Commentary Magazine


Topic: terrorism

ISIS Terror Continues Unabated

Apparently the shock value of televised beheadings is wearing off. Or maybe captured Muslims are marked for especially gruesome treatment. Whatever the case, news has now emerged that ISIS burned alive captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh. At this rate future captives can expect to be impaled or dismembered. There is simply no end to the evil of ISIS–their depravity and contempt for human life is seemingly infinite.

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Apparently the shock value of televised beheadings is wearing off. Or maybe captured Muslims are marked for especially gruesome treatment. Whatever the case, news has now emerged that ISIS burned alive captured Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kassasbeh. At this rate future captives can expect to be impaled or dismembered. There is simply no end to the evil of ISIS–their depravity and contempt for human life is seemingly infinite.

Yet faced with this abomination, the U.S. has blinked. Sure, President Obama has sent a few thousand advisors to Iraq and dropped thousands of bombs in both Iraq and Syria. But, the liberation of the ruined town of Kobani aside, his current strategy isn’t working. As the Daily Beast notes: “The Pentagon has said it has killed 6,000 fighters since coalition strikes began five months ago; the intelligence community estimates 4,000 foreign fighters have entered the fray since September. (A higher estimate, made by The Washington Post, holds that 5,000 foreign fighters have flowed into the two countries since October.)” That kind of math favors the jihadists, because it doesn’t even account for all the thousands of Iraqis and Syrians who have taken up arms under the black banner.

It is high time for a more serious strategy–one that I outlined back in November. Boost the U.S. military presence. Loosen restrictions on bombing. End the prohibition on U.S. boots on the ground. Let U.S. Special Forces accompany Iraqi and Syrian forces into battle and call in airstrikes directly on ISIS positions. Send in the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command to take down ISIS commanders. Do more to train and arm Sunni tribesmen in both Syria and Iraq–work with them directly rather than going through the Iraqi Security Forces and assure Syrians that the U.S. is as opposed to Bashar Assad’s evil as ISIS’s evil.

Yet the White House consistently refuses to get serious. That makes its protests about the murder of ISIS hostages, whether American, British, Japanese, or now Jordanian, toothless. Just empty verbiage. Until the U.S. is willing to do more to stop ISIS, it will continue its reign of terror unabated.

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Strategy Should Be Defeat of Islamists, Not Choosing Sectarian Sides

The United States has lacked a coherent strategy in the Middle East—if not worldwide—for more than a quarter-century. George W. Bush came closest in recent years and voiced a strategy that centered on an emphasis on democratization but, when push came to shove, he did not have the wherewithal or patience to overcome resistance from within the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and his own National Security Council.

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The United States has lacked a coherent strategy in the Middle East—if not worldwide—for more than a quarter-century. George W. Bush came closest in recent years and voiced a strategy that centered on an emphasis on democratization but, when push came to shove, he did not have the wherewithal or patience to overcome resistance from within the State Department, Central Intelligence Agency, and his own National Security Council.

With the Arab Spring, the traditional basis of regional stability—or, at least relative regional stability (there were multiple Arab-Israeli and Arab-Arab wars, after all)—collapsed as both pro-American and anti-American dictators who had ruled for decades fell or their states collapsed into violence and civil war. Meanwhile, traditional secular bulwarks like Turkey are now as much adversary as ally. Questions remain about the future of other allies. Saudi Arabia just underwent a transition and appears to be trending hardline, and Oman and the United Arab Emirates are not far behind, as their leaders probably have weeks or months to live, but likely won’t make it into 2016. ISIS is simply icing on the chaotic cake.

