Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

Nuclear Deal Will Enable Iran-Sponsored Terrorism

With the world’s attention focused squarely on the Iran nuclear talks, the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza has largely gone unnoticed in the international press. However, the steady pace of tunnel building and arms imports into the strip has not escaped the notion of Israel’s defense establishment. Hamas has bragged of its ability to maintain the pace of construction at the Israeli border on tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks. While Israelis hope that Hamas is serious about maintaining the cease-fire that has held since last summer’s war, they rightly worry about whether dissatisfaction with its rule will lead the leadership of the group to conclude that another round of violence is the best to stay in power as well as to undermine its Fatah rivals in the West Bank. But one aspect of the deal that Congress needs to thoroughly explore before it votes on the agreement is the degree to that the money that will flood into the Islamist regime once sanctions are lifted may serve to provide another major incentive that could provide the spark for another war.

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With the world’s attention focused squarely on the Iran nuclear talks, the Hamas military buildup in the Gaza has largely gone unnoticed in the international press. However, the steady pace of tunnel building and arms imports into the strip has not escaped the notion of Israel’s defense establishment. Hamas has bragged of its ability to maintain the pace of construction at the Israeli border on tunnels aimed at facilitating terror attacks. While Israelis hope that Hamas is serious about maintaining the cease-fire that has held since last summer’s war, they rightly worry about whether dissatisfaction with its rule will lead the leadership of the group to conclude that another round of violence is the best to stay in power as well as to undermine its Fatah rivals in the West Bank. But one aspect of the deal that Congress needs to thoroughly explore before it votes on the agreement is the degree to that the money that will flood into the Islamist regime once sanctions are lifted may serve to provide another major incentive that could provide the spark for another war.

The situation in Gaza is generally depicted in the international press as one of squalor and deprivation. But economic problems have not prevented Hamas from diverting a significant portion of the aid the strip receives away from reconstruction of homes destroyed in last year’s war towards the rebuilding of their military infrastructure. Rather than hiding its plans, Hamas has repeatedly boasted in public about efforts to build more tunnels under the border that would be used for murder and kidnapping raids inside Israel. The partial blockade Israel tries to enforce with help from Egypt is geared toward preventing Hamas from bringing in materials that could be used for either tunnel building or the construction of strongholds that would shield terrorists and their armaments from counter-attack. But to their chagrin, the Israelis have discovered that some of the material used for this purpose is actually being brought into Gaza via the daily convoys from Israel that are supposed to deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military items.

That’s a troubling breakdown for the Israelis that, as the Times of Israel reports, helps to explain how Hamas has maintained the steady work on the tunnels despite heat and lack of pay for the hundreds slaving away underground on the project reportedly with heavy engineering equipment. If, as Israeli authorities now assume, Hamas has at least one tunnel already completed that has not yet been detected, the stage is already set for a terrorist outrage that could set off another rocket barrage on Israeli cities in the coming months. Hamas may fear that a new war might lead the Israeli government to decide to act decisively against them this time. Yet they also know that pressure from an Obama administration that wants nothing to undermine its pact with Iran will continue to serve as a decisive restraint on Israeli policy.

Israel and the U.S. may hope that Hamas will see the maintenance of the cease-fire as in their interests as well as that of the residents of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza But Iran may have other ideas. Its rapprochement with Hamas in the last year was made possible in no small measure by the Obama administration’s soft approach to Syria. Hamas broke with Iran over Assad but has backtracked now that it’s clear that efforts to install an Islamist regime in its place have failed due to Tehran’s military intervention and the West’s decision to do nothing but talk about the need for Assad to go. Hamas-Iran reconciliation gives Tehran a southern ally to go with its Hezbollah auxiliaries that threaten Israel from the north.

This is important because of Iran’s predilection for making mischief in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. But the flood of cash into Iran’s coffers that will follow the completion of the nuclear deal will significantly enhance its ability to shower aid on its allies. Not even the Obama administration denies that Iran remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. With Israel being the leading voice against the Western push for détente with Tehran, the ayatollahs have every reason to try to ratchet up the pressure on the Jewish state via new attacks from Hamas that might, unlike the case with last summer’s fighting, be coordinated with rocket launches from Hezbollah in the north.

The administration has been trying to deny that their diplomacy will have an impact on Hamas and Hezbollah. But, as Israeli blogger Jeffrey Grossman noted yesterday, they’re having trouble keeping their stories straight. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Iran would not be allowed to use their new riches to help their terrorist allies. But National Security Advisor Susan Rice has conceded that there would be nothing to stop them from sending funds (but not arms as they already do) to Hamas. Meanwhile the Iranians are making it clear that nothing in the deal will stop them from doing whatever they like with regard to helping their terrorist friends. They’re right about that. Nothing in the agreement will prevent Iran-sponsored terrorism.

The pact deserves to be rejected on the nuclear issue alone since it gives Iran a clear path to a bomb even if it observes its terms with a short 10 to 15 year period. The lack of transparency and the failure to set up a meaningful inspections procedure that would provide the anytime, anywhere access that the administration once promised was a given means it is a blatant act of nuclear appeasement. But even as we rightly focus on the nuclear threat, the short-term impact of its terms on Iran’s ability to aid terrorism is equally important. An Iranian bomb may have to wait until it reaps all the benefits of President Obama’s foolish desire for détente with Tehran. But a new war from a Hamas aided by its powerful Iranian friend may be the first calamity that will result from this fiasco.

 

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The Terror We Couldn’t Stop

On Friday, the families of four American Marines awoke to a world without their loved ones. They had their lives stolen from them by a gunman, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who stormed a recruiting station and opened fire on the unarmed service personnel. American officials have advised the public not to rush to conclusions about the attacker’s motives. That’s good advice, but we shouldn’t subordinate common sense to a political ideal. Abdulazeez’s motives are not difficult to discern. Though the attacker did not share many of his thoughts online, those posts he did compose were, according to the Daily Beast, “written in a popular style of Islamic religious reasoning.” He fantasized about the afterlife and described at length how he had little regard for his meaningless corporeal form. He may have taken trips to Yemen and Jordan before executing this suicidal attack. In carrying out an assault on American soldiers, he was following an Islamic State directive. This apparent act of terrorism in Chattanooga is just one of the many efforts of ISIS-linked or ISIS-inspired attackers to execute terrorist attacks inside the United States. It is a demonstration of the terrifying fact that there will always be holes in the net and, despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the threat to the homeland cannot be entirely abrogated without neutralizing the source of terrorism overseas. Read More

On Friday, the families of four American Marines awoke to a world without their loved ones. They had their lives stolen from them by a gunman, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who stormed a recruiting station and opened fire on the unarmed service personnel. American officials have advised the public not to rush to conclusions about the attacker’s motives. That’s good advice, but we shouldn’t subordinate common sense to a political ideal. Abdulazeez’s motives are not difficult to discern. Though the attacker did not share many of his thoughts online, those posts he did compose were, according to the Daily Beast, “written in a popular style of Islamic religious reasoning.” He fantasized about the afterlife and described at length how he had little regard for his meaningless corporeal form. He may have taken trips to Yemen and Jordan before executing this suicidal attack. In carrying out an assault on American soldiers, he was following an Islamic State directive. This apparent act of terrorism in Chattanooga is just one of the many efforts of ISIS-linked or ISIS-inspired attackers to execute terrorist attacks inside the United States. It is a demonstration of the terrifying fact that there will always be holes in the net and, despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the threat to the homeland cannot be entirely abrogated without neutralizing the source of terrorism overseas.

Abdulazeez is hardly the first American to try to execute attacks on soft targets in the United States, but he was among the more successful. Since the start of 2015, there have been a substantial number of terror plots that were halted in the planning stages and aspiring terrorist actors charged with conspiring to stage attacks.

In January, Ohio-based 20-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested after purchasing two Armalite M-15 model semiautomatic rifles and 600 rounds of ammunition. According to the FBI affidavit, he was allegedly planning to stage a terror attack on the U.S. Capitol Building similar to the October 2014 attack on Canadian parliament. Cornell told the undercover federal agent who helped him to plan the attack before facilitating his arrest that he wanted to execute the attack in ISIS’s name.

Just a few weeks later, three Brooklyn men were arrested after pledging to target the President of the United States in an assassination attempt and “martyr” themselves for ISIS’ cause. Investigators allege that they three men planned to travel to Turkey in order to cross the border into Syria where they would join in the jihadist fight to expand the nascent ISIS caliphate.

In mid-March, a United States National Guardsman and his cousin were arrested after allegedly plotting to use American military uniforms to infiltrate an Illinois Guards base and stage a Fort Hood-style attack on U.S. service personnel. “I wish only to serve in the army of Allah, alongside my true brothers,” wrote National Guards Solider Hasan Edmonds who was arrested while attempting to flee to Cairo.

In April, John T. Booker Jr., a 20-year-old Topeka resident, was arrested “while making final preparations for the suicide car bomb attack” on the U.S. Army Base at Fort Riley, according to the FBI.

On June 7, a New York City student was arrested after investigators learned that he had been researching designs for a pressure cooker improvised explosive device similar to those used to kill three and wound hundreds more at the Boston Marathon in 2013. When federal agents attempted to execute the arrest by pulling over a car driven by, 20-year-old Munther Omar Saleh, he and an accomplice jumped out of their vehicle and rushed the arresting agents. “Authorities said a knife was found on the man Saleh was with,” Fox News reported.

On the July Fourth holiday, FBI Director James Comey revealed that his agency had prevented a massive, ISIS-inspired terrorist event and charged 10 potential mass killers who were preparing to execute the assault. “I do believe our work disrupted efforts to kill people, likely in connection with July 4,” Comey said. He added that some of the plotting represented “very serious efforts to kill people in the United States.”

And, as recently as Monday, American officials arrested the son of the captain of the Boston Police Department for allegedly plotting to execute an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack. Radicalized by the Boston Marathon bombings, the young man who calls himself Ali Al Amriki was arrested after purchasing four weapons illegally from an informant on July 4. “In his apartment, the FBI found possible bomb-making equipment including a pressure cooker, as was used by Boston Marathon bombers Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, as well as a variety of chemicals, an alarm clock, along with ‘attack planning papers,’” the New York Post reported.

American law enforcement deserves plaudits for effectively thwarting these and many other attacks on American targets, but that is cold comfort to those who lost friends and family members in Tennessee on Thursday. Abdulazeez’s successful attack demonstrates that, in a complex threat environment with a variety of actors trying to evade law enforcement, some will slip through the cracks.

This attack demonstrates the necessity of combating and ultimately destroying ISIS overseas in order to eliminate the ideological center of gravity that compels the young and radicalized to destroy themselves in service to a bloody belief structure. This grotesque act of violence is disturbingly common and fails to shock the senses in precisely the opposite way that Dylann Roof’s racist and terroristic attack on an African-American church stunned and traumatized the nation. Whereas acts of backwards and anachronistic racist acts of mass violence are rare, attempted attacks like those carried out by Abdulazeez’s are all too common. Someday, when the war to defeat radical Islam enjoys its final victory, acts of terrorism like those Chattanooga will be as unusual as that in Charleston. It is a day America’s lawmakers should be doing all within their power to realize.

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Where do Walls Work?

