Far from it. Just look at how successfully (if brutally) Muslim states such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria have fought to repress Islamist movements–or how courageously so many Iraqi and Afghan security officers have fought against Islamist extremists. (They would fight even more effectively if their own organizations were less corrupt and more effective.)

The “us-vs.-them” narrative only distracts from what needs to be done while playing into the terrorists’ hands–that is after all, precisely the narrative they seek to promulgate to rally Muslims to their side.

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Paris Terror and the Flawed “Yemen Model”

Back in September, when President Obama was announcing his strategy for coping with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, he eschewed sending U.S. combat troops. Instead, he said, “This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

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Back in September, when President Obama was announcing his strategy for coping with ISIS in Iraq and Syria, he eschewed sending U.S. combat troops. Instead, he said, “This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

This caused many commentators, including me, to do a double take. As I wrote at the time, “The president’s analogy to Somalia and Yemen is not an encouraging one. Obama may be one of the few people around who thinks that the U.S. has achieved so much success in those countries that it is a model worth emulating.”

Now the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris brings further evidence of how flawed the Yemen model actually is. Considerable evidence has emerged of links between al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the gunmen who murdered 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo offices. Said Kouachi, one of the two brothers involved, was said to have visited Yemen in 2011 for training, and before launching the assault either he or his brother told bystanders, “Tell the media we are Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

It is still unknown whether the actual operation was directed from Yemen, but it was at least inspired from there–a word I use advisedly because a recent issue Inspire, the AQAP glossy magazine, had listed Charlie Hebdo’s now-deceased editor, Stephane Charbonnier, on its hit list of foreigners who supposedly insult Islam. The headline on the article: “A Bullet a Day Keeps the Infidel Away — Defend the Prophet Mohammed.” Mercifully, the Kouachi brothers are now said to have been killed by French police but the problems besetting Yemen will not be eliminated so quickly or easily.

AQAP is actually only one of the major problems undermining the “Yemen model.” The other major problem is the Houthis, a terrorist group whose members are Zaydis (a Shiite offshoot). They are supported by Iran’s Quds Force. They are making major territorial gains as well, coming close to controlling the entire state even if they don’t control all of its territory. Yemen, in fact, is coming apart at the seams in the same sort of violence between Shiite and Sunni extremists which has also devastated Syria and Iraq.

And what is the U.S. doing about it? For years U.S. Special Operations Forces and the CIA have maintained a small, below-the-radar presence in Yemen, working to train government security forces and to carry out drone strikes on terrorist suspects such as Anwar al-Awlaki, the AQAP ideologue who was killed by a Hellfire missile in 2011.

Such isolated, pinprick strikes may be necessary in the war on terror but they are hardly sufficient. They have not turned the tide in Yemen, nor will they do so in Iraq and Syria. A much more substantial effort is needed, as some of us have been arguing for some time.

In this Policy Innovation Memorandum released by the Council on Foreign Relations in November, for example, I laid out the steps needed to defeat ISIS which involve, inter alia, relaxing the restrictions on U.S. “boots on the ground” and doing much more to mobilize the Sunni tribes. The overarching need is for the Obama administration to end its flirtation with Iran which only alarms Sunnis throughout the region and drives them into the arms of extremists such as AQAP and ISIS. Sunnis must be offered a political endstate that will mobilize them to fight–and that hasn’t happened so far.

Until the Obama administration steps up its game, alas, jihadist groups of both Sunni and Shiite ilk will continue advancing, making further mockery of the “Yemen model” for fighting terrorists.

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A Consequential Terror Attack in Paris

The U.S. has 9/11. Spain has 11-M (the March 11, 2004, bombings of the Madrid commuter trains which killed 191). Britain has 7/7 (a reference to the July 7, 2005 bombings which killed 52 people taking public transportation in London). And now, on a slightly smaller but still horrific scale, France has 1/7: the assault by three masked gunmen on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which left 12 people dead.

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The U.S. has 9/11. Spain has 11-M (the March 11, 2004, bombings of the Madrid commuter trains which killed 191). Britain has 7/7 (a reference to the July 7, 2005 bombings which killed 52 people taking public transportation in London). And now, on a slightly smaller but still horrific scale, France has 1/7: the assault by three masked gunmen on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris, which left 12 people dead.

What all of these events have in common is, of course, the Islamist ideology which animated the killers–a ruthless willingness to kill the innocent in pursuit of far-fetched religious and political objectives. In all three cases jihadist fanatics saw Western nations, whether the U.S., Britain, or France, as obstacles to their designs–and understandably so, because all three back moderate regimes in the Middle East and have intervened with their own armed forces to fight the forces of terrorism, whether in Mali, Iraq, or Afghanistan.

Of these attacks, only one–9/11–so far has been proven to have been directed by a terrorist organization based abroad: al-Qaeda, which at the time enjoyed sanctuary in Afghanistan. There were rumored links between the 7/7 bombers–mostly children of Pakistani immigrants–and the al-Qaeda organization, by then based in Pakistan, but nothing was ever proven. Likewise rumors of links between the Spanish bombers and al-Qaeda or its North African affiliates were not proven. We will have to wait to find out if the 1/7 attackers had direct links to a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda or ISIS (there are unverified reports that they were connected to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) or whether they were a self-radicalized cell acting on their own initiative.

Whether the 7/7 attackers were in touch with terrorist organizations abroad or not, their actions did not need much planning or coordination, unlike the intricately choreographed attack in 2001 on American passenger aircraft. Indeed it is a wonder that we have not seen more such assaults, especially in the U.S., given the prevalence of massacres by deranged gunmen from Aurora, Colorado, to Newtown, Connecticut. France, for its part, has seen a spate of low-level “lone wolf” attacks in recent weeks, with attackers driving their cars into crowds or attacking police officers with a knife.

Part of the explanation may lie in the greater success that the U.S. has had in assimilating immigrants–there is not a large underclass of resentful Muslim immigrants in this country as there is in Britain, France, and other European countries. But it doesn’t take many fanatics to carry out a terrorist attack and our air of complacency might well have been punctured if the 2010 car bombing of Times Square by a Pakistani immigrant had gone off as planned.