It would be cheaply partisan—and myopic—to attribute all the chaos to President Obama’s decisions since he took office, or George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. The world doesn’t revolve around Washington, and much of the trouble in the region would have occurred no matter who was in the White House. That said, decisions do have consequences. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq (a decision I supported and still support) certainly undercut stability in Iraq, although that instability might have been inevitable, given that Saddam would have been nearly 80 years old today and so might not have survived to the present anyway. With regard to Obama, his desire to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi on the cheap, and without U.S. ground forces, meant no one was willing to step up and secure his weapons depots. The resulting flood of weaponry has destabilized countries across the Sahel, empowered radicals, and continues to threaten international air travel. If Obama aide and now UN Ambassador Samantha Power’s “responsibility to protect” motivated the ill-planned Libya intervention, then the failure to intervene in Syria before the opposition radicalized was pure hypocrisy. Today, the only moderate opposition group inside Syria is the Democratic Union Party (YPG), which because of its links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and outdated U.S. deference to Turkey, the U.S. government wrongly considers to be a terrorist entity (it’s safer to be a journalist in Qamisli, Syrian Kurdistan, than it is in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan).

It’s no secret to either Republicans or Democrats that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry increasingly appear rudderless in their approach to the Middle East. On one hand, they seem intent on working with Iran and its proxies against the threat posed by radical Islamist groups like ISIS—the Houthis are just the latest case—but on the other hand, as the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo has reported, they are legitimizing the Muslim Brotherhood which at best is an incubator for Sunni radicalism and at worst is a terrorist group itself (both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have designated it as such).

There is incoherence to such policies. Isolating al-Qaeda, its fellow travelers, and its enablers makes a great deal of sense, but then why reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which has targeted Christians, eroded the rights of women, and cheered terrorism? Why deny the terrorism of the Taliban? And can Iran really be a counterbalance to al-Qaeda when it supports groups like Hezbollah which is just as deadly and radical as al-Qaeda, albeit with just a slightly different sectarian patina? Nor does it make sense to rehabilitate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who is responsible for mass murder and who hasn’t hesitated to use cynically ISIS against his more moderate opponents? (That’s not a conspiracy theory: the Syrian regime had uncontested control of its airspace for years before the United States launched its air campaign against ISIS; during that time, Assad preferred to drop barrel bombs on civilians rather than bomb ISIS’s headquarters in Raqqa).

So what should the United States policy be? Rather than choose between different flavors of radicalism or get drawn into a sectarian struggle in which Washington absolutely does not belong, perhaps it’s time to make the defeat of extremists of all sects the guiding principle of U.S. policy. This would mean rolling back the Muslim Brotherhood and its proxies wherever they exist and moving to marginalize rather than legitimize it, as Secretary of State John Kerry and the Foreign Service he leads seem wont to do. It would mean embracing its enemies—providing unequivocal support to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates for example—and pushing away its supporters, Turkey and Qatar. If the Clinton and George W. Bush-era flirtation with the Erdoğan regime shows one thing, it is that for Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired groups, moderation is a tactic not a goal. It should mean isolating rather than embracing Muslim Brotherhood fronts in the United States, as well, like the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the latter of which, unfortunately, the Pentagon uses to credential Muslim military chaplains.

It’s not enough, however, to simply seek to isolate and diminish the Muslim Brotherhood. It should be just as much a goal to undermine and eliminate Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in Iraq, and Iranian influence. There are Shi‘ites across the region who chafe under and resist Iranian influence; the United States should support them. Washington must look at the region as Tehran does: not as an area for shared influence, but rather a zero-sum game. It should be the goal of the United States to deny Iran space while at the same time promoting programs which lead to the empowerment of the Iranian people rather than the regime that oppresses them.

The Middle East may look chaotic, but with Egypt, the largest and most important Arab country on the right side, with Tunisia breaking through the glass ceiling to become the first Arab state categorized as free by Freedom House, and with Morocco, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Kuwait promoting moderation, it can be possible to consolidate an axis of moderation against the looming threat of the extremists. It’s not a one- or two-year task, however, but should be the goal of any American strategy. The United States must never apologize for putting its own interests and helping those with whom they coincide while undercutting those whose ideology would counter them.

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Does the ISIS Beheading Prove Japan’s Prime Minister Right?