After suffering a series of terrorist attacks — most recently the slaughter of more than three dozen mostly British tourists in the beach resort town of Sousse — the Tunisian government has had enough. Speaking on Tunisian state television on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Habib Essid announced that Tunisia would build a 100-mile long wall to separate Tunisia from civil war-torn Libya, where the Islamic State is rapidly taking root. “With our army we are building a protective [wall] along [the border], especially in the area between Ras Jedir and Dehiba, which is approximately 168 kilometers long,” he said. He expects the wall will, along with other counterterrorism tactics, decrease terrorism now pushing Tunisia to the brink of collapse. Read More

After suffering a series of terrorist attacks — most recently the slaughter of more than three dozen mostly British tourists in the beach resort town of Sousse — the Tunisian government has had enough. Speaking on Tunisian state television on Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Habib Essid announced that Tunisia would build a 100-mile long wall to separate Tunisia from civil war-torn Libya, where the Islamic State is rapidly taking root. “With our army we are building a protective [wall] along [the border], especially in the area between Ras Jedir and Dehiba, which is approximately 168 kilometers long,” he said. He expects the wall will, along with other counterterrorism tactics, decrease terrorism now pushing Tunisia to the brink of collapse.

Kudos to the Tunisian government for doing what is necessary to defend its citizenry from terrorists and predators who migrated illegally into the country. Tunisia has every reason to believe such a wall would be effective. At the same time, however, its efforts show both international counter-terror hypocrisy and how American politics sacrifices security for posturing.

First the hypocrisy: The international community still condemns Israel’s security wall (which, in reality, is more of a security fence) even though its counterterrorism effectiveness is clear: Since its construction, terror attacks inside Israel have declined 90 percent. Despite their opposition to Israel’s security wall, walls now exist between India and Pakistan (and a new one is coming), Saudi Arabia and Yemen (and a new one is coming there as well), Morocco and Algeria, and Turkey and Syria. Kenya is building one along its border with Somalia. All of these, like Israel’s with the West Bank, cover disputed borders or are built entirely on disputed territory. The United Nations is perhaps the most hypocritical of them all, as it condemns Israel on one hand, and yet on the other built a buffer zone to separate Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus from independent Cyprus through which it restricts movement of those with origins in the opposite side. Simply put, the question of disputed borders has absolutely no bearing on the utility and legality of walls (the latter based on the precedent set by the United Nations).

Then, of course, the question for American policymakers: No country tolerates illegal immigration to the extent that the United States does. One of the ironies of the current influx of Mexicans and citizens of Latin American countries northward across the American border is how much more stringent Mexican laws are with regard to illegals inside Mexico compared to the United States. It’s intellectual nonsense to suggest that walls and border fences cannot be built or do not work, when so many countries in the world’s most insecure regions through harsh experience have determined the opposite too be true. Nor is it correct to draw moral equivalence to the Soviet-built Berlin Wall unless, of course, those who make this argument mean to suggest that Mexico is a totalitarian dictatorship like East Germany was.

The Tunisian premier is right, as is the Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Kenya, and India. How tragic it is that political posturing prevents President Obama from understanding the same.

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The Threat From the Hamas-ISIS Connection

To listen to both Hamas and ISIS, the two Islamist terror groups are enemies. As Foreign Policy noted back in May, Hamas views the Islamic State as a threat to its despotic hold on power in Gaza and destroyed a mosque affiliated with its followers. ISIS returns the sentiment, condemning Hamas for its brutal rule and vowing as recently as this week that it will topple them. What then should we make of the news coming out of Israel this week that Hamas provided vital help to ISIS’s deadly terror attack on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai. No doubt some of Hamas’s apologists will dismiss the claim as an attempt by Israel to discredit an enemy in the eyes of the West. But given the scale of the Sinai attack it is hard to believe that ISIS would have been able to pull it off without serious assistance and the only possible source of that help would have to be Hamas-ruled Gaza. If true, this should not only heighten concerns about the spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East but also call into question some of the assumptions that many in the foreign policy establishment have held about Hamas being a stabilizing rather than a purely destructive force in the region.

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To listen to both Hamas and ISIS, the two Islamist terror groups are enemies. As Foreign Policy noted back in May, Hamas views the Islamic State as a threat to its despotic hold on power in Gaza and destroyed a mosque affiliated with its followers. ISIS returns the sentiment, condemning Hamas for its brutal rule and vowing as recently as this week that it will topple them. What then should we make of the news coming out of Israel this week that Hamas provided vital help to ISIS’s deadly terror attack on Egyptian security forces in the Sinai. No doubt some of Hamas’s apologists will dismiss the claim as an attempt by Israel to discredit an enemy in the eyes of the West. But given the scale of the Sinai attack it is hard to believe that ISIS would have been able to pull it off without serious assistance and the only possible source of that help would have to be Hamas-ruled Gaza. If true, this should not only heighten concerns about the spread of ISIS throughout the Middle East but also call into question some of the assumptions that many in the foreign policy establishment have held about Hamas being a stabilizing rather than a purely destructive force in the region.

As the Times of Israel reports, Israeli military intelligence has made public the fact that Hamas provided both military support to the ISIS operation that killed dozens of Egyptian but has also helped bring wounded ISIS terrorists out of Sinai into Gaza. The Israelis say they have direct proof of involvement in this week’s atrocity and also evidence that leading members of the Hamas’s military wing have been directly involved in assistance to ISIS.

Given the public hostility between the two groups, how is that possible?

The answer to that question comes in two parts. The first relates to the difference between public stances and political reality. The other is a function of the old saying about the enemy of my enemy being my friend.

It would be foolish to think that Hamas and ISIS don’t regard each other with hostility. Hamas rightly fears the growth of any Islamist group that might outflank it by posing as being even more belligerent and bloodthirsty than it may be. Hamas has dealt harshly with any potential rival in Gaza, be it the mainstream Fatah Palestinian party that rules the West Bank or the more radical Islamic Jihad. Hamas regards any rival faction as an enemy by definition and treats them accordingly.

By the same token, ISIS regards all those that won’t recognize the authority of its so-called “caliphate” as foes to be killed without mercy. Its rise throughout the region has been fueled in part by posing as a defender of Islamic values against corrupt elites. Though this is the same game that Hamas played as it gained a foothold in Palestinian politics at the expense of Fatah, they fit nicely into the same role that the corrupt party of Yasir Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas played for them. Hamas is every bit as tyrannical as any other Arab or Muslim regime and ISIS clearly thinks it can gain by pretending to be better.

Yet to think of ISIS and Hamas as being in a state of war may be to overestimate their hostility and underrate their grasp of political reality. Hamas doesn’t so much fear ISIS as it does worry about a wild card group making decisions for them about war with Israel at a moment when they might prefer to continue the truce with the Jewish state. Similarly, ISIS has enough on its plate fighting in Syria and Iraq against forces that would like to see it destroyed without opening up a new front in Gaza at a moment when its strength there is minuscule compared to the enormous military that Hamas can deploy against Israel.

But despite animosity and distrust, it is more than obvious that both Hamas and ISIS share a common enemy in Egypt. The Sisi government in Cairo is dedicated to the eradication of the Muslim Brotherhood and regards Hamas, which was founded by Brotherhood supporters and whose help to the group during the unrest in Egypt was included in the charges against former President Mohammed Morsi, as a hostile entity. Egypt is even more determined to isolate Gaza than Israel. In that sense, the Hamas-ISIS connection is a natural alliance.

That’s why Hamas has a vested interest in creating more chaos in Sinai than exists along its border with Israel. No matter what their opinion of each other might be, Hamas understands that the Egyptian government is a far more dangerous threat to its continued survival than is Israel. Under the circumstances it doesn’t take much of a leap of imagination to believe that Israel’s intelligence about Hamas’s involvement in ISIS activities in Sinai has the ring of truth.

This realization ought to do more than cause concern in both Cairo and Jerusalem. The Sinai had already been transformed into something of a Wild West for terror in the years since a bloody Hamas coup allowed the group to seize control of the independent Palestinian state (in all but name) that currently exists in Gaza. But with ISIS moving into the void of security that the Sinai has become, a low level conflict with terrorists may be about to turn into something far more serious.

More to the point, this tacit alliance between otherwise rival Islamist terror groups ought to cause some foreign policy experts who have regarded Western acquiescence toward Hamas’s continued grip on Gaza as a given to rethink that assumption. If Gaza is no longer merely a launching pad for rockets and tunnels aimed at terrorizing Israelis but is also a base for terror aimed at toppling moderate Arab governments, continued tolerance of its sovereignty in Gaza is not only morally wrong; it is a suicidal proposition for the West.

Just as the Israelis have refrained from toppling Hamas in Gaza lest they be stuck governing the dysfunctional strip, so too do Western nations have a distaste for regime change in the strip. But perhaps it is time that those who were so quick to criticize Israel for launching a counter-attack against Gaza-based terrorism last summer realize that the perpetuation of Hamas rule there is a threat to more than the Jewish state. So long as an Islamist terror group has a secure base next to both Egypt and Israel and is getting aid from Iran, it is reasonable to assume that it will be undermining the security of both of those states as well as the rest of the region.

Rather than seeking to loosen up the blockade of Gaza that Israel and Egypt have been enforcing to limit Hamas’s ability to project terror abroad, perhaps the West should understand that pressure on the Islamist state needs to be heightened not diminished.

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Clapper Walks Back Downplaying of Iranian Terror

In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

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In March, the director of national intelligence appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to deliver his annual assessment of threats facing the United States. But James Clapper’s testimony left out a very important detail: any discussion of the activities of Iran. With the administration hell-bent on pursuing a nuclear deal with the Tehran, Clapper soft-pedaled Iran’s role in promoting terrorism throughout the Middle East. That dismal performance earned him considerable criticism and, three months later, the DNI finally walked back his comments. But Clapper’s reassessment didn’t come in public but in a private letter sent to the Senate committee obtained by Fox News that discussed the subject that dared not be mentioned at that time. Clapper’s statement on Iranian terror comes only a week after an annual State Department report on international terror that correctly labeled Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Both that report and Clapper’s admission lead rational observers to ask the same question: Why is the U.S. on the verge of not only allowing Iran to become a threshold nuclear power but also about to give it an enormous infusion of cash that will be used in part to subsidize the same terror groups that Clapper and the State Department have labeled as threats to the United States and its allies?

In his letter to Senate Intelligence Committee obtained by Fox News’s Catherin Herrige Clapper admits that terror conduct by Iran and its Hezbollah auxiliaries “directly threatens the interest of the United States and its allies.” Moreover, he also pointed out what has long been common knowledge: Iran and Hezbollah have been instrumental in preventing the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria, which serves as a lynchpin for their efforts to wage war against Israel. He also noted that Iranian-backed militias in Iraq pose a direct threat to other groups in that country as well as to U.S. personnel and interests.

While not conceding that he lied by not mentioning Iran in his testimony, he did own up to the fact that, “A specific reference to the terrorist threat from Iran and Hezbollah – which was not included in any of the drafts of the testimony – would have been appropriate.” That’s true, especially since he now claims that his view of Iran as a threat has been a consensus position within U.S. intelligence for decades.

The Bush administration was widely and often unfairly accused of manipulating intelligence assessments, especially in terms of information that was released to the public. But here we see that it is the Obama administration that has sought, fortunately, in vain to cover up accurate intelligence about Iran in the hope of making Congress more receptive to its efforts to create an entente with the Islamist regime with a weak nuclear deal as its centerpiece.