Beyond the need to assimilate immigrants such attacks point to the need to monitor extremist organizations. There has been much controversy in both the U.S. and Europe about the actions of the NSA, but its eavesdropping is the first line of defense–indeed in many ways the best line of defense–against such attacks. The same goes for the much-maligned New York Police Department whose now-disbanded Demographics Unit infiltrated the Muslim community with undercover officers to be alert to extremist activity.

Such intelligence-gathering, especially in the domestic sphere, raises civil-liberties hackles and there is no question that such activities can lead to abuses, as occurred decades ago with the FBI’s Cointelpro intelligence gathering against antiwar activists and civil-rights activists. But, if carefully regulated (as is the case with the NSA and NYPD, from all accounts) such programs are necessary not only to ward off the murder of innocents but the far greater violations of civil liberties that are likely to come after a successful major terrorist attack.

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Is Iraq Doomed to Split Apart?

2014 was annus horribilis for Iraq. In the wake of the raid by Iraqi security forces on a protest camp in Ramadi (a camp which, while largely peaceful also harbored some Al Qaeda elements), al-Qaeda pushed through Al Anbar, seizing Ramadi and Fallujah and overwhelming Iraqi security forces. The collapse culminated in the Islamic State’s rapid sweep through much of the Sunni belt, seizing Mosul, Beiji, and Tikrit as the Iraqi army trained by such American luminaries as David Petraeus and Martin Dempsey simply melted away, the reality of their training not matching the claims of media-savvy generals. The Islamic State, however, was not able to accomplish its initial push alone: It worked hand-in-hand with some Iraqi tribes upset with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s corruption and sectarianism, as well as former regime elements, who have never been able to accede to representative government if it meant empowered Shi‘ites.

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2014 was annus horribilis for Iraq. In the wake of the raid by Iraqi security forces on a protest camp in Ramadi (a camp which, while largely peaceful also harbored some Al Qaeda elements), al-Qaeda pushed through Al Anbar, seizing Ramadi and Fallujah and overwhelming Iraqi security forces. The collapse culminated in the Islamic State’s rapid sweep through much of the Sunni belt, seizing Mosul, Beiji, and Tikrit as the Iraqi army trained by such American luminaries as David Petraeus and Martin Dempsey simply melted away, the reality of their training not matching the claims of media-savvy generals. The Islamic State, however, was not able to accomplish its initial push alone: It worked hand-in-hand with some Iraqi tribes upset with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s corruption and sectarianism, as well as former regime elements, who have never been able to accede to representative government if it meant empowered Shi‘ites.

The Kurds, meanwhile, pushed forward into the disputed territories, finally taking Kirkuk, an oil-rich city which Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani once referred to as the Kurds’ Jerusalem. Not all was well, however, with the Kurds. After months of dismissing Yezidi warnings about the Islamic State’s growing strength and rejecting Yezidi requests for emergency arms, the Islamic State moved on Sinjar with Kurdish President Masoud Barzani’s peshmerga fleeing in their wake, leaving Yezidi men and boys to their executioners, and Yezidi women and girls to Islamic State slavers.

Shi’ite sectarian parties, meanwhile, won a clear majority in Iraq’s 2014 elections, and uncompromising Iranian-backed militias gained the upper hand, even taking over the interior ministry. In November, I visited a camp in southern Iraq where Shi‘ites answering Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s call joined additional volunteer brigades. Unanswered is how these sectarian brigades will reintegrate into society should they push the Islamic State back.

So, with sectarian and ethnic divisions ever more pronounced in Iraq, is Iraq doomed to fall apart as politicians such as Vice President Joe Biden and former diplomats (and Kurdish oil profiteer) like Peter Galbraith once argued?

Earlier this month, Joel Wing—who runs the must-read Iraqi interest blog “Musings on Iraq”—asked me to participate in a short forum with a variety of other Iraq followers to answer the question in 300 words or less: Is Iraq doomed to split apart. As I wrote my piece arguing that Iraq was more resilient than many believe, I expected to be in the minority. I was surprised, therefore, when I read the whole collection in which only a few Iraq experts predicted Iraq’s division and demise. Those predicting Iraq’s resilience spanned a variety of backgrounds, experiences, and political viewpoints. Perhaps the lesson is that if Iraq can survive a year like 2014, it can survive far more than those who see its division realize. Regardless, Musing on Iraq’s “24 Voices on the Unity of Iraq” is worth reading.

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Can Democrats Resist the Torture Trap?

Two weeks ago when the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority issued a report on the use of torture by the CIA during the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11, the Obama administration was put in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the president and the current director of the CIA wanted to avoid engaging in any activity that would undermine the intelligence community and said nothing to indicate that it would reverse the president’s decision about closing the books on any torture activity in the past. On the other, they were eager to distance themselves from the Bush team and to condemn the use of torture. But many on the left continue to treat this deeply partisan and often misleading attack on the Bush administration and its successful efforts to defend America as an excuse to re-fight the political battles of the last decade. That’s the conceit of a New York Times editorial published yesterday that calls for wholesale prosecutions including that of Vice President Cheney. As I wrote two weeks ago, if Obama and the Democrats are smart, they will ignore that advice.

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Two weeks ago when the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Democratic majority issued a report on the use of torture by the CIA during the questioning of al-Qaeda suspects after 9/11, the Obama administration was put in a delicate situation. On the one hand, the president and the current director of the CIA wanted to avoid engaging in any activity that would undermine the intelligence community and said nothing to indicate that it would reverse the president’s decision about closing the books on any torture activity in the past. On the other, they were eager to distance themselves from the Bush team and to condemn the use of torture. But many on the left continue to treat this deeply partisan and often misleading attack on the Bush administration and its successful efforts to defend America as an excuse to re-fight the political battles of the last decade. That’s the conceit of a New York Times editorial published yesterday that calls for wholesale prosecutions including that of Vice President Cheney. As I wrote two weeks ago, if Obama and the Democrats are smart, they will ignore that advice.