Japan’s second hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, has apparently been beheaded by ISIS, following the fate of the countryman he sought to help rescue. In an unusual, some would say unprecedented, response, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been quoted as vowing “to make the terrorists pay the price.” Such rhetoric, it is being pointed out in Japan and the United States, is something one expects to hear from American presidents, but not from Japan’s famously bland leaders.

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Japan’s second hostage, journalist Kenji Goto, has apparently been beheaded by ISIS, following the fate of the countryman he sought to help rescue. In an unusual, some would say unprecedented, response, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been quoted as vowing “to make the terrorists pay the price.” Such rhetoric, it is being pointed out in Japan and the United States, is something one expects to hear from American presidents, but not from Japan’s famously bland leaders.

Yet Abe has made a hallmark of rocking the boat in his second term in office, making him both admired and despised. Many Japanese (and foreigners) consider him a nationalist hawk, and his fighting words will confirm their opinion that he is a danger to Japan’s security. Others think that he is simply acknowledging a reality that Tokyo for far too long ignored: that the world is a dangerous place, that Japan cannot hide from it, and that it has a role to play in protecting not only its own interests, but stability more generally.

It was this last that may have doomed Goto and his fellow Japanese Haruna Yukawa. Abe’s pledge of $200 million in humanitarian aid to countries fighting ISIS apparently caused the two Japanese to be targeted. If Abe hadn’t done that, so the thinking goes, if he hadn’t pushed Japan into a crisis that did not affect it, then there would have been no kidnapping and murder of Japanese nationals.

To adopt such an attitude is to give a victory to ISIS, in transferring blame to some degree to the victim (in this case, a country), instead of the aggressors. Abe is right, and ISIS has proved him so: the danger of radical Islam, or of other disruptive actors, like North Korea, cannot simply be ignored. That may not mean getting involved in every case, but it does mean clearly recognizing the threats to any sense of civilized norms, and deciding how and when to act.

That, of course, is the most difficult, and Abe has now drawn a line in the sand, so to speak, by stating that some punishment will be meted out. Given that Japan lacks an offensive military capability, not to mention a hostage rescue capability of the kind that has failed even the United States in dealing with ISIS, Abe’s words may be written off as overblown rhetoric. Yet in saying them, he is indicating the path that he wants Japan to go down. The word’s third-largest economy, and a force for stability in Asia, should not be so impotent that it cannot protect, rescue, or avenge its citizens. It may be another sign of how Japan will change in the coming years in ways that will complement, not counter, U.S. efforts to respond to global disorder.

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Why ISIS’s Grisly Tactics Haven’t Backfired

To the chronicle of its depravities, ISIS has now added a new chapter by beheading two Japanese hostages. A Jordanian pilot who was captured by ISIS may be the next to go, if he has not been murdered already. ISIS, which reportedly seized at least 23 foreigners, now has only a few of them left, including a male British journalist and a female American aid worker.

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To the chronicle of its depravities, ISIS has now added a new chapter by beheading two Japanese hostages. A Jordanian pilot who was captured by ISIS may be the next to go, if he has not been murdered already. ISIS, which reportedly seized at least 23 foreigners, now has only a few of them left, including a male British journalist and a female American aid worker.

Some are starting to wonder what ISIS has achieved with its high-profile executions. And indeed the countries targeted in its grisly beheading videos–Britain, the U.S., Japan–have not knuckled under. Indeed these executions have had the opposite reaction, leading the U.S. and the UK to begin military action against ISIS along with European and Arab allies. In Jordan, support for its role in the anti-ISIS coalition has been growing, rather than shrinking, as a result of the threats confronting its captured pilot who hails from a prominent tribe. Even Japan, which historically has not used military force abroad, is now threatening retaliation for the murder of its hostages.

So is it safe to say that ISIS’s brutal tactics have backfired? Not so fast. Its barbaric actions may cause revulsion but they also inspire fear among many and help to keep millions of dollars in ransom payments flowing for the release of European hostages. There is even a small subset of Muslims who are inspired by the spectacle of the “Islamic State” waging merciless war on “infidels” (however innocent). These admirers are presumably among the 1,000 or so foreigners a month traveling to Syria to join ISIS and rival groups such as the Al-Nusra Front. Most of all such atrocities keep ISIS in the news and serve as a counterpoint to news of setbacks it has suffered, such as the loss of Kobani in northern Syria to Kurd fighters backed by American airpower.