If, as is almost certainly to be the case, the U.S. strikes a nuclear deal with Iran in the coming month, the result will be the complete collapse of sanctions on Tehran. That will start with the unfreezing of Iranian assets in the U.S. in what will amount to a large cash bonus to the regime that will flood it with cash after being isolated for so long. In response to concerns about Iran’s terror connections, administration apologists claim that specific groups or individuals will remain affected by international sanctions. But what they conveniently omit from their arguments is that money is fungible, especially in an authoritarian regime like that of Iran.

One of the most frustrating aspects of the deal President Obama is pushing is that as loose as the provisions about the nuclear threat may be, it completely ignores other aspects of Iran’s behavior. Contrary to the president’s efforts to segregate terrorism from the discussion about the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program may play a pivotal role in strengthening their terrorist auxiliaries and allies such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. By letting Iran keep its infrastructure, the U.S. may eventually acquiesce to a potential nuclear umbrella over terrorist groups. Just as bad, by strengthening Iran’s economy by ending sanctions, the West is indirectly funding the same terror groups that its intelligence services are trying to stop.

This admission by Clapper provides yet another good reason why Congress can and must refuse to ratify any agreement that fails to address the issue of Iran’s role as a state sponsor of terror. Just as the details of the pact fall short of Obama’s own criteria for a good deal, one that doesn’t even mention terrorism should be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

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Prosecuting the Islamic State’s ‘Willing Executioners’

In 1997, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen published Hitler’s Willing Executioners, a book that argued that ordinary Germans were far more complicit in the Holocaust than previously acknowledged. He traced the evolution of German anti-Semitism and described how it became “eliminationist.” He also suggested that it was not only the Nazi Party that cheered the demise of the Jews but, even among those who did not directly participate or cheer on the genocide, there was pronounced indifference.

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In 1997, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen published Hitler’s Willing Executioners, a book that argued that ordinary Germans were far more complicit in the Holocaust than previously acknowledged. He traced the evolution of German anti-Semitism and described how it became “eliminationist.” He also suggested that it was not only the Nazi Party that cheered the demise of the Jews but, even among those who did not directly participate or cheer on the genocide, there was pronounced indifference.

Historians still debate Goldhagen’s thesis today, but the issues he raises about mass psychology and complicity in war crimes are relevant beyond simply the Holocaust. On June 23, 2015, the Ninawa Division of the Islamic State distributed the link to a video via twitter depicting the execution of alleged spies. The first group was forced to sit in a car that an Islamic State adherent then blew up with a rocket-propelled grenade. The second group was forced into a cage, which was then slowly submerged underwater until all the prisoners had drowned. The third group was decapitated with explosive cord.

Snuff videos are unfortunately common with the Islamic State, but all too often politicians and press ignore an important aspect of them: What happens behind the camera is as important as what happens in front of it. Take all the focus on Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. “Jihadi John.” He featured in at least seven videos, but who held the camera? Who transported the prisoners? Are they any less culpable? And, with each of the execution videos, assume that the prisoners and hostages endured several — arbitrarily, let’s say five — mock executions (that’s why so many appear calm; most may not believe the video would be anything but another bluff). So, there is then the responsibility of their wardens, drivers, and even house cleaners.

President Obama prefers to see terrorism as a criminal rather than a military problem. Certainly, there are elements of both. But, if the criminal analogy is pursued, then it is crucial to understanding the extent of culpability. The 1988 movie “The Accused” starring Jodie Foster was inspired by the true story of the gang rape of Cheryl Araujo in a Massachusetts bar. In the movie, Foster, playing a character named Sarah Tobias, is unwilling to accept only the prosecution of the three rapists, and demands — successfully — prosecution of those in the bar who cheered the rapists on.

Inevitably, if and when the Islamic State collapses — and it very well might when there is more concerted leadership in the White House — countries across the globe will have to consider how to address their citizens who travelled to and/or volunteered for the Islamic State. Many will claim that they committed no war crimes, but only played a supporting role. Indeed, Islamic State recruiters often promise their recruits that they need not fight if they choose not to: there are many other roles — guard duty, laundry and catering, and burying bodies, for example. Even some seeking the glory of jihad found themselves in these support roles. None of this should be exculpatory, however. “Jihad John” might be the face in front of the camera, but every single individual who volunteered to fight or aid the Islamic State bears responsibility. Indeed, most learned of and chose to assist the Islamic State precisely because they had seen the depiction of Islamist power and the humiliation of opponents or non-Muslims depicted in those videos. They are little different than those in Big Dan’s Bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts, who enabled and cheered on a rape, even if they themselves did not penetrate the victim.

It’s essential also to recognize that while not all residents of the Islamic State support it, an uncomfortable number of local Syrians and Iraqis have enabled and accepted its arrival. These, even more than the foreign Jihadis, are the Islamic State’s equivalent of “willing executioners.” They are the ones who have informed on neighbors hiding wanted opponents or lending their service to the terrorist entity. So-called Jihadi brides who travel from the West to Syria and Iraq are knowingly and willingly providing solace to murderers. They should be treated no more leniently than the wife of a serial killer who helped her husband commit his crimes.

And while the children and students indoctrinated into the Islamic State might not (yet) share the same level of guilt, their teachers do — whether Iraqi, Syrian, or foreign.

The Iraqi Army and Shi‘ite militias in Iraq, and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighting in Syria have so far been remarkably restrained as they reconquer territory, although their records have not been perfect. Just as the Islamic State’s victories have been quick and caught the world largely by surprise, their defeat might be similar.

It pays to be prepared. If 22,000 jihadis from 90 countries now fight for the Islamic State, then it behooves those 90 countries to create and share a database with names, photographs, and any biometric information to hamper not only their return to their home country, but also their relocation elsewhere.

The International Criminal Court is woefully inefficient. And justice should not be a jobs industry for NGOs. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International furthermore have disqualified themselves with their previous partnership with an Al Qaeda financier. In addition, Human Rights Watch’s previous fundraising in Saudi Arabia creates a conflict of interest, to say the least, given Saudi culpability in funding extremism in Iraq and Syria. While governance in Syria remains uncertain, the Iraqi government should have first crack at prosecuting any member of or volunteer for the Islamic State in much the same way as it tried Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants. Only then can the healing truly begin.

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Obama Gives Terrorists Another Incentive to Kidnap Americans

It appears that Iran isn’t the only Islamist entity that is about to get an infusion of cash from the Obama administration. With the announcement yesterday that the U.S. has revised its policy that seeks to prevent the families of hostages held by terrorists from paying ransom, the president has just given those criminals another incentive to target Americans. The president’s order also will mandate that the government provide more support and information for these unfortunate families, something that should have already been done a long time ago. But while the policy shift has been generated in no small measure by the enormous sympathy felt by most Americans for the captives’ relatives, the real reason this is happening isn’t purely humanitarian. It has also been dictated by the exposure of the administration’s hypocrisy in paying a huge ransom in released terrorist prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, an American deserter that wound up in the hands of the Taliban. That blunder was bad enough, but by opening a way for Americans to start pouring money into the coffers of ISIS and other Islamist groups in hostage ransoms, President Obama has again made it clear that this administration isn’t prepared to do what it takes to defeat these killers.

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It appears that Iran isn’t the only Islamist entity that is about to get an infusion of cash from the Obama administration. With the announcement yesterday that the U.S. has revised its policy that seeks to prevent the families of hostages held by terrorists from paying ransom, the president has just given those criminals another incentive to target Americans. The president’s order also will mandate that the government provide more support and information for these unfortunate families, something that should have already been done a long time ago. But while the policy shift has been generated in no small measure by the enormous sympathy felt by most Americans for the captives’ relatives, the real reason this is happening isn’t purely humanitarian. It has also been dictated by the exposure of the administration’s hypocrisy in paying a huge ransom in released terrorist prisoners for the freedom of Bowe Bergdahl, an American deserter that wound up in the hands of the Taliban. That blunder was bad enough, but by opening a way for Americans to start pouring money into the coffers of ISIS and other Islamist groups in hostage ransoms, President Obama has again made it clear that this administration isn’t prepared to do what it takes to defeat these killers.

There’s little question that most Americans both sympathize and identify with the situation that families like the Foleys, whose son James was beheaded by ISIS last year after rescue and ransom attempts failed. The fact that the Foleys and other families whose loved ones were held by terrorists were threatened with prosecution by the government if they attempted to pay a ransom for their release is seen as an egregious overreach by a heavy-handed administration that hadn’t the guts or smarts to rescue American hostages while refusing to let them be ransomed.

The Foleys and other hostage families were merely doing what any of us would do in their position. If my child or yours were in the hands of the enemy, any parent would move heaven and earth, and sell every principle we held about fighting terrorism down the drain, in order to ensure their safe release. But there is a difference between the impulse of a parent and the duty of a government that is supposed to be waging a war on the hostage takers.

One of the reasons behind the success of ISIS in recent years, other, that is, from the Obama administration’s precipitate withdrawal from Iraq and refusal to take action in Syria when it might have forestalled the victory of these terrorists, is their ability to generate huge amounts of revenue by taking Westerners prisoner. Most European nations have paid the ransoms demanded turning a ragtag bunch of terrorists that Obama once dismissed as the “JV” for al-Qaeda into a force that now controls much of the territory of two nations.

But the United States has rightly refused to add to ISIS’s wealth. Saying no to families in such distress is difficult, and better leaders than President Obama have sometimes succumbed to the pressure to salve their pain. President Reagan did so when he approved a guns-for-hostages swap with Iran. Various Israeli governments, including the one led by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have traded thousands of convicted terrorists to gain the release of a handful of Israeli prisoners. The reason for those swaps was understandable, and, in Netanyahu’s case, almost a political necessity given the outcry from Israelis demanding action to save kidnaped soldier Gilad Shalit. But that didn’t make them wise decisions.

Opening the door to American ransom payments to ISIS is even worse than those admittedly egregious examples of supposedly tough government jettisoning their principles in order to avoid being seen as hardhearted in the face of the tears of parents. Unlike Iran in the 1980s or even Hamas, ISIS is a dynamic organization that has shown itself capable of spreading its control over the Middle East. Though it can be argued that ISIS and the Taliban and every other Islamist terrorist group is already bent on capturing as many Americans as possible, the president has just given them an extra incentive to seek out U.S. citizens, perhaps by expanding its area of activity to places outside of its nominal control in the region in search of prey.

What’s more the real reason why the administration has been pressured into bending on this issue has less to do with sympathy for the Foleys than outrage over Obama’s hypocrisy in letting five terrorist killers with American blood on their hands go free to obtain Bergdahl’s release. The administration’s argument has been that regardless of Bergdhal’s disgraceful behavior, the United States was still obligated to bring him home. Perhaps so, but not at the cost of undermining the war the country has been waging against the Taliban. While Bergdahl may have been suffering, the notion that the plight of prisoners of war must take precedence over measures taken to win the war they were fighting in is indefensible. Such ransoms also give the lie to the idea that the U.S. is serious about fighting and defeating its enemies.

But instead of admitting they made a mistake with Bergdahl — something this president seems incapable of doing under any circumstances — the administration has doubled down on its error by extending tolerance towards other measures that will benefit the nation’s enemies.