President Obama hasn’t always acted wisely when it comes to intelligence matters, but he was right to decide early on in his administration that any effort to prosecute CIA officials or anyone else in the government for their actions against al-Qaeda would be a mistake. Bush ended the controversial “enhanced interrogations,” so it was not a matter of a new administration needing to change policy. The only point of such an exercise would be to gratify left-wingers who despised President Bush and Vice President Cheney and were hoping that the new president would reverse all of their anti-terrorism policies, something that Obama had no intention of doing. Even the Obama foreign policy and defense team knew that doing so would undermine their efforts to continue the campaign against Islamist terrorists that they would have to fight.

But after years of angrily biding their time, these liberals were given another opportunity to indulge their Bush/Cheney derangement syndrome with the release of the Intelligence Committee report. Its conclusions were slanted by the bias of the committee Democrats who were nursing a grudge against the CIA and led to them claim their belief that torture didn’t aid the war against al-Qaeda as a fact rather than, as it truly is, merely an assertion that is sharply contested by many, if not most of those who were involved in the effort.

Moreover, it also took the events of the period following 9/11 out of the context of a conflict against a terrorist movement that had already killed 3,000 people on American soil. Nor did the report’s authors choose to take into account the need to prevent a recurrence of those atrocities or the fact that, as we now know, but didn’t in 2001, that the CIA’s work would be rewarded with success.

Whatever one may think of Cheney or the rough methods employed by the CIA, the bottom line is that they ensured that 9/11 was al-Qaeda’s last victory in North America. It is possible to argue that some of their actions were legally questionable but, contrary to the efforts to paint this dispute as one of black and white rather than grey, there is also a good case to be made in their defense. For the administration to try to prosecute anyone, let alone those specifically tasked with defending the American people at a moment when they were under deadly attack, would be an attempt to criminalize a political difference.

That’s just fine with the Times and its leftist cohorts who have always viewed all of the actions taken under the rubric of the war on terror as illegitimate. They remain stuck in a 9/10 mentality that sees that attack on America as a police problem rather than a war in which the U.S. had to use much of its existing defense resources to achieve victory. As Obama seems to realize, going down that road would mean trashing the CIA at a time when it is needed more than ever to deal with burgeoning foreign and homegrown terror threats.

But as bad as such a course would be for U.S. security, it would be just as bad for the Democratic Party.

While the likely Democratic presidential nominee is seen as possessing a sensible and moderate approach to security issues, Republicans are divided between internationalists like Marco Rubio and isolationists like Rand Paul. Prosecutions of Cheney and company would gratify the Democratic base. But it would drag the party back into the past at a moment when they need to demonstrate both resolve and a will to fight and win the battle against ISIS, the group that rose to dominance in Iraq and Syria while Obama was pretending that Islamist terror was finished the moment Osama bin Laden was shot.

While I don’t expect President Obama to be foolish enough to be sucked down into the rabbit hole of vendettas against Bush and Cheney, it appears much of the Democratic base isn’t so wise. If they spend much of the next two years chasing their tails endlessly inveighing against Cheney, it will distract them from current political battles and solidify their descent into minority party status in preparation for 2016. Now that the isolationist moment is over and Rand Paul’s Obama-like foreign policy is no longer the flavor of the month, the GOP shouldn’t mind a debate that positions the Democrats as the ones who are not willing to do whatever it takes to stop the terrorists that grew powerful on Obama’s watch.

Much as the left would like to turn back the clock to the moment before al-Qaeda struck, that isn’t possible. Nor, despite the diatribes published in the Times, is it smart politics. The more liberals waste their time fighting stale battles against their former adversaries, the less likely it will be that they will be able to retain the White House or regain control of Congress.

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Cheney’s Critics and Moral Clarity in War

As far as America’s political left is concerned, Dick Cheney isn’t merely a wrong-headed Republican; he’s the spawn of the devil. The liberal mainstream media always treated Cheney as George W. Bush’s whipping boy during his administration and this week he’s been continuing that tradition by being willing to get out in front of the cameras after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Cheney’s unrepentant and unapologetic defense of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques during his appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, where he was closely questioned by host Chuck Todd, has sent his detractors over the cliff into heights of rhetorical excess and rage that make this debate take on the appearance of a Medieval theological disputation. But while Cheney may be accused of sounding insensitive about some of the very nasty things that were done to al-Qaeda prisoners, he nevertheless seems to posses a degree of moral clarity that few of his critics seem to have.

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As far as America’s political left is concerned, Dick Cheney isn’t merely a wrong-headed Republican; he’s the spawn of the devil. The liberal mainstream media always treated Cheney as George W. Bush’s whipping boy during his administration and this week he’s been continuing that tradition by being willing to get out in front of the cameras after the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture. Cheney’s unrepentant and unapologetic defense of the “enhanced interrogation” techniques during his appearance yesterday on Meet the Press, where he was closely questioned by host Chuck Todd, has sent his detractors over the cliff into heights of rhetorical excess and rage that make this debate take on the appearance of a Medieval theological disputation. But while Cheney may be accused of sounding insensitive about some of the very nasty things that were done to al-Qaeda prisoners, he nevertheless seems to posses a degree of moral clarity that few of his critics seem to have.

The discussion about torture reminds us of the qualities that always annoyed his opponents most about Cheney. It’s not just that he does things they hate, it’s his air of defiance in which he doesn’t even accept the premise of the questions posed to him that makes them think he is evil. One example comes from New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait who commented on an earlier appearance by the former vice president on Fox News during which he wouldn’t budge from his stance even when asked about some particularly brutal conditions imposed on the terror suspects:

The host, Bret Baier, asked Cheney about Bush’s reported discomfort when told of a detainee’s having been chained to a dungeon ceiling, clothed only in a diaper, and forced to urinate and defecate on himself. “What are we supposed to do? Kiss him on both cheeks and say ‘Please, please, tell us what you know’?” Cheney said. “Of course not. We did exactly what needed to be done in order to catch those who were guilty on 9/11 and prevent a further attack, and we were successful on both parts.”