Certainly since ISIS began its beheadings last summer, it has suffered setbacks; U.S. Central Command claims that 6,000 of its fighters have been killed in that period by coalition airpower. But in that time ISIS has managed to hold onto Mosul and Fallujah in Iraq while actually expanding its control in Syria.

So horrific as ISIS’s tactics are, it’s too soon to call them a failure, largely because the Obama administration has placed so many limitations on American participation in the anti-ISIS coalition (e.g., no “boots on the ground”) and has done so little to mobilize anti-ISIS fighters among the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq. As long as that continues to be the case, ISIS will get away with its hideous crimes.

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Is Iran Preparing for a Two-Front War Against Israel?

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

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The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

The aftermath of the dustup along the Lebanese border has been characterized mostly by renewed Israeli efforts to search for evidence of tunnels being dug across the border to facilitate more terror attacks. The construction equipment that has been reported in the vicinity of this week’s assault was widely assumed to be a sign that Hezbollah is preparing for more attacks perhaps this time aimed at killing and kidnapping civilians as well as soldiers.

The context was not just the usual tensions with the terror group but signs that Iran was upping the ante with Israel as it continued to refuse to budge in nuclear talks with the United States and its Western allies. Far from being separate issues, the ability of Iran to deploy its Hezbollah auxiliaries to pressure Israel must be understood as integral to its overall goal of seeking regional hegemony via the chaos in Iraq and the survival of its ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

Tensions with Hamas along Israel’s southern border should be seen in the same light.

Hamas has recently begun moving to renew its alliance with Iran after their split because they backed rival sides in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s victory was achieved with Iranian and Hezbollah help and Hamas has now conceded it made a mistake when it threw in with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back the rebels.

But it too, has been using the respite since last summer’s war to rebuild. But the rebuilding has not been of the homes of Palestinians who were used as human shields by Hamas. Rather it has been rebuilding its military infrastructure of tunnels and shelters designed to protect its leaders, fighters and arsenal. Talk about international donors being slow to pay their pledges for the costs of rebuilding Gaza should be understood in the context of Hamas using as much of the aid as it can for its own purposes rather than to help those who languish under their despotic rule.

As for the residents of Gaza, Hamas isn’t completely neglecting them. As the Times of Israel reports, the ruling Islamist group has been operating camps for children in recent months. But the kids aren’t learning sports, fitness or arts and crafts. Some 15,000 teenagers have been undergoing terrorist training by the Izaddin al-Qassam, Hamas’s “military wing.” Many of them graduated the course yesterday.

Drills included weapons training and exercises simulating kidnapping IDF soldiers and infiltration into Israel through tunnels. Portraits of Israeli leaders were used in target practice for sniper training.

In case, the International Criminal Court is interested in investigating a real war crime as opposed to compiling charges against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against terrorist assault, using children in this manner is an atrocity.

But the point of these two stories is that Israel must brace itself for a two-front war if Iran thinks it is in its interest to start one. That should cause President Obama to rethink his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran in which he has already sacrificed his former goal of dismantling their nuclear program. Further appeasement of Tehran will not bring peace to the region. To the contrary, Iran seems bent on expanding its reach and terrorism is the way to do it. With more daylight opening up between Washington and Jerusalem these days, the temptation for Iran to use the leverage it has acquired on Israel’s northern and southern borders may prove irresistible. If the U.S. wants to prevent such an outcome, it needs to be more realistic about the nature of its negotiating partner and more supportive of an ally that remains under siege from Islamist terrorists on two fronts.

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America’s Anti-Israeli President

I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

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I wanted to add to Jonathan’s post on President Obama and Israel, but perhaps sharpen some points just a bit.

The Obama administration is unusually petty and sophomoric. The attacks leveled against Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, are part of a troubling pattern in which officials in the Israeli government–including and especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu–are vilified.