We all should agree that families like the Foleys and others placed in that awful situation deserve to be treated with greater care than they have previously been given by the administration. After all, no one was ever going to actually be prosecuted for trying to ransom a relative. But the proper response to their tragedy is a greater determination to rescue hostages and to kill their captors. If American counterterror policy now shifts to one that focuses more on alleviating the pain of hostage families, then the only thing we can be sure of is that there were will be even more grieving Americans in the future than in the past. Like Iran, which is happy to accept U.S. appeasement that will lead to a massive infusion of cash due to the relaxation of economic sanctions, ISIS will be cheering the president’s decision.

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If Iran Still Backs Terror, Why is the U.S. About to Lift Sanctions?

Yesterday, the State Department issued its annual report on international terrorism and the results are both alarming and unsurprising. Of particular interest is the section on state sponsors of terrorism. On the list as the worst offenders are Sudan, Syria and Iran. The details about Iranian state sponsored terrorism are particularly sobering. It backs terrorists who are aiding the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria as well as providing funding and arms for Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups. Just as damning is the fact that State says Iran continues to refuse to bring senior al Qaeda figures to justice or to identify those in their custody. The report also restates the widely reported fact that Iran “continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program.” But unless the Obama administration grows a spine and changes its policies within weeks the United States will sign a nuclear deal with Tehran that will soon result in a vast windfall of cash falling into Iran’s hands. Yet nowhere in the nuclear framework agreement is there any promise, however lacking in credibility, that Iran will foreswear the same activities that the State Department just reported and which, by U.S. law, ought to mandate continued sanctions rather than an end to restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime.

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Yesterday, the State Department issued its annual report on international terrorism and the results are both alarming and unsurprising. Of particular interest is the section on state sponsors of terrorism. On the list as the worst offenders are Sudan, Syria and Iran. The details about Iranian state sponsored terrorism are particularly sobering. It backs terrorists who are aiding the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown in Syria as well as providing funding and arms for Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups. Just as damning is the fact that State says Iran continues to refuse to bring senior al Qaeda figures to justice or to identify those in their custody. The report also restates the widely reported fact that Iran “continued to be in noncompliance with its international obligations regarding its nuclear program.” But unless the Obama administration grows a spine and changes its policies within weeks the United States will sign a nuclear deal with Tehran that will soon result in a vast windfall of cash falling into Iran’s hands. Yet nowhere in the nuclear framework agreement is there any promise, however lacking in credibility, that Iran will foreswear the same activities that the State Department just reported and which, by U.S. law, ought to mandate continued sanctions rather than an end to restrictions on doing business with the Islamist regime.

The State Department report is quite clear on what the law demands from the government as to its policy toward state sponsors of terror:

A wide range of sanctions are imposed as a result of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, including:

  • A ban on arms-related exports and sales;
  • Controls over exports of dual-use items, requiring 30-day Congressional notification for goods or services that could significantly enhance the terrorist-list country’s military capability or ability to support terrorism;
  • Prohibitions on economic assistance; and

Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.

It should be recalled that during the Congressional debate over the Corker-Cardin bill that the administration was adamant that any approval of the impending Iran deal should not be conditioned as Tehran ceasing its terrorist activities. We now see why. As the State Department reports makes clear, Iran has done nothing to step back from its role as world’s leading state sponsor of terror.

Iran’s role in Syria plays a key part of the report. Iran’s role in sending Hezbollah cadres into Syria has been widely reported and Tehran has even admitted that it has sent members of its own Revolutionary Guard Corps into Syria to act as advisors to those carrying out mass slaughter of civilians and dissidents. But just as interesting is the State Department’s assertion that Iran has equipped, trained and funded Iraqi and Afghan fighters who have been sent into that country to help suppress opposition to the Assad regime.

Iran is also a primary obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians because of its funding and arms supplies funneled to terror groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Iran had previously been a primary supporter of Hamas but broke with the rulers of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza over differences on Syria. But now that Iran and Assad appear to be in no danger and short of money and arms after last summer’s war, Hamas appears to have come back into Tehran’s good graces. But even during their split, Iran was still doing its best to keep other radicals so as to ensure that Palestinian leaders are too afraid to make peace with Israel even if they wanted to do so.

But in spite of this activity reported by its own State Department, there is little doubt that the administration is bound and determined to go ahead and sign a nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement will almost certainly ensure that the Islamist regime will have all the cash it needs to keep funding terror and perhaps even up the ante with regard to groups threatening Israel or moderate Arab governments. Given Iran’s need for economic sanctions to be lifted, the U.S. ought to have plenty of leverage over the ayatollahs. But as with the nuclear negotiations, Western negotiators have simply acquiesced to Iran being allowed to carry on with its state sponsorship of terror in order to get them to sign a deal. Just as the U.S. has caved in on finding out about Iran’s military research, its right to enrich uranium, its possession of thousands of centrifuges and even putting a time limit on the deal, the administration has also ignored the issue of terrorism.

This raises interesting legal questions since Congress will be within its rights to demand to know how the U.S. can lift sanctions on Iran and thereby giving its economy an enormous shot in the arm while simultaneously branding it as a state sponsor of terrorism. The answer is that this administration has punted on its responsibility to act against Iranian-backed terror just as it has bailed on its duty to stop Tehran from getting Western approval for becoming a threshold nuclear power.

The administration has made concession after concession on nuclear issues but on terror, it hasn’t even tried to get Iran to “get right with the world” as President Obama hopes it will.

By itself, this report ought to stand as a damning indictment of the administration’s conduct during the nuclear talks. It also should be held as sufficient, even without the copious evidence that the nuclear deal is too weak to stop Iran from either cheating its way to a bomb or waiting patiently for the pact to expire before getting a weapon, as a reason for the proposed nuclear deal to be rejected by Congress.

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Was the Charleston Shooting Terrorism?

“The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart has called the Charleston shooting which murdered nine worshippers terrorism. It certainly was a hate crime, but was it terrorism? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It all depends on what the definition of terrorism is, and that is something surprisingly unresolved after decades of fighting terrorism. In 1988, Western countries used more than 100 different definitions of terrorism; 25 years later, they used 250 different definitions. Today, there are even more. The international community and the United Nations have not agreed on a single definition. President Barack Obama, for his part, has simply sidestepped the issue. His 2011 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” avoids defining terrorism, even as it defined other terms such as “affiliates” and “adherents.”

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“The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart has called the Charleston shooting which murdered nine worshippers terrorism. It certainly was a hate crime, but was it terrorism? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It all depends on what the definition of terrorism is, and that is something surprisingly unresolved after decades of fighting terrorism. In 1988, Western countries used more than 100 different definitions of terrorism; 25 years later, they used 250 different definitions. Today, there are even more. The international community and the United Nations have not agreed on a single definition. President Barack Obama, for his part, has simply sidestepped the issue. His 2011 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism” avoids defining terrorism, even as it defined other terms such as “affiliates” and “adherents.”

University of North Carolina sociologist Charles Kurzman (who also happens to be a leading scholar of the Islamic Revolution) penned a thought-provoking op-ed along with Duke University analyst David Schanzer in the New York Times earlier this week. They argued that fear of Islamist terrorism against the United States homeland is overblown, and that the numbers suggest a far greater threat from “right-wing” terrorism:

The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists. Just ask the police. In a survey we conducted with the Police Executive Research Forum last year of 382 law enforcement agencies, 74 percent reported anti-government extremism as one of the top three terrorist threats in their jurisdiction; 39 percent listed extremism connected with Al Qaeda or like-minded terrorist organizations. And only 3 percent identified the threat from Muslim extremists as severe, compared with 7 percent for anti-government and other forms of extremism….

Despite public anxiety about extremists inspired by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, the number of violent plots by such individuals has remained very low. Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years. In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. The toll has increased since the study was released in 2012.

Now, I happen to disagree with Kurzman and Schanzer in downplaying the threat of Islamist terrorism, and much hinges on definitions. A right-wing militiaman (or a left-wing activist, for that matter) shooting at a policeman or police station) isn’t seeking murder and mayhem on the same scale as detonating a car bomb in Times Square or blowing up an airliner over Detroit. Not every shooting is a terrorist attack, just like not every incident of domestic violence is an honor killing. That doesn’t make the crime or the attack any less noxious, but the terrorism label is a powerful thing, and applying its use everywhere and to everything as increasingly happens simply erodes its meaning.

Either way, it’s long past time to standardize the definition of terror in U.S. policy circles. In 1975, the British journalist and writer Gerald Seymour coined the phrase, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” in his novel Harry’s Game, set during the height of the British conflict with the Irish Republican Army. In the decades since, it has become the catch phrase for proponents of moral equivalence. Many countries to which the United States gives counterterrorism assistance—Turkey, for example—have an à la carte approach to terrorism, where they will condemn it when it occurs in their own country, but endorse and even support it when it targets Syrians and Israelis. That sort of nonsense should never be tolerated.

If policymakers adopted a short, clear, and concise definition of terrorism, for example, “The deliberate hijacking, kidnapping, or murdering of civilians for political gain,” and insisted anyone receiving U.S. assistance sign onto that definition as a prerequisite, the fight against terrorism could be advanced, and the notion of excusing or even financing terrorism out of sympathy to its cause (think Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Qatar) could be confronted.

When it comes to domestic terrorism, the same definition might and should apply. Perhaps the church shooting by an avowed racist should equate to terrorism. The goal was not simply murder, but to terrorize a community. But it is unclear whether the shooter had a political agenda he really wanted to advance, or whether he was simply motivated by his own brainwashing into an ideology of hate. It’s understandable to say, “Who cares?” After all, it’s a tragedy, and too many lives were cut short. The danger is, however, simply leaving such issues of domestic terrorism undefined also makes it easier to hijack them for political purposes on either side of the political spectrum. Think the silly attacks on conservatives in the wake of the Gabby Giffords shooting, when the shooter was suffering from mental illness and not motivated by politics. Or how some parsed Norwegian mass murder Anders Breivik’s writing to castigate selectively some of those whom he had read, but did not apply the same standard to those whom Usama Bin Laden had in his library.

Simply put, whether Islamist terrorism, right wing terrorism, or left wing terrorism is the paramount threat (or any terrorism regardless of its political flavor), it’s crucial to define the target of the fight. With all due respect to the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, we can’t kick the can down the road on an issue of growing importance and just say, “We know it when we see it.”

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Who Will Be the First to Suggest Negotiating with Islamic State?

There’s an unfortunate tendency among American diplomats and policymakers to allow time to launder the most atrocious regimes. It becomes sophisticated in the minds of diplomats to transform terrorists that are pariahs one year into targets for diplomacy the next.

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There’s an unfortunate tendency among American diplomats and policymakers to allow time to launder the most atrocious regimes. It becomes sophisticated in the minds of diplomats to transform terrorists that are pariahs one year into targets for diplomacy the next.

In Years of Upheaval, Kissinger ridiculed the notion of talking with terrorists. “We did not have a high incentive to advance the ‘dialogue’ with the PLO, as the fashionable phrase ran later,” he wrote, “not because of Israeli pressures but because of our perception of the American national interest.” He further explained how, “Before 1973, the PLO rarely intruded into international negotiations. In the 1972 communiqué ending Nixon’s Moscow summit, there was no reference to Palestinians, much less to the PLO…. The idea of a Palestinian state run by the PLO was not a subject for serious discourse.” In 1972, Black September, a PLO offshoot-proxy, attacked the Munich Olympics, and a year later, the National Security Agency heard PLO leader Yasir Arafat give the order to murder U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel who had been taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Khartoum. Simply put, you can’t get more pariah than that.