Here, finally, was the brutal moral logic of Cheneyism on bright display. The insistence by his fellow partisans on averting their eyes from the horrible truth at least grows out of a human reaction. Cheney does not even understand why somebody would look away. His soul is a cold, black void.

Chait’s argument rests on the notion that even if you thought torture might be necessary, the decent thing to do is to act shocked or horrified by the ill treatment of even the bad guys of al-Qaeda. Cheney won’t play that game and that makes him not only infuriating to liberals but a poster child for the necessity of prosecuting Bush administration figures involved in the practice because, as the New York Times’s Juliet Lapidos wrote, he is “among those looking forward—to a time when, under a different administration, it might be possible to “do it again.” They believe his steely resolution that the right thing was done and lack of qualms about these admittedly tough measures show he lacks a soul that even people like Chait are willing to concede Bush might have possessed.

But while in private life the characteristics Cheney is exhibiting might seem egregious, they are also evidence of exactly what we need from wartime leaders.

What Cheney remembers and all of those who are carrying on about the one-sided and often misleading Senate report forget, is that the Bush administration’s primary responsibility after 9/11 was ensuring that another atrocity didn’t occur and that the U.S. didn’t lose the war that al-Qaeda was waging against it. Throughout the history of this republic, wartime leaders have always been forced to do some things that don’t look too good outside of the context of the time and the situation. As I wrote last week after the report was released, war is, at best, a morally ambiguous affair and always involves brutality and bloodshed even waged for moral causes.

When pressed about specifics about torture, Cheney stands his ground and answers that the real definition of torture is what happened to the victims of 9/11, not the temporary discomfort of their murderers. That can rightly be put down as sophistry. As Chait writes, there is a difference between mass murder and torture. But to those charged with the responsibility of defending America, the only real bottom line is whether the enemy is stopped and defeated. According to most of those in the know, the committee’s report is wrong to assert that the controversial interrogations did not provide useful intelligence. As long as that is true, Cheney won’t be squeamish or play the hypocrite. He believes it was the right thing to do and won’t avert his gaze from the behavior that helped achieve this result.

That may not strike most people as the sort of public attitude they want our leaders to display since Americans have always clung to the notion that they never had to stoop to the level of their enemies to win wars even if that was always a myth. But is Cheney’s attitude really any different from the defiant defense of drone attacks that we hear from the Obama administration? In the last several years, America has fought the war against Islamist terror mainly by waging remote-control war with bombs that kill civilians along with the bad guys. Everyone knows this, but somehow this preference for killing rather than capturing and then interrogating prisoners is somehow considered more moral.

Dick Cheney’s soul isn’t any less than that of Barack Obama because he was willing to unflinchingly defend torture to extract intelligence while the latter prefers to order strikes that kill rather than merely harm civilians along with terrorists.

This quality may not make Cheney likeable but it was the reason why he was the right man for the job at the time. It may not be easy for liberals to admit, but he helped keep us safe and ensured that al-Qaeda would be beaten. The tactics aren’t easy to look at, but as he can rightly assert, the only thing in war that counts in the long run is the results. That’s all the moral clarity history ever asks of wartime leaders.

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Sydney Siege and Monitoring Extremists

In the annals of terrorism, 2014 will be notable for two trends: the rise of ISIS, eclipsing al-Qaeda, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorists carrying out heinous attacks with little if any help from anyone. The two trends are, in fact, related, because ISIS is now becoming as much an inspiration for violent fanatics as al-Qaeda once was.

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In the annals of terrorism, 2014 will be notable for two trends: the rise of ISIS, eclipsing al-Qaeda, and the rise of “lone wolf” terrorists carrying out heinous attacks with little if any help from anyone. The two trends are, in fact, related, because ISIS is now becoming as much an inspiration for violent fanatics as al-Qaeda once was.

Both trends are evident in Australia which saw a 16-hour siege of a cafe in Sydney carried out by a 50-year-old Iranian immigrant calling himself Man Haron Monis, a self-styled sheikh who has preached an extremist gospel and recently converted from Shiite to Sunni Islam. His own lawyer calls him a “damaged goods individual” who was apparently on bail in two different criminal cases–he is charged “with being an accessory before and after the fact in the murder of his ex-wife, Noleen Hayson Pal, who was stabbed and set on fire” and with “the indecent and sexual assault of a woman in western Sydney.” In yet another case, he “pleaded guilty in 2013 to 12 charges related to the sending of poison-pen letters to the families of Australian servicemen who were killed overseas.”

What a charmer. A marginal, criminal character, Monis was apparently spurred into taking hostages because he was exercised about Australian military actions, in cooperation with the U.S. and other allies, against ISIS.

There is little that anyone can do to anticipate such random attacks but there is more that can be done to monitor known extremists such as Monis. Unfortunately standing in the way is a misconceived reading of the freedom of religion which is a bedrock of any free society.

It’s absolutely true that anyone should have the freedom to practice any religion–as long as it doesn’t involve advocating or carrying out acts of violence. Extremists should not be able to hide in a mosque any more than in a synagogue or church. That is why it is deeply unfortunate that Mayor Bill de Blasio shut down a New York Police Department program that sent plainclothes officers to mosques, among other locations, to look for signs of terrorist plotting.

Shutting down this surveillance is a politically correct gesture that arises from the same mindset that had Australians tweeting “#IllRideWithYou” after the Sydney siege started to make clear they would accept taxi rides from drivers in traditional Muslim garb–as if the real problem that Australia faces is “Islamophobia” rather than Islamist terrorism. But while silly, the Sydney tweet campaign was also a harmless gesture. De Blasio’s actions are far more significant. They make New Yorkers less safe from the kind of lone wolf attack that just hit Sydney.