No world leader has been treated by President Obama and his administration with the contempt they have shown Prime Minister Netanyahu–from this snub in 2010 to being called a “coward” and “chickens*** prime minister” by senior administration officials.

But the problem goes much deeper than a personality clash. President Obama is, quite simply, anti-Israel. In every conceivable situation and circumstance, the president and his aides give the benefit of the doubt not to Israel but to its enemies. This despite the fact that Israel is among America’s longest and best allies, democratic, lawful, takes exquisite steps to prevent civilian deaths in nations committed to destroying it, and has made extraordinary sacrifices for peace. No matter; the pressure that’s applied is always applied most against Israel–even when, as in last year’s conflict with Hamas, Israel was the victim of lethal attacks.

This is morally shameful. In a world filled with despotic leaders and sadistic and ruthless regimes–North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, and on and on–which nation alone does Mr. Obama become “enraged” at? Which is the object of his disdain? Which provokes his white-hot anger?

Answer: Israel. Has it struck you, as it has struck me, that with every other nation, including the most repressive and anti-American on earth, Mr. Obama is careful never to give offense, to always extend the olive branch, and to treat their leaders with unusual deference and respect? Except for the Jewish State of Israel. It always seems to be in the Obama crosshair.

Because this attitude is so detached from objective circumstances and the actions of Israel and the actions of the adversaries of Israel, something else–and something rather disquieting–is going on here. Mr. Obama wouldn’t be the first world leader to have an irrational animus against Israel. He’s not even the first American president to have an irrational animus against Israel. (See: Jimmy Carter.) But it is fair to say, I think, that no American president has been this consistently hostile to Israel while in office or shown such palpable anger and scorn for it and for Israel’s leader.

Perhaps given President Obama’s history–including his intimate, 20-year relationship with the anti-Semitic minister Jeremiah Wright–this shouldn’t come as a surprise. But that doesn’t make it any less disturbing.

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U.S. Must Connect the Dots Between Iran Talks and Hezbollah Violence

The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

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The instinct in Washington is to dismiss the latest flare-up in violence along Israel’s northern border as just another incident in a long-running cycle of violence involving Hezbollah and the Israel Defense Forces. The State Department will condemn the attack on Israel but it will call for restraint and calm. Their expectation, echoed in much of the media, is that once the smoke clears, the combatants will return to an armed and hostile truce enabling diplomats to concentrate on more important things like the administration’s pursuit of détente with Iran. But whether or not the shooting continues in the coming days, this incident, in which two Israeli soldiers were killed by terrorists firing over an international border, must be understood as intrinsically connected to the broader issue of U.S. relations with Iran and its nuclear program. The fighting is a wake-up call to the West alerting it to the fact that Tehran’s real purpose is not, as President Obama hopes, “to get right with the world,” but to dominate the region and threaten Israel and moderate Arab nations.

The border violence is generally being reported as part of a tit-for-tat exchange between Hezbollah and Israel. Today’s incident, in which anti-tank shells were fired at Israeli vehicles travelling on a civilian road from three miles away inside Lebanon, is seen by many as retaliation for Israel’s strike at a Hezbollah missile base inside Syria last week in which, among others, an Iranian general was killed. Iran has warned Israel that it would retaliate and it is thought that today is proof that they meant what they said.

But there is more to this than the need for Hezbollah to do the bidding of its Iranian paymasters or even for it to gain revenge for the death of the terrorists slain with Tehran’s ballistic missile expert, one of whom was the son of a slain commander of the group. The point of setting up that base in Syria, near the Golan Heights, was to create a launching pad to hit the Jewish state without bringing down the wrath of the Israel Defense Forces on Lebanon, as was the case during the 2006 war that was set off by similar cross-border raids. But the reason why Hezbollah and Iran were so interested in strengthening their ability to rain down destruction on Israeli civilian targets is that Tehran sees itself as being locked in a permanent war with Israel as well as with Arab states in the region.