But, just six years later, Andrew Young, a civil rights hero whom Carter had appointed to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, met secretly with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s representative at the UN, ostensibly to determine whether there was any formula by which the PLO would accept United Nations Security Council Resolution 242. The State Department had never authorized the meeting between Young and a PLO representative. When reprimanded, the defiant Young resigned. President Carter, true to form, privately blamed Israel for forcing the issue to a head. And while many conservatives lionize President Ronald Reagan for his moral clarity, it was at the tail end of the Reagan administration that the State Department—with Reagan National Security Council permission—began talking to PLO representatives.

The same lack of resolve holds true with Hamas. In 2003, Richard Haass, at the time director of policy planning at the State Department (and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations) dismissed any notion of talking to Hamas. Speaking on PBS Newshour, he said, “There are some groups out there you can negotiate with. You have to decide whether there are terms you can live with,” he explained. “But groups like Hamas … have political agendas that I would suggest are beyond negotiation. And for them…, there’s got to be an intelligence, a law enforcement, and a military answer.” Just three years later, however, he suddenly began to advocate for engagement with Hamas.

Haass’ turnaround was consistent with the Council on Foreign Relations’ informal role as the barometer of elite opinion, rather than its path breaker. Already, in 2005, the Carnegie Endowment’s Marina Ottaway had argued that political power might moderate Hamas by forcing its accountability to a constituency, never mind that donations from terror sponsoring regimes insulate Hamas from popular accountability. Chris Patten, the European Union’s former chief diplomat, in a March 13, 2007 Financial Times op-ed, counseled forgetting Hamas’s past and starting anew, never mind that in the run-up to the elections, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Zahar vowed, “We will join the Legislative Council with our weapons in our hands.” Jimmy Carter was just as willing to whitewash the record. He told NBC’s Meredith Vieira in January 2009, for example, that Hamas had upheld its ceasefire with Israel—seemingly unaware that the group had fired over 600 mortars and rockets into Israel the previous month. The next month, Paddy Ashdown and ten other former statesmen and politicians signed a letter published in The Times of London saying, “We have learnt first-hand that there is no substitute for direct and sustained negotiations with all parties to a conflict, and rarely if ever a durable peace without them. Isolation only bolsters hardliners and their policies of intransigence. Engagement can strengthen pragmatic elements and their ability to strike the hard compromises needed for peace.” Even Hillary Clinton got in on the act: Her State Department approved a direct meeting between diplomat Rachel Schneller and the Hamas representative in Lebanon. Through it all, had Hamas changed? No. Its charter still embraces genocide, and the group remains just as committed to terrorism, if not more so now that it knows it can act without losing diplomatic credibility.

As for Iran, Sohrab Ahmari’s “The 36-Year Project to Whitewash Iran” says it all. Seldom has a regime so intent in rhetoric and practice to murder Americans been given so many repeated free passes on it actions.

Time has even laundered Al Qaeda and it fellow travelers among proponents of engagement. Secretary of State Colin Powell was roundly ridiculed for suggesting outreach to “moderate Taliban” just months after 9/11, but that’s exactly what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton subsequently made the policy of the United States. As for Al Qaeda proper? It only took four years before the first academic researchers began suggesting dialogue with Al Qaeda. While a moderate Syrian opposition existed in the first months of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, it was quickly pushed aside, defeated, or co-opted by far more radical groups. The Nusra Front made no secret of its fealty to Al Qaeda. When the Islamic State went its own way, suddenly the Nusra Front looked moderate by comparison. Was it moderate? Absolutely not, but that has not stopped the Turkish government, whose counter-terrorism work the State Department still praises, from arming it. Members of the Syrian National Coalition, which the State Department supports, also advocate negotiation with the Nusra Front.

This brings us to the Islamic State. Far from degrading and defeating the group, President Obama’s strategy has at best been ineffective and at worst allowed the group space to grow. It has consolidated control over territory and has begun brainwashing a generation of children. Some among a more radical fringe have already suggested negotiations with the group. While most analysts would recognize the futility and ridiculousness of such a position given the murderous ideology which the Islamic State embraces, the absence of moral clarity among diplomats means that it’s only a matter of time until the Islamic State becomes a fact of life in the diplomatic mind, and some ambitious diplomat or Nobel Prize-seeking Secretary of State quietly suggests letting bygones be bygones and insisting that realism mandates talking to the enemy. Such a scenario might sound ridiculous today, but it’s the only outcome of a rudderless, valueless foreign policy. After all, if the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Taliban, chemical weapons-wielding Syrian regime, and even Nusra Front can become partners, then there is no behavior so evil as to force permanent pariah status. That is, unless both Republicans and Democrats in Congress recognize just how sick U.S. diplomatic culture as become and re-assert their oversight role in earnest, use the power of the purse to constrain the State Department, and legislate to set the parameters of a more responsible policy.

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Iraq Myths Lead to Bad Policy

Against the backdrop of recent Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) gains in Ramadi and Palmyra, a number of American diplomats, pundits, and military analysts have argued that U.S. interests would be better served bypassing Baghdad and supplying arms directly to Sunni tribes and/or Kurdish Peshmerga. Other pundits have even gone so far as to revive then-Senator Joseph Biden’s proposal to divide up along ethnic and sectarian lines. Both such proposals are wrong-headed, and not only detrimental to Iraqis, but they would also be disastrous for U.S. national security. Some of these proposals are based on myths, and others simply misunderstand Iraqi politics and society. Sometimes, it’s necessary simply to debunk falsehoods:

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Against the backdrop of recent Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) gains in Ramadi and Palmyra, a number of American diplomats, pundits, and military analysts have argued that U.S. interests would be better served bypassing Baghdad and supplying arms directly to Sunni tribes and/or Kurdish Peshmerga. Other pundits have even gone so far as to revive then-Senator Joseph Biden’s proposal to divide up along ethnic and sectarian lines. Both such proposals are wrong-headed, and not only detrimental to Iraqis, but they would also be disastrous for U.S. national security. Some of these proposals are based on myths, and others simply misunderstand Iraqi politics and society. Sometimes, it’s necessary simply to debunk falsehoods:

First, is Iraq an artificial country? Those who suggest dividing Iraq often suggest it was an artificial country, merely the result of British diplomats and adventurers drawing lines on map after World War I. The actual situation is more complicated. Even if its borders were haphazardly drawn, the concept of Iraq, much as the concept of Syria, Egypt, or Yemen, dates back centuries if not millennia. Nineteenth century Persian diplomatic correspondence references Iraq, but the name Iraq dates back to before the coming of Islam, and often appears in medieval Arabic literature. Regardless, even if a Western diplomat or historian wanted to label Iraq a completely artificial country, the fact of the matter is that it has existed within the same set of borders for nearly a century; 95 years of a common history within common boundaries builds identity.

Second, why not divide Iraq anyway? Recently, some pundits have revived the idea of dividing Iraq. Let’s pretend that ethnic and sectarian divisions are clear cut (they’re not) and that division wouldn’t Certainly, the Kurds want independence, but Iran—fearful of how that precedent might impact Iran’s own restive Kurds—have made clear that they will spare no means to sabotage that ambition. As for the Sunnis, how would division and independence resolve the problem of the Islamic State? Simply put, it wouldn’t: Rather, a Sunni entity would simply normalize the Islamic State. And if the fear is Iranian dominance of Iraq, then stripping away the Sunnis and the Kurds simply makes Iranian dominance over a Shi‘ite rump state easier.

Third, isn’t the Islamic State the result of political failures in Baghdad ? No. There have been failures in Baghdad, but the Islamic State neither formed in a day in reaction to former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s raid on a protest camp in Al-Anbar, nor would a broad-based government that incorporates everyone to their maximum demands resolve the problem. Sure, some Sunni political activists feel disenfranchised by the largely Shi’ite political order? Certainly, but there are many outlets for political discord. Enslaving women, burning children, defenestrating gays, and filling mass graves are the symptoms of psychopathy, not legitimate political protest. Nor do proponents of the idea that Baghdad causes the Islamic State consider that group’s presence in countries like Libya where sectarianism is not a concern. Simply put, political grievance isn’t the common denominator; rather, an extreme reading of Sunni Islam is.

Fourth, why support Iraq when its army doesn’t fight? Ashton Carter is probably the secretary of defense with the best command of defense issues in a generation, but his remark that the Iraqi Army had “no will to fight” at Ramadi was not only factually incorrect but also insulting and tone deaf. After all, the Iraqi Army (and the hashd, the popular mobilization forces) had fought in Ramadi for months before their collapse amidst an Islamic State assault involving multiple truck bombs. While the Kurdish Peshmerga had anti-tank missiles, the United States had not provided them to the Iraqi army. It had nothing in its arsenal to take out the armored trucks before they put Ramadi’s defenders in the kill zone. And as for American airpower? At the critical moment it was nowhere to be found. So much for all the assurances from the Obama administration that, post-withdrawal, the United States could (and would) provide security or gather adequate intelligence.

Fifth, Did Baghdad betray “the Surge?” No. The surge was good military strategy in the short-term, but it ensured long-term political instability. When assessing the surge, it’s crucial not to allow hagiography for some of the American commanders trump the reality of what the surge meant for Iraqi politics. The problem was that the surge was based on the notion that violence could bring both financial reward and political power. Rather than demand that Sunni politicians accept the post-2003 order, it empowered them absent any permanent acceptance on their part of the post-Saddam political order. Many of the entities the surge created were just as sectarian and contrary to the constitution as the Popular Mobilization Forces are today. As for the Sunni tribes, there’s often a conceit in America that when they work with American forces, it is because of a match of mind and heart but when they work with terrorists, radicals, and insurgents, it is something else entirely. The fact of the matter is that allegiance is transient for many tribes, and that it is poor policy to assume that any amount of political concession can permanently recruit them onto the right side. At the very least, the surge as with de-Baathificaton created a political Trojan horse and, more likely, set the stage for a bidding war for loyalty that the United States could never win.

Sixth, but wasn’t Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pro-Iranian after 2010? Sure, Nouri al-Maliki began leaning evermore toward the Iranians after the White House announced its intention to withdraw from Iraq, and he grew more sectarian as he had to fend off challenges from various Shi‘ite parties that accused him of being too moderate. But, why should that surprise? Iraqi politicians are, well, politicians. Why can Secretary of State John Kerry be for something before he was against it and not expect Iraqi politicians to be equally venal and opportunistic? The same holds true for Ahmad Chalabi, Ibrahim Jaafari, Masoud Barzani, and Jalal Talabani. It really is amazing that American politicians feel they can scapegoat foreign counterparts and just expect them to take it.

Seventh, why not give arms directly to Sunni tribes or the Kurdish Peshmerga? Given the rapidly changing loyalties of the Sunni tribes, arming them directly would be akin to arming Al Qaeda. It’s the same quixotic quest as searching for moderate Syrian opposition four years after their betrayal. Iraqi forces fleeing the Islamic State abandoned weaponry, and that’s bad. But many Sunni tribesmen and former regime elements simply joined the Islamic State. And, as for the Kurdish Peshmerga: First, the Kurds have been acquiring weaponry directly for several years and, second, Kurdish leaders continue to stockpile that weaponry for their own political benefit rather than deploy it where it’s needed. To work outside of Baghdad and arm the Sunnis and Kurds directly is the single best action to take if the goal is to undercut Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and give the pro-Iranian factions the perfect talking point to bash anyone that suggests considering let alone deferring to the American position.