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Torture and the Moral Ambiguity of War

The aftermath of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation policies after 9/11 has set off a spasm of self-righteous condemnation of these procedures and the agency by most of the mainstream media. At the same time, the partisan nature of the report, which was rejected by the Republicans on the committee, has turned it into something of a political football. But as shocking as the details about the treatment dished out to captured terrorists may be to many citizens, the most damning piece of the report may be the allegation that the agency lied to the president and other political authorities. But that charge rests almost completely on the allegation that “at no time” did intelligence gleaned from such interrogations prevent a terror attack. This is thoroughly refuted by both the minority report and the statements of former CIA directors, and deputy directors who were shockingly never interviewed by the committee, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

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The aftermath of the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation policies after 9/11 has set off a spasm of self-righteous condemnation of these procedures and the agency by most of the mainstream media. At the same time, the partisan nature of the report, which was rejected by the Republicans on the committee, has turned it into something of a political football. But as shocking as the details about the treatment dished out to captured terrorists may be to many citizens, the most damning piece of the report may be the allegation that the agency lied to the president and other political authorities. But that charge rests almost completely on the allegation that “at no time” did intelligence gleaned from such interrogations prevent a terror attack. This is thoroughly refuted by both the minority report and the statements of former CIA directors, and deputy directors who were shockingly never interviewed by the committee, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Former CIA Directors George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss, and Michael V. Hayden and former CIA Deputy Directors John E. McLaughlin, Albert M. Calland, and Stephen R. Kappes explain in their piece how the controversial interrogations provided information that disrupted terrorist plotting that made it difficult if not impossible for attacks to be planned or executed as well as leading to the capture of important terrorists. They also provided invaluable knowledge about how al-Qaeda worked.

How could the Democrats on the committee and their staff claim that the intelligence gleaned from these sessions was of no use?

First, they adopted a narrow definition of their utility by saying that they did not directly prevent a ticking bomb from going off. That may be true but there is more to a war against a brutal enemy that such an instance. The task the CIA was handed on September 12, 2001 was not merely to prevent a last-minute intervention against the next attack on the American homeland but to wage a campaign that would ensure that we never again came close to such a disaster. Their efforts largely ensured that there was never another 9/11.

Most critics of the report have rightly complained about the lack of context in these condemnations of tough treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. Intelligence officers could not operate with the knowledge we may have now about the ultimate outcome of the battle with the group but only with what they knew at the time. However, as much as all those who are revolted by the details of the torture report should not judge these agents with hindsight, we also should judge them in terms of ultimate results. The conflict with al-Qaeda wasn’t a police investigation of a local, if horrific, crime but a war in which a crafty enemy determined to kill as many Americans as possible.

What we ought never to forget when discussing how the war on al-Qaeda was fought is that the ultimate judgment that the CIA worried about in 2001, 2002, and 2003 was not second-guessing by congressional partisans or moral preening by the New York Times editorial board. Rather, it was the possibility that they would fail, as they had failed prior to 9/11 and that al-Qaeda would not merely pull off another attack but that the group would be able to further entrench itself in the Middle East as a permanent factor destabilizing the region as well as using it as a base for future atrocities against the West. In short, once you realize that the methods were not ineffective, the talk about lies is exposed as partisan bunk.

We can’t know for certain exactly how much the torture of prisoners aided efforts to prevent that from happening but the assertion that it was of no utility is pure ideology, not derived from the facts. The spirit that permeates the Senate report is the notion that because torture is a wrong thing about which no one should feel happy or comfortable, it must perforce also be ineffective. To understand that it can be, at one and the same time, both immoral as well as effective and, in the context of a war for the survival of the West and democracy, essential, is to embrace a moral complexity that those writing the report or penning impassioned anti-CIA editorials are incapable of comprehending.

Just as important, the intelligence and operational failures of U.S. policy in the Middle East in the past few years gives the lie to bold assertions about it being safe enough now for Americans to think they don’t need human intelligence or to play rough with terrorists. The rise of ISIS, which now has achieved more on the ground in Iraq and Syria than its al-Qaeda rivals ever dreamed of, is impossible to imagine outside of the context of an American retreat from the region that is rooted in part by an unwillingness to go on fighting hard against the Islamist enemy.

Seen not only in the perspective of time but also from the understanding that talk of lies is sophistry, the report is particularly regrettable. Committee Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein’s desire for score settling with a CIA that had repeatedly clashed with her is obvious. So, too, is the political left’s passion to demonize the George W. Bush administration and to retroactively delegitimize the successful war it waged on al-Qaeda. But whatever one may think about torture, it is important to remember that there was no real political divide about what to do about al-Qaeda on 9/12/01. It may be that the general moral revulsion against torture is such that even those who understand, as even President Obama does, that the CIA was reacting to the needs of the moment, will insist that it never again be used. But those who think they can erase the moral ambiguity of war with a phrase or a self-righteous editorial are wrong. While we can pray that we never again find ourselves in such a situation, wise observers understand that if we do, the CIA will not be able to pretend that it can defeat the enemy with strictly moral methods.

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Rescue or Ransom? Obama Made Right Call.

This past weekend’s Navy SEAL mission to rescue Luke Somers, an American held by al-Qaeda in Yemen, ended in tragedy when the terrorists holding the photojournalist killed him and his cellmate, South African Pierre Korkie, before they could be rescued. Like all military disasters, the attempt is subject to second-guessing about the risks that were taken. But adding to the anguish of this failure is the revelation that, unbeknownst to the U.S., a South African charity had already negotiated a ransom for Korkie and he was supposed to be released the day after the attempt to free him took place. This opens up President Obama, who personally ordered the mission, as well as the U.S. policy of no negotiations or ransoms for American hostages, to criticism. But as unfortunate as these events may be, the president was right.

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This past weekend’s Navy SEAL mission to rescue Luke Somers, an American held by al-Qaeda in Yemen, ended in tragedy when the terrorists holding the photojournalist killed him and his cellmate, South African Pierre Korkie, before they could be rescued. Like all military disasters, the attempt is subject to second-guessing about the risks that were taken. But adding to the anguish of this failure is the revelation that, unbeknownst to the U.S., a South African charity had already negotiated a ransom for Korkie and he was supposed to be released the day after the attempt to free him took place. This opens up President Obama, who personally ordered the mission, as well as the U.S. policy of no negotiations or ransoms for American hostages, to criticism. But as unfortunate as these events may be, the president was right.