This is more than obvious to anyone who pays the slightest attention to Iranian policy as well as its use of terrorists to advance its policy goals. Hezbollah is an arm of Iranian foreign policy as proved by its use as shock troops in the effort to preserve the rule of Tehran’s ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

This exposes the fallacy that lies at the heart of the current U.S. approach to Iran. President Obama is convinced that sooner or later he will be able to persuade the Islamist regime to accept a weak nuclear deal that will enable him to withdraw sanctions on the regime and start working toward an amicable relationship. The idea of such an entente is ludicrous since the ideology of the Iranian regime is implacably hostile to the United States. Moreover, their goal is not integration into the region but rather domination of it, something that will be facilitated once it becomes clear it is a threshold nuclear state (even if no bomb is actually constructed) as well as by its use of its Hezbollah auxiliaries and a renewed alliance with Hamas.

Seen from that perspective, the administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran is not merely misguided because Iran has no intention of abiding by any agreement and that it will use the nuclear infrastructure that the West seems poised to allow it to keep to continue a pursuit of a weapon. Rather, what makes it truly disastrous is that an embrace of Iran will encourage its adventurism in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as along Israel’s northern and southern borders. An Iran that is permitted to become a nuclear threshold state will not only be vastly more powerful than it is today but in a position to directly threaten Israeli security and that of Jordan and perhaps even Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The fighting along Israel’s northern border is just a tease of what may come once Hezbollah is protected by an Iran that believes the U.S. has granted it impunity to pursue its aggressive agenda.

Instead of dismissing the border fighting, the White House should be realizing that it is headed down a perilous path in its pursuit of friendship with Iran. If it doesn’t turn back soon, today’s violence may be just a foreshadowing of the atrocities that will follow.

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Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent

One of the worst things about many “human rights” organizations is the way they actually undermine some very fundamental human rights. A prime example is B’Tselem’s new report on Palestinian civilian deaths during this summer’s war in Gaza. Few people would disagree that the presumption of innocence is an important right, but when it comes to Israel, B’Tselem simply jettisons it. In fact, the group states with shocking explicitness that it considers Israel guilty until proven innocent.

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One of the worst things about many “human rights” organizations is the way they actually undermine some very fundamental human rights. A prime example is B’Tselem’s new report on Palestinian civilian deaths during this summer’s war in Gaza. Few people would disagree that the presumption of innocence is an important right, but when it comes to Israel, B’Tselem simply jettisons it. In fact, the group states with shocking explicitness that it considers Israel guilty until proven innocent.

Take, for instance, one incident the report discusses, an attack on the a-Dali building in Khan Yunis. B’Tselem doesn’t mention any combatants being present, but an alert Jerusalem Post reporter recalled that Amnesty International had identified one fatality as a combatant. He asked about this discrepancy, and here’s his account of B’Tselem’s response:

Without addressing the specific incident, a B’Tselem representative said there were cases where the group suspected that fighters may have been involved, but it was only reporting their involvement where the evidence was hard and clear.

In other words, if B’Tselem isn’t certain whether the victims were combatants or civilians, it lists them as civilians and then accuses Israel of war crimes. In fact, it does this even if it “suspects that fighters may have been involved.” In short, it presumes Israel’s guilt unless proven otherwise.

Moreover, the report stressed repeatedly that B’Tselem “has no way of knowing” why Israel struck any particular target, and evidently, it doesn’t care. But as NGO Monitor pointed out, the “why” is crucial: If, say, the building was used to store weapons or launch rockets at Israel, then it was a legitimate military target. Without knowing whether the building was targeted legitimately or indiscriminately, it’s impossible to accuse Israel of war crimes–unless, of course, you simply presume Israel’s guilt.

But B’Tselem goes beyond merely presuming Israel’s guilt; it also deliberately omits exculpatory evidence. Take, for instance, the attack on the Kaware home in Khan Yunis. As the report accurately says, the family left after receiving an IDF warning, but other civilians subsequently entered, and the IDF realized this too late to abort its strike. What B’Tselem left out, however, was that