Eighth, why not work with Iran to defeat terrorism in Iraq? Make no mistake: Iran is just as much of a threat to Iraqi sovereignty and regional security as is the Islamic State. If the Iranian government were really so antagonistic to the Islamic State, however, then perhaps in the years before the United States became involved in an air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, then Tehran would have had its client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, use his air force to bomb the Islamic State’s headquarters in Raqqa rather than use his then-uncontested control of the skies to drop barrel bombs on civilians. Even if Iranian leaders have come to recognize the threat the Islamic State poses, they are not an altruistic power. It is the Qods Force—and not ordinary Iraqi volunteers joining the fight against the Islamic State—that promulgate corrosive sectarianism. It should be the goal of the United States to ensure Iraqi sovereignty and defeat all extremism, not simply swap one flavor for another.

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Obama Wins Small Victories While Suffering Big Defeats Against Terrorists

As the Wall Street Journal editorialists note, the Obama administration has a few small wins—emphasize small—to celebrate in the past week against terrorism. A U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, while US F-15s over Libya may have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Al Qaeda renegade who in 2013 led the capture of an Algerian gas plant, a terrorist operation in which 38 foreign hostages were killed. Meanwhile Kurdish YPG guerrillas, in cooperation with other moderate fighters, seized the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, an important border crossing point with Turkey, from ISIS. If we extend our time frame a bit longer, we can add in the earlier success of Iraqi forces in seizing Tikrit from ISIS and in holding onto at least part of Beiji, an important oil refinery location in Iraq, as well as the Delta Force raid into Syria which killed ISIS financier Abu Sayyaf.

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As the Wall Street Journal editorialists note, the Obama administration has a few small wins—emphasize small—to celebrate in the past week against terrorism. A U.S. drone strike in Yemen killed Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, while US F-15s over Libya may have killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Al Qaeda renegade who in 2013 led the capture of an Algerian gas plant, a terrorist operation in which 38 foreign hostages were killed. Meanwhile Kurdish YPG guerrillas, in cooperation with other moderate fighters, seized the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, an important border crossing point with Turkey, from ISIS. If we extend our time frame a bit longer, we can add in the earlier success of Iraqi forces in seizing Tikrit from ISIS and in holding onto at least part of Beiji, an important oil refinery location in Iraq, as well as the Delta Force raid into Syria which killed ISIS financier Abu Sayyaf.

These are all nice little victories. Wuhayshi and Belmokhtar certainly deserved to die, as punishment for their crimes, and it’s good to see any towns liberated from ISIS’ murderous grips. But weighed on the scales against all of the victories that terrorists have been enjoying lately these seem like small change.

ISIS has taken over roughly half of Syria and a third of Iraq, most recently capturing the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra. It has also expanded its operations to Libya, where an ISIS offshoot is battling with other extremists for control of ungoverned territory, as well as to Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, and other countries which it has ambitiously declared to be provinces of its caliphate. Meanwhile the Al Nusra Front, the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, has helped to take Idlib and is expanding its operations elsewhere in Syria, while al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has succeeded in exerting significant territorial control in Yemen. In Afghanistan the Taliban and Haqqani Network remain as active as ever, as do Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Shabaab in Somalia, etc. There is even a newish Al Qaeda affiliate, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, which is threatening to unleash another reign of terror in countries such as India and Bangladesh—a threat to take seriously given the large Muslim population on the subcontinent.

And don’t forget the flip side of all of these Sunni jihadist groups—Shiite jihadist groups, under the thumb of Iran, which now the most powerful actors in the ostensibly government-controlled regions of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, all of which are becoming virtual provinces of Greater Iran.

Sad to say, none of these alarming trends will be shaken in the slightest by the death of a couple of terrorist commanders or the loss of a town or two. Given the way that terrorist groups have been expanding into the vacuum of so many lands across the Greater Middle East, it takes a willful denial of reality to claim that we are winning what used to be known as the war on terror.

The most that can be said is that we have enjoyed some success in avoiding a repeat of 9/11 on our soil; while terror attacks such as the Boston marathon bombing have occurred, they have mercifully been on a smaller if still terrible scale. But alas we can expect more attacks on the homeland as well as on our interests abroad because ISIS, the most high-profile terrorist group of the moment, is ramping up its international operations. As this graphic shows it has already been linked to numerous attacks from Australia to Texas, and we can expect more in the future.

If the Obama administration has an effective way to fight back, it has been carefully concealed for the moment. It is important to break ISIS’ hold over its “caliphate” in order to dispel its mystique and to lessen its attraction to foreign jihadists. But the most effective ground forces to oppose ISIS in Syria are the YPG, which, even if we ignore their ties to the PKK Marxist terrorist group, are still limited in what they can do—they cannot take and hold non-Kurdish areas. The same goes for the Kurdish peshmerga and the Shiite militias which have the most effective counter-ISIS forces in Iraq: their reach is effectively limited to areas occupied by their own groups.

Defeating ISIS, a Qaeda and their ilk will require an ambitious agenda far beyond any developed or even contemplated, as far as I can tell, by the Obama administration, which prefers to bomb from long range in a way that is destined to remain ineffectual.  There is no American strategy that I can see that will seriously shake the hold that these terrorists groups have been developing on ever-more extensive territory. And that means that recent successes, however welcome, are likely to be inconsequential.

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Jihadists More Repulsive than Pam Geller

By now most people know the story. Two ISIS-inspired gunmen, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, were killed outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. Equipped with body armor and assault weapons, the gunmen’s goal was to massacre those attending the May 3 event, hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The cartoon contest featured depictions of Muhammed, which many Muslims consider sacrilege.

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By now most people know the story. Two ISIS-inspired gunmen, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, were killed outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest in Garland, Texas. Equipped with body armor and assault weapons, the gunmen’s goal was to massacre those attending the May 3 event, hosted by the American Freedom Defense Initiative. The cartoon contest featured depictions of Muhammed, which many Muslims consider sacrilege.

What’s worth commenting on is the media narrative in the aftermath of the near-slaughter. Much of it focused not on the ISIS-inspired killers but on Pamela Geller, the president of the AFDI. While acknowledging that murdering cartoonists and those who are critical of Islam is wrong, most of the coverage I have seen made Geller the focus of the stories, and not in a positive way. That’s right; more anger and outrage has been directed at her than the would-be killers.

The storyline isn’t about the rise of ISIS-inspired terrorists on the American homeland; it’s on Ms. Geller’s provocations. One cannot help but sense in the coverage that many journalists believe Ms. Geller had this coming. After all, she was using “fighting words” and “hate speech.” The logic of Ms. Geller’s critics goes like this: Ms. Geller was doing something she knew would provoke a violent response and therefore she (the intended victim) is the person to blame. Women are unfortunately all too familiar with this kind of ugly storyline.

For the sake of the argument, let’s say that Ms. Geller was provocative and arguably reckless. Assume, even, that she’s anti-Muslim. In the context of this story, all this strikes me as very nearly beside the point. The media coverage — and the underlying views of many reporters and commentators — is terribly misguided and out of balance. How exactly does organizing a Muhammed cartoon-drawing event make one as villainous, or (for many journalists) more villainous, than jihadists who were about to engage in mass murder because they were upset about cartoon drawings?

To underscore how absurd this whole thing is, consider this thought experiment: A group of radical Methodists planned to gun down people attending a “Piss Christ” event built around a photographer who depicted a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of his urine. What this photographer — let’s call him Andrea Serrano — did was far more offensive than merely drawing a cartoon. Yet if militant Christians decided to murder this photographer and those who attended an event built around his work, do you think even a single reporter, columnist, commentator or news producer would frame the story as Mr. Serrano had it coming? Of course not; and if they did, we would be rightly appalled. I, as a Christian, would be more upset than most and much more inclined to express my outrage not at the photographer but at those people who, in the name of their (and my) faith, wanted to kill him and others.

Yet when it comes to Muhammad and the cartoons, we’re supposed to indulge Muslim militancy. We’re expected to take into account, and tiptoe around, the delicate sensibilities of jihadists. Easily provoked, our job is not to trigger a violent response from them. Today it’s a cartoon. Tomorrow it may be a dissertation that is critical of aspects of Muhammed’s life. The following day it may be Bill Maher’s monologue. Jihadists will come up with an endless number of reasons to be offended by us and to kill us. And at every stage and at every point, we’ll be told that we need to conform to the demands of the militants in order to prevent a “clash of civilizations.” Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations.

I find it rather stunning that those whose profession depends on freedom of speech are so eager to cater to those who are undermining it. The thinking of many in the political class seems to be that if cartoons are deemed offensive and off limits by jihadists, then the cartoons are offensive and off limits. Ms. Geller, however imperfect she may be, decided she wouldn’t go along with this game. She wouldn’t play by jihadi rules. If the demand by Islamists is you can’t draw cartoons of Muhammed, her response was: Oh yes we can. Certainly in America we can.

As a general matter, I’m not particularly enthralled with those who mock other people’s faith. But when people, in the name of their faith, threaten to kill you for drawing cartoons, I’m a good deal more understanding of those who will do it just to prove that intimidation tactics don’t work, that the First Amendment lives.

Winston Churchill said that he declined utterly to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire. And while I’m no fan of Geller, I decline utterly to be impartial as between Pamela Geller and the jihadists who want to kill her (and us). So should you.

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ISIS Connection to Garland Attack Debunks 9/10 Mindset

For much of the last few years, Americans seemed to be shedding their post 9/11 concerns about security and terrorism. The Patriot Act became a piñata for those disillusioned and wearied by the long war against Islamist terror as well as for those concerned about possible civil liberties violations. This mindset brought Senator Rand Paul to the forefront of the 2016 presidential conversation as well as leading to the ending of surveillance programs operated by cities like New York seeking to head off homegrown Islamist terror. That isolationist moment seemed to pass last year, as the threat from ISIS was made clear to Americans horrified by their beheadings of Western hostages. The realization that President Obama’s re-election campaign boasts about having ended the war on terror and decimating al-Qaeda weren’t true also changed minds. But the news that there appears to be an ISIS connection to the failed terror attack on a free speech conference in Garland, Texas Sunday night should further disabuse those who think the U.S. can afford some complacence about the Islamist threat. What nearly happened in Garland should remind us that this is no time for America to stop playing hardball on anti-terror intelligence efforts.

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For much of the last few years, Americans seemed to be shedding their post 9/11 concerns about security and terrorism. The Patriot Act became a piñata for those disillusioned and wearied by the long war against Islamist terror as well as for those concerned about possible civil liberties violations. This mindset brought Senator Rand Paul to the forefront of the 2016 presidential conversation as well as leading to the ending of surveillance programs operated by cities like New York seeking to head off homegrown Islamist terror. That isolationist moment seemed to pass last year, as the threat from ISIS was made clear to Americans horrified by their beheadings of Western hostages. The realization that President Obama’s re-election campaign boasts about having ended the war on terror and decimating al-Qaeda weren’t true also changed minds. But the news that there appears to be an ISIS connection to the failed terror attack on a free speech conference in Garland, Texas Sunday night should further disabuse those who think the U.S. can afford some complacence about the Islamist threat. What nearly happened in Garland should remind us that this is no time for America to stop playing hardball on anti-terror intelligence efforts.