This is not the first time that U.S. policy has been called into question by the outcome of a terrorist kidnapping. Back in September, the family of James Foley, an American who was murdered by his ISIS captors after the U.S. refused to ransom him, criticized the government for not only not saving their son but also for their attempts to prevent them from negotiating a ransom. As far as the Foleys were concerned, the Obama administration had sacrificed their loved one in order to make a political point. The fact that earlier in the year, the same government had negotiated with the Taliban for the freedom of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. solider who had been captured under suspicious circumstances, added hypocrisy to the charges.

But as much as the anguish of the Foleys and the Korkie family is understandable, the president’s decision to choose rescue rather than ransom was entirely correct.

Rather than approach this sad outcome as a human-interest story in which an uncaring government let innocents die to prove a point, our focus should remain on the fact that the West is engaged in a war with Islamist terrorists. Kidnapping is a major source of income for both ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates. These groups profit handsomely from trades for Western hostages and use the funds they acquire to not only kidnap more victims but to strengthen their ability to threaten vital Western interests. Simply put, without the sums they have extracted from European governments in exchange for their citizens, ISIS would not currently be in possession of much of Syria and Iraq.

Unfortunately, the problem with ransoms is not limited to the aid the transactions give to the terrorists. By not coordinating with Western governments, the efforts of groups like the Gift of the Givers charity—the organization that was working for Korkie’s release—make it difficult, if not impossible for the U.S. military to avoid operations that might interfere with a hostage’s release. Instead of castigating the United States for a rescue operation that went wrong, those who, even for altruistic reasons, conduct negotiations that aid the terrorists are ultimately to blame.

The war against Islamist terrorism has dragged on for more than a decade and no end is in sight. Part of the reason for that lies in the inherent difficulties in fighting a movement that can be an elusive if deadly target. Part of it also stems from foolish decisions by the Obama administration that weakened America’s position in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. But those problems notwithstanding, the president and his foreign-policy team cannot be credibly accused of indifference to the lives of Western hostages. Though the administration’s desire to abandon the Middle East and to move to détente with dangerous Iran is a colossal blunder, their commitment to fighting ISIS and al-Qaeda is clear. Those who will blame the president for the deaths of Somers and Korkie need to remember that it is the terrorists who bear all of the responsibility for what happened, not an administration that did the right thing and refused to pay ransoms.

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Promise and Peril of Obama’s Triangulation

Bill Clinton was known as a master “triangulator” for his ability to come up with policies exactly equidistant between the extremes of left and right. Barack Obama has been pursuing a similar policy in foreign policy but with less success because national security is not a realm where half-measures tend to work. Yet that is what the president is constantly trying to do.

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Bill Clinton was known as a master “triangulator” for his ability to come up with policies exactly equidistant between the extremes of left and right. Barack Obama has been pursuing a similar policy in foreign policy but with less success because national security is not a realm where half-measures tend to work. Yet that is what the president is constantly trying to do.

He tripled the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan at the start of his administration, for example, but insisted on withdrawing surge troops within 18 months which undercut their effectiveness. He helped to topple Moammar Gaddafi but insisted on taking a backseat to the Europeans during the war and not doing anything to stabilize Libya afterward. More recently he has announced the dispatch of warplanes and 3,000 troops to Iraq to combat ISIS but the bombing campaign has been far more limited than previous U.S. air campaigns in Kosovo or Afghanistan and U.S. advisers have been prohibited from accompanying local troops into combat.

And now we see Obama triangulating in Afghanistan. Serious military analysts in and out of uniform thought we needed to leave at least 25,000-30,000 troops in Afghanistan past 2014, whereas Obama’s political advisers and his vice president argued for leaving at most a couple of thousand troops. Obama compromised by keeping slightly fewer than 10,000 troops after the end of the year but promising that he would withdraw them by the end of 2016.

There then ensued within the administration a debate over what authorities would be granted to those troops–could they target the Taliban or just al-Qaeda remnants? Could they provide close air support if needed to the Afghan security forces? According to a New York Times leak, Obama has settled the debate for now by granting the kind of expansive authorities requested by the military but opposed by his political advisers: “Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.”

This is good news because the Taliban, Haqqanis, al-Qaeda, and other extremist elements are so intertwined that it makes no sense to target one without also targeting the others. But the actual combat operations carried out by U.S. forces will be highly limited–odds are that only a few Special Operations troops will come in direct contact with the enemy. Moreover, the number of U.S. troops left in Afghanistan is still going to be extremely small–the figure of under 10,000 troops was concocted by U.S. commanders to be palatable to the White House, not because they thought it was the optimal troop strength to accomplish the mission. And the withdrawal deadline of 2016 still looms even though there is no chance that the Pakistan-supported Taliban insurgency will be over by then.

We can only hope that Obama triangulates again to keep a substantial American troop contingent in Afghanistan past the end of his presidency–otherwise all that U.S. troops have sacrificed so much to achieve under his command risks being lost.

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What to Do About ISIS

It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

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It is easy to call ISIS’s beheading of poor Peter Kassig–a former U.S. Army Ranger turned humanitarian aid worker in Syria–an act of “pure evil,” as President Obama has done. It is considerably harder to know how to oppose such evil effectively. And that is where the president has so far fallen short. To take only one example, the U.S. air campaign against ISIS is ten times smaller than the one against the Taliban in the fall of 2001. And the total number of troops authorized for the mission–now 3,000–is well short of what serious experts believe is necessary, with most realistic estimates falling in the range of 10,000 to 25,000.

In this just-released Council on Foreign Relations policy innovation memorandum, I outline my view of what a real strategy designed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS would look like. As you will see, I call for not only increasing the military effort but also doing more to train and mobilize Sunni tribes on both sides of the Syria-Iraq border, while extending our fight to the Assad regime in order to convince Sunnis to join the anti-ISIS campaign.