The reported links between ISIS and the slain terrorists in Garland are deeply troubling. The ISIS claim of responsibility for the attempt might be dismissed. But the fact that some of their social media accounts alerted followers to the crime as it was happening shows that the shooter’s claims of a connection to the Islamist terror group may well have been accurate.

The alleged link between ISIS and this incident may mean that this was the first documented instance of the group’s involvement in an American terror attack. That is frightening and not just because of what might have happened if police hadn’t foiled the would-be killers of “infidels.” What is truly upsetting is the prospect that there are more than a couple of potential jihadist murderers lurking on the margins of American society waiting for their opportunity to prove their worth to their foreign role models.

In the days after 9/11, most Americans took it for granted that another major attack loomed ahead of us. That it never occurred had much to do with luck but also the willingness of the Bush administration to take the fight to the enemy and its willingness to do what was necessary to get good intelligence about possible jihadist connections.

Though we have seen lone wolf Islamist terrorists carry out both failed attacks and successful ones (such as the one at the Boston Marathon), America has been spared the catastrophe that most of us thought was inevitable. But the notion that we can simply assume that ISIS will continue to fail as al-Qaeda did while simultaneously standing down tough intelligence procedures is wishful thinking

So far the debate about intelligence has centered more on what are entirely legitimate concerns about overreach on the part of the government that has been fueled by the Edward Snowden leaks. But the jokes about the CIA reading everyone’s emails and text messages — which are gross exaggerations of even the most far reaching measures that might be considered — wouldn’t sound as funny in the wake of a successful mass terror attack or even a small-scale one should it subsequently be revealed that the killers were already on the radar of the intelligence community.

Nor should we be diverted — as some would have it — by the attempt to change the subject about Garland from Islamist terror to a debate about whether those at the conference had it coming to them because they were deliberately provoking Muslim extremists. The contest to draw the Prophet Muhammad might have been the excuse for this attempt but the Islamist ideology that drove the terrorists and those who hoped they would succeed don’t need a logical rationale to kill Americans. Their goal is not merely to intimidate those who “blaspheme” against their faith into silence. It is to kill regardless of any other consideration.

What happened in Garland should be a spur to greater support for a concerted intelligence effort aimed at potential terrorists that is undeterred by groundless worries about American tyranny or government overreach. A return to a 9/10 mindset that would have the police and the FBI fearing to use surveillance on Islamist mosques or those with other connections to supporters of terror is a luxury that America can’t afford if it wants to stay safe as well as free.

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The Problem with New U.S. Defense Pacts: Talk Is Cheap

The Obama administration appears to have woken up, somewhat belatedly, to the damage that it has been doing to America’s traditional alliances in the Middle East by its flirtation with Iran. No, the White House hasn’t decided to bury the hatchet with Benjamin Netanyahu; he remains on their enemies list. But the administration appears to be cogitating about how it can allay concerns among the Gulf Arab states now that the U.S. is preparing to lift sanctions on Iran and legitimate its nuclear program. At a recent dinner Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted to know: “How do you make clear to the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council] that America isn’t going to hand the house keys of the Persian Gulf over to Iran and then pivot to Asia?”

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The Obama administration appears to have woken up, somewhat belatedly, to the damage that it has been doing to America’s traditional alliances in the Middle East by its flirtation with Iran. No, the White House hasn’t decided to bury the hatchet with Benjamin Netanyahu; he remains on their enemies list. But the administration appears to be cogitating about how it can allay concerns among the Gulf Arab states now that the U.S. is preparing to lift sanctions on Iran and legitimate its nuclear program. At a recent dinner Defense Secretary Ash Carter wanted to know: “How do you make clear to the G.C.C. [Gulf Cooperation Council] that America isn’t going to hand the house keys of the Persian Gulf over to Iran and then pivot to Asia?”

As usual in Washington, the administration’s internal brainstorming is playing out in a top-secret forum called the New York Times, which reported Carter’s question. The Paper of Record further reports: “Officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department have been meeting to discuss everything from joint training missions for American and Arab militaries (more likely) to additional weapons sales to a loose defense pact that could signal that the United States would back those allies if they come under attack from Iran.”

There is talk of signing bilateral defense agreements with the likes of UAE and Saudi Arabia and even of selling them top-of-the-line F-35s. Neither option appears feasible because of congressional opposition, although I would think that lawmakers would be more likely to oppose the sale of the F-35 (which Israel needs to keep its qualitative edge) than they would a defense pact along the lines of the U.S.-Japan alliance. In any case F-35s are not much use against the kind of subversion by proxy that the Iranians practice in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s advanced aircraft have not, for example, dislodged the Houthis from power in Yemen and American aircraft are not dislodging ISIS from its domains in Iraq and Syria.

The larger problem is that neither weapons sales nor formal alliances are an adequate substitute for American credibility and deterrence, both of which are in short supply at the moment. Why should the Gulf states believe America’s assurances of support when the U.S. has allowed Bashar Assad to stay in power and to use chemical weapons in violation of President Obama’s red lines? Or when the U.S. has allowed Russia to dismember Ukraine in violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which the U.S., Britain, and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for giving up its nuclear arsenal? Or when Obama pulls U.S. troops out of Iraq and now threatens to do the same in Afghanistan? Or when the U.S. allows Iran to seize a cargo ship flagged to the Marshall Islands, whose security the U.S. is already pledged to defend, with nary a protest? It will also not have escaped attention in the region how Obama dropped Hosni Mubarak, a longtime American ally, after the start of the Arab Spring (a decision that is more defensible than the other ones).

Talk is cheap, especially in this White House, with a president who talked his way into a Nobel Peace Prize. But our allies can see that this administration does not back up its rhetoric. If the White House really wanted to reassure them, it would rethink its misbegotten enthusiasm for lifting sanctions on Iran (and thus delivering hundreds of billions of dollars in lucre to a state that they view as a mortal threat) in return for promises to hold off a few years in weaponizing its nuclear program. But that’s not going to happen because Obama views a treaty with Iran as his signature achievement and he will not let the qualms of allies, or for that matter Congress, get in his way.

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The Right Israeli Response to Young Arabs Loving Israel on Facebook

Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

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Responding to last week’s post about a poll showing that young Arabs no longer see Israel as the Mideast’s biggest problem, a reader pointed out that this doesn’t mean they’ve stopped hating Israel or wanting it to disappear. That’s unarguable; recognizing that Israel isn’t the source of all the region’s ills is merely the first step on a long road toward accepting its existence. But as one of the most remarkable stories I’ve read in years makes clear, it’s a very significant step. And how Israel responds to it will matter greatly.

The story, reported by Shlomi Eldar in Al-Monitor, began with a Muslim Arab veteran of the Israel Defense Forces–a rarity in itself, since few Israeli Arabs enlist. Outraged at hearing his own community’s leaders vilifying the IDF, M. made a Facebook page aimed at convincing other Israeli Arabs that the IDF isn’t evil and more of them should enlist.

What he got instead was an outpouring of love for Israel from across the Arab world. A young Saudi woman, for instance, posted a video clip saying, “I’d like to send a message of peace and love to Israel and its dear citizens … I hope the Arabs will be sensible like me and recognize the fact that Israel also has rights to the lands of Palestine.” A young Iraqi man posted a clip saying, “I want to send a message of peace and love to the dear Israeli people … I believe that the number of people who support Israel here will grow consistently.”

Stunned by these messages–and there were “lots of them,” Eldar reported–M. began asking their authors what prompted them to support Israel. Some had personal reasons, like a Jordanian lesbian envious of Israel’s gay rights. But others cited the crucial realization of that poll data.

“There are a lot of young people here who think like me,” the Iraqi man said. “Everything that is happening to us here in Iraq — the killings, the terrorism, the veritable bloodbath — showed us that Israel has nothing to do with it.” In other words, his recognition that Israel wasn’t the cause of the Arab world’s problems is what enabled him to start seeing it as it actually is.

Or take the Egyptian police officer who wrote, “We love, love, love Israel and its army,” even adding a heart with a Star of David inside. Four years ago, that would have been unthinkable. But today, Egyptian policemen are on the front lines against the brutal terrorism of homegrown Islamic extremists, and the IDF is one of Egypt’s closest allies in this fight. So instead of seeing Israel as the problem, some Egyptians now see it as part of the solution.

None of this means a New Middle East will break out tomorrow; these young Arabs remain a minority. Moreover, the ones who still hate Israel passionately are often the ones with the guns and bombs and missiles, which means they’re the ones who will take over any territory up for grabs.

Hence the last conclusion to draw from this is the one leftists routinely do: that Israel should attempt to accelerate this budding rapprochement by making territorial concessions. That would actually be counterproductive: It would further empower the extremists against the moderates by giving them more territory to control, endanger Israel by giving the extremists new bases from which to attack it, and thereby ensure more Israeli-Arab bloodshed.

Instead, Israel should recognize that since this new openness stems entirely from internal changes in the Arab world; the Palestinian issue is largely irrelevant to it. As evidence, consider that repeated Israeli pullouts, from Sinai, Lebanon, and Gaza, produced no such upsurge in Arab affection, whereas the past four years did, despite two wars in Gaza, zero pullouts, and zero progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

That doesn’t mean Israel can do nothing; it can and should try to help Arabs improve their own lives. And in fact, it’s already doing that in numerous ways, from counterterrorism assistance to Egypt through economic aid to Jordan to medical care for wounded Syrians. But it shouldn’t forget that this change in Arab attitudes is merely the start of a long process of baby steps. Any attempt at a “great leap forward” is liable to end in a painful fall.

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The al-Qaeda Hostages and Deteriorating U.S. Intel

Today a grim-faced President Obama announced that he was taking “full responsibility” for the inadvertent death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda and killed in the frontier region of Pakistan by an American drone strike. He was right to do so, but it’s not an especially brave thing to do on the president’s part because few but the most perfervid partisans will blame him for this accident of the type that happens so often in the “fog of war.”

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Today a grim-faced President Obama announced that he was taking “full responsibility” for the inadvertent death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda and killed in the frontier region of Pakistan by an American drone strike. He was right to do so, but it’s not an especially brave thing to do on the president’s part because few but the most perfervid partisans will blame him for this accident of the type that happens so often in the “fog of war.”

The only people who might be remotely surprised by this mistake would be those technologists and futurists who once argued that advances in computing power would make possible “perfect information awareness,” thereby turning war into a sterile targeting exercise. The U.S. military in the 1990s to some extent bought into this orthodoxy, which became known as “network-centric operations.” Although the limitations of information technology were brutally exposed in Afghanistan and Iraq, where no number of precision airstrikes could defeat determined insurgencies, there has remained a political vogue for “precise,” “surgical” airstrikes—now done by drones rather than by manned aircraft. This has, in fact, become the preferred Obama way of warfare.

There is no question that drone strikes are a useful tool of counter-terrorism policy, but the mistaken killing of the two hostages shows the limits of our intelligence. It would be all too easy to kill the enemy if we knew precisely where he was, but we don’t—insurgents like to hide in plain sight and it takes a lot of work to distinguish them from the civilian population. To be sure, high-tech reconnaissance and surveillance can enable this process but human-intelligence is necessary too, both the kind acquired by spies and the kind acquired by interrogators.

As it happens, the Joint Special Operations Command under Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Adm. Bill McRaven became very, very good at doing battlefield interrogations without using torture. It was their success in getting detainees to talk that enabled JSOC operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. But that is now a lot harder to pull off because the U.S. is no longer holding detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have transitioned the detention process over to the Iraqis and Afghans, with predictably dismal results. Many hardened killers who have blood on their hands were set free.

Moreover, Obama is refusing to send any new detainees to Guantanamo and continuing George W. Bush’s policy of releasing detainees, roughly a third of whom return to their old tricks. Finally Obama, like all presidents, is averse to putting American troops on the ground in harm’s way. Thus the strong preference for U.S. counter-terrorism strikes is to kill rather than to capture terrorists. But dead men tell no tales. The fact that we are not capturing and interrogating more bad guys means, inevitably, that the quality of our intelligence is going down, thus raising the likelihood of mistakes such as the ones that killed hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” is fine for Westerns, but in the real world live terrorists are far more useful than dead ones.

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What Obama Should Be Apologizing For

President Obama stepped before the cameras this morning to apologize for the deaths of two Western hostages, including one American, in a U.S. drone strike on an al-Qaeda target. Speaking in a dignified and sorrowful tone that marked a strong contrast with most of his press appearances, the president expressed profound regret about the deaths on behalf of the government and vowed that it would do its best not to repeat the mistake. While the families deserved to hear his apology, the rest of us do not. But the American people are owed an apology for something else. As we add to the total of Americans killed as a result of terrorism by a group we were informed by the Obama re-election team was on the run and finished, sometime before the president leaves office it would be far more appropriate for him to own up to the mistakes he made that have led us to a moment in history when Islamist terror is more dangerous than ever.

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President Obama stepped before the cameras this morning to apologize for the deaths of two Western hostages, including one American, in a U.S. drone strike on an al-Qaeda target. Speaking in a dignified and sorrowful tone that marked a strong contrast with most of his press appearances, the president expressed profound regret about the deaths on behalf of the government and vowed that it would do its best not to repeat the mistake. While the families deserved to hear his apology, the rest of us do not. But the American people are owed an apology for something else. As we add to the total of Americans killed as a result of terrorism by a group we were informed by the Obama re-election team was on the run and finished, sometime before the president leaves office it would be far more appropriate for him to own up to the mistakes he made that have led us to a moment in history when Islamist terror is more dangerous than ever.

It’s important to give credit to the president for providing some transparency about the fate of both hostages. Going public with the news about the fact that the hostages were killed as a result of U.S. action was the right thing to do. So was the apology to the family. But, like his refusals to ransom other hostages held by terrorists, the president was right not to try to buy the freedom of Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto and also correct to order the attack on an al-Qaeda stronghold even if the results of these decisions were tragic.

Second-guessing about specific operations is easy for critics but useless. No one seriously believes the strike would have been planned and approved had anyone known about the presence of the hostages. The only apologies truly needed for this incident should come from the terrorists who seized two innocent people—both aid workers who were in the region to help, not wage war—and are responsible for their deaths, no matter the origin of the bomb that ultimately killed them.

But any discussion about al-Qaeda must start and end with an honest evaluation of the administration’s counter-terrorism policy in the context of its broader foreign-policy goals. And it is here that apologies are warranted.

The president has taken a beating from some on the left as well as their unlikely libertarian allies on the right such as Senator Rand Paul for the extensive use of drones to kill terrorists. Those criticisms are largely unfounded. These are legitimate targets, and taking out these killers and their infrastructure is both necessary and justified.

The drone attacks are wrongly blamed for making the terrorists popular. As much as many in Pakistan and Afghanistan resent them, the factor that drives terror recruitment is the notion that they are prevailing in the struggle against the West, not resentment of successful attacks that prove they are not winning. But what isn’t working is the foreign policy that makes the context for military action and which has given the terrorists good reason to believe that they are succeeding.

We now know that administration decisions to pull out of Iraq precipitously rather than stay and negotiate a deal that would have allowed U.S. forces to remain in the country facilitated the rise of ISIS. The same can be said for the president’s dithering about the civil war in Syria when decisive Western action in the opening months of the struggle probably also would have made it difficult for ISIS to establish a foothold there as well. In Afghanistan, the continued strength of the Taliban even after setbacks they experienced as a result of the surge the president ordered in his first term is largely due to Obama’s announcement of a pullout date for U.S. troops even as reinforcements were arriving.

The problem is that the president was so eager to declare wars over or ending that he forgot that the terrorists were not getting the memo about their being defeated. The same applies to al-Qaeda, whose defeat was supposed to be sealed with the death of Osama bin Laden, a centerpiece of the president’s reelection campaign rhetoric. Yet while the administration was trying to tell us that al-Qaeda was decimated or on the run or effectively out of business, it was continuing to dig in and expand. Now it appears that its affiliates are as strong or stronger than in bin Laden’s time. Combined with the efforts of their ISIS rivals, it’s clear terrorism is as great a threat to U.S. security as ever. Add in the ongoing activities of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Houthi in Yemen, all of which are prospering because of the active aid of Iran, a nation that is the object of the president’s efforts at détente, and the picture becomes even darker.

This is an administration that is more concerned with withdrawing from the Middle East than in showing that it will stay and fight until victory. The appeasement of Iran on the nuclear issue and the refusal of the president to insist that Iran stop supporting terror as part of the negotiations (indeed, his Democratic allies in the Senate successfully insisted that any accountability on terror be left out of the Corker-Menendez bill on the Iran deal) also undermine any notion that it is a priority.

It is that dismal situation and not a tragic if honorable failure to know that hostages might die with their terrorist captors in a drone strikes that merits a presidential apology.

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Americans Eager to Sell Iran the Rope to Hang Them

Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

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Back in the 1970s, columnist George Will memorably characterized the eagerness of American businesses to do business in the Soviet Union as proof that they loved commerce more than they loathed Communism. Propping up a tottering evil empire that threatened Western freedom was nothing compared to the chance to make a buck. A generation later, we’re seeing the same phenomenon on display as other groups flock to Iran now that President Obama has made it possible, if not likely that it will be legal for Americans to do business in the Islamic Republic. As the New York Times reports today, though they were chaperoned by minders who kept them out of the presence of dissidents or other victims of the regime, one such group still found it impossible to escape being confronted with evidence of the theocracy’s hate-filled ideology. But, as with other hopeful, profit-minded pilgrims to other totalitarian regimes, participants preferred to see the country as one big market rather than one big prison whose rulers are intent to do harm to the West.

Like the Times’s own disgraceful journalistic tourists to Iran, such as Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof, the group featured in today’s article gushed over the welcome they received and the wonders of Iran’s ancient culture, friendly people, and market potential. The delegation of venture capitalists and business executives organized by a group called the Young President’s Organization got a red carpet tour as well as constant assurances that they and their money will be safe in Iran. When they had the temerity to ask about billboards across the country that proclaimed the regime’s trademark “Death to America” slogan, they were told that this was the product of a bygone era and that a “new Iran” was emerging. That seemed to comfort them, as did the likely inference that the presence of American cash would speed along the transformation of Iran.

But it’s likely that along with tourist sites and meetings with Iranians that said the right thing about wanting to re-engage with the West, these young entrepreneurs and executives didn’t find out much about the way the theocracy oppresses dissidents and religious minorities. Nor is likely that they learned much about the way the regime and its various military arms operate businesses that finance international terrorism as well as an arms buildup that threatens the region. It’s likely they also heard the same tripe about Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy (in a nation overflowing with massive oil reserves).

What businesspeople who want to invest in Iran should understand is that their efforts to open up this market for American commerce serves to strengthen a brutal and anti-Semitic Islamist government that is a driving force behind regional violence. Dollars that go to Iran will help finance Iran’s terrorism as well as a nuclear program that will eventually, even if Tehran abides by a pact with the West, lead to a weapon that could destabilize the Middle East and threaten Israel with destruction. Just as important, it will make it harder, not easier for those who want change in the country to make their voices heard, let alone have an impact on events. Though Americans always tell themselves fairy tales about increased trade being a force for freedom, all they will be doing is putting cash in the coffers of an otherwise tottering government that will make it even more resistant to reform, let alone willing to expand freedom.

But what’s that compared to the chance of making money by doing business with the ayatollahs? To those who participate in such junkets, the answer is obviously not much. Rather than Americans exporting their values, all the effort to promote trade with Iran will do is to compromise their own principles and to legitimize a regime that those who cherish freedom should never seek to support. This story illustrates that the cost of President Obama’s appeasement of Iran cannot be measured solely by the terms of a nuclear deal that will abandon sanctions and grant the regime a path to a bomb. “Death to America” doesn’t mean just death to Americans critical of Iran but all Americans as well as Western freedom. Just as Lenin once boasted that capitalists would sell Communists the rope by which they would be hanged, a new generation of fools appears intent on gifting Iran with the money that will pay for the terrorists that will kill us.

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Will Money Moderate Iran?

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

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President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem intent on reaching a deal with Iran at any price. Not only did Obama authorize the release of $11.9 billion just to have Iranian representatives sit at the same table as Kerry and his team, but the Wall Street Journal now reports that the Islamic Republic of Iran could receive perhaps $50 billion as a “signing bonus.” That’s right: faced with pushback from the leading state sponsor of terrorism on Obama’s previous insistence that sanctions relief would be calibrated to Iranian compliance with its commitments, Obama has surrendered once again: the pay-out will be immediate.

Acting State Department Spokesman Marie Harf insists that Iran will use that money, and perhaps the total $100 billion in sanction relief it expects, to rebuild its economy. While risible, Harf’s claim seems to reflect thinking by everyone from Jake Sullivan, Hillary Clinton’s presumptive national security advisor who initiated the Iran talks in the first place, to John Kerry, to Barack Obama himself. Unfortunately, it also reflects true ignorance of recent Iranian history.

Between 2000 and 2005, the European Union more than doubled its trade with Iran on the philosophy that the “China model” might work. That is, trade and economic liberalization might lead to political liberalization. At the same time, the price of oil—and therefore Iran’s income—nearly quintupled.

That cash infusion, alas, coincided with the collapse of the reform movement under President Mohammad Khatami—reformism more or less ran out of steam by 2000—and it also coincided with a massive infusion of cash into Iran’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs and the construction of the then-covert enrichment plant at Natanz. Indeed, this is the whole reason why those claiming to be reformists (Hassan Rouhani, for example, who as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council supervised the build-up of the nuclear program) claim credit for advancing the nuclear program.

It is true that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) does profit to some extent off of sanctions; after all, they control most of the black market. But the logic that an end to sanctions would disadvantage the IRGC and regime hardliners is disingenuous. After all, Khatam al-Anbia, the economic wing of the IRGC, alongside the revolutionary foundations control perhaps 40 percent of the Iranian economy. Any oil deal or serious import-export contracts would disproportionately empower the Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian regime over ordinary Iranian people or so-called “moderates” or “pragmatists.”

To suggest infusing cash into the Iranian economy will repair that economy rather than enable Iranian hardliners to further support and sponsor terrorism throughout the region is simply ignorant. It is ignorant of Iran’s ideology, ignorant of the outcome of past episodes where similar strategies were tried, and ignorant of the economic and political structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran. To infuse such money into Iran’s economy is, effectively, to sponsor a state sponsor of terrorism.

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