I also argue for preparing now to build a postwar order in both Syria and Iraq, unpalatable as the thought of “nation building” might be for some. It is hard to over-stress the importance of the latter point, because only by sketching out a hopeful future will the U.S. convince Syrians and Iraqis to risk their lives to fight ISIS. Declaring a no-fly zone over all or part of Syria would be an important first step in this regard because it would allow the Free Syrian Army to train and a free Syrian government to organize.

Sadly there is little sign so far that President Obama is willing to mount such a serious effort. But it is just possible that continuing outrage over ISIS beheading Americans could force his hand.

And for those who think that ISIS is deliberately trying to lure U.S. troops into Iraq and Syria: At the moment the desultory U.S. campaign is playing into their hands by allowing them to tell their followers that they have stood up to the Great Satan. A more effective U.S.-led campaign would not be so welcome to ISIS if it resulted in its dismemberment and defeat as previously happened to its forerunner, al-Qaeda in Iraq.

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Effects of U.S.-Iran Détente Appear in Syria

The news from Syria remains grim. Over the weekend the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, made substantial gains against fighters of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib Province, west of Aleppo. Nusra is now threatening to seize control of one of the last remaining border crossings between Turkey and Syria, at Bab al-Hawa, that remains in FSA hands.

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The news from Syria remains grim. Over the weekend the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate, made substantial gains against fighters of the Free Syrian Army in Idlib Province, west of Aleppo. Nusra is now threatening to seize control of one of the last remaining border crossings between Turkey and Syria, at Bab al-Hawa, that remains in FSA hands.

Apparently Nusra, which in the past has operated in de facto alliance with the FSA, has decided to turn on its sometime partners because the U.S., the FSA’s major patron, has been bombing some Nusra personnel–and because Nusra is competing with ISIS for control of areas not held by the Assad regime. Sadly, the Obama administration has not given any aid to the FSA fighters under siege even though they are supposedly our best hope of toppling Bashar al-Assad and replacing him with a non-jihadist regime.

Meanwhile, we learn, courtesy of Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy, that the State Department is eliminating a $500,000-a-year grant to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, an NGO investigating and documenting the Assad regime’s war crimes for possible prosecution in the future. Lynch quotes a State Department official saying, “As far as State Department funding for justice and accountability in Syria, there has been no change. The bottom line is that we remain 100 percent committed to collecting this kind of information.”

Uh-huh. In reality considerable skepticism is in order. While cutting funding for an investigation of Assad’s war crimes, the State Department has just announced $1.6 million in grants to investigate ISIS war crimes. This conveys the clear impression that while Washington is interested in fighting ISIS (and possibly Nusra), it has little interest in fighting Assad. In fact, the U.S. appears to be making common cause with Assad and his Iranian patrons in both Iraq and Syria–a shift symbolized by the U.S. willingness to bomb ISIS but not Assad. This can be seen as part of a larger shift for Obama administration foreign policy toward an accommodation with Iran whose centerpiece is meant to be a nuclear accord later this month.

As I have argued before, this is a tragically misbegotten policy because by aligning ourselves with Assad and the Iranians, we are ensuring that ISIS and the Nusra Front will come to be seen as the only reliable defenders of Sunni interests. The Quds Force, Hezbollah, and other Shiite extremists on the one hand, and ISIS and other Sunni jihadists on the other, are locked in a self-perpetuating cycle of violence: the more power one group of extremists grabs, the more power the other group of extremists will subsequently get because each postures as the defender of sectarian interests against the other. The only way to break this cycle of violence is to help relatively moderate forces such as the FSA and the Sunni tribes of both Syria and Iraq. While the Obama administration pays lip service to these goals, however, its actions on the ground convey a very different–and more troubling–impression.

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War on Terror: What’s Old Is New Again

Writers often don’t choose their own headlines, and the one over this Politico Magazine piece does not appear to reflect the author’s input. But it does highlight how an unfortunate piece of conventional wisdom has crept into mainstream publications regarding the war on terror. The piece, by former CIA analyst Aki Peritz, is headlined “Are We Too Dysfunctional for a New War on Terror?” Setting aside the potential effect of congressional deadlock on defense policy, the problematic word here is: “new.”

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Writers often don’t choose their own headlines, and the one over this Politico Magazine piece does not appear to reflect the author’s input. But it does highlight how an unfortunate piece of conventional wisdom has crept into mainstream publications regarding the war on terror. The piece, by former CIA analyst Aki Peritz, is headlined “Are We Too Dysfunctional for a New War on Terror?” Setting aside the potential effect of congressional deadlock on defense policy, the problematic word here is: “new.”

Is the “old” war on terror over? Not by any reasonable metric. Al-Qaeda is not now, and was not even after bin Laden’s death, on the run. President Obama has somewhat taken the war on terror off the front burner for many Americans through his policy of killing instead of capturing potential terrorists–not to mention the fact that he’s a Democrat, so the antiwar movement, which was mostly an anti-Bush movement, has receded from view. (Though the fringe activists of Code Pink have continued yelling at senators.)

Complicating Obama’s desire to end the war on terror is that he has only presided over its expansion, for a simple reason. Obama can choose to end America’s participation in a traditional land war by retreating from that country. It’s ignominious but yes, a war can plausibly end if one side just leaves.

But the war on terror isn’t a traditional land war. The American retrenchment over which Obama has presided has had all sorts of wholly predictable and deadly results, but those results are, in Obama’s mind, for someone else to deal with. So for example we have Russia on the march, but as far as Obama’s concerned, it’s Ukraine’s war. Terrorism is different, because when terrorists fill a vacuum, they create a safe haven, and when they do that they threaten America.

Thus we have Thursday’s Wall Street Journal report on the terrorist group known as Khorasan, which many in the West hadn’t heard of until last week:

U.S. officials say Khorasan is a growing hazard, particularly to the U.S., because its members are focused on violence toward the West and have been eyeing attacks on American airliners.

On Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as Islamic State “in terms of threat to the homeland.” It was the first time a U.S. official has acknowledged the group’s existence. …

Officials wouldn’t describe in any detail the nature, location or timing of the plots. Together, Nusra Front and Khorasan are suspected to have multiple plots in the works targeting countries in Europe as well as the U.S.

Other news organizations have since followed the Journal’s lead and reported on Khorasan. Syria has become an anarchic incubator of terrorist groups, itself an obvious source of possible trouble for U.S. counterterrorism and homeland security efforts. It also magnifies the threat to regional stability, which puts U.S. interests further at risk.

How such a threat multiplies in that environment is often misunderstood. The groups don’t necessarily “team up” on an attack against the West. But it helps to connect those who want to attack the West but don’t have the means or the knowhow with those who have the means and knowhow but not the desire to attack the West. And it has eerie echoes from past collaborations. As the Council on Foreign Relations noted in a 2006 backgrounder on the Hezbollah-al-Qaeda relationship:

As former National Security Council members Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon describe in their book, The Age of Sacred Terror, a small group of al-Qaeda members visited Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon in the mid-1990s. Shortly thereafter, according to testimony from Ali Mohammed, an Egyptian-born U.S. Army sergeant who later served as one of bin Laden’s lieutenants and pled guilty to participating in the 1998 embassy bombings in eastern Africa, Osama bin Laden and Imad Mugniyeh met in Sudan. The two men, who have both topped the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, agreed Hezbollah would provide the fledgling al-Qaeda organization with explosives and training in exchange for money and manpower. Though it is unclear whether all terms of that agreement were met or the degree to which the two groups have worked together since. Douglas Farah, a journalist and consultant with the NEFA Foundation, a New York-based counterterrorism organization, says Hezbollah helped al-Qaeda traffic its assets through Africa in the form of diamonds and gold shortly after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. and European intelligence reports from that time suggest the two groups were collaborating in such activities as money laundering, gun running, and training. It’s not clear whether these past collaborations were isolated incidents or indications of a broader relationship.

Khorasan’s leader, according to the New York Times, “was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.” And the Journal adds that the group “is also pursuing a major recruitment effort focused on fighters with Western passports, officials said.” So it’s easy to understand why American counterterrorism and intelligence officials are taking the threat seriously.

A member of bin Laden’s inner circle is leading a group planning attacks on the U.S., was recently living in Iran, and is utilizing a terrorist haven teeming with weapons and possible recruits. This is not a “new” war on terror. In many cases it’s not even a new enemy. No matter how uninterested the American president is in the global war on terror, the war on terror is still interested in him.

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Islamist Atrocities and the End of Outrage

When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

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When Islamist terrorists stormed a school in Beslan, southern Russia, just over a decade ago, not only Russians and the West were aghast, but so too were many Ossetians, Chechens, and, more generally, Islamists otherwise supportive of militancy and violence. The victimization of the children was too great to bare for many, and led them to question just what it meant to put the rhetoric they once embraced into action. In the aftermath of the Beslan massacre, radicalism did not diminish, but the Chechen and Ossetian ability to fundraise and recruit did and, for a moment at least, men and women of all religions stood against Islamist radicalism.

There were the beginnings of a similar moment when terrorists from Boko Haram, a radical Nigerian group, abducted hundreds of school girls, most of whom remain missing. Even al-Qaeda criticized Boko Haram’s action as destructive to the overall cause which al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists embrace.

Alas, it seems that the public—and Islamists—are becoming accustomed to such brutality and are no longer willing to condemn it on such a broad scale. Cases in point are the capture and enslavement of Yezidi girls and the systematic execution of journalists and aid workers by proponents of ISIS. Now certainly, these have been subject to the usual rote condemnations by governments and by groups like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) that have taken Saudi and Qatari money and often associate with more radical Islamist movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

But, when push comes to shove, many Islamists and the groups and countries which support them are not putting their money where their mouth is. Arab countries—the same countries whose citizens often donated to ISIS and associated charities—have been reluctant to help. Turkey’s excuse—that it is afraid for hostages held in Mosul—does not pass the smell test given that Turkey has not hesitated to wage war against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) even when that group has held Turks hostage. That President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refuses to label ISIS as terrorists simply reinforces the issue.

It’s all well and good to dismiss ISIS actions as “un-Islamic” as CAIR has done or, for that matter, as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have done. But the truth is that to millions of Muslims, they are very Islamic. To deny the religious component of “Jihad John” or ISIS’s actions is to deny that there is an exegesis within Islamic thought that not only allows but blesses such actions. It is to deny that there is a battle of interpretation which must be won. Nor is it logical to embrace a politically correct and scrubbed 21st century definition of jihad when ISIS reaches back to interpretations of a millennium and more ago when jihad was understood by Islamic theologians to mean an often offensive holy war.

The fact that the visceral outrage which confronted the Beslan murders has now been replaced by pro-forma but ultimately meaningless condemnations of Islamic terror by Muslim majority states and Islamic advocacy organizations suggests that far from rising up with righteous outrage against the actions of the latest Islamist group, the broader Islamic world has become inured to such actions conducted in its name and unwilling to recoil and shame its proponents and supporters in the same way.

Indeed, the thousands of foreign terrorists which now flock to Syria and Iraq did not radicalize in the last two months, nor did they embrace the most radical interpretations of Islam simply because they disliked former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Rather, they were instructed in hundreds of mosques scattered across Europe, North Africa, South Asia, and Turkey. They were taught the Koran and its meaning by thousands of teachers and imams funded by the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. These mosques were protected from criticism by so-called Islamic civil-rights and advocacy groups who conflated any criticism of radical Islamist ideology with Islamophobia. If only the same organizations instead began to name and publicly shame the extremists who preach in American, European, or Middle Eastern mosques.

Press releases won’t cut it, nor diplomatic handshakes and symbolic press conferences. The problem lies deeper, and ultimately boils down to the tolerance for extremism in so many European, American, and Middle Eastern mosques upon which ISIS recruiters rely.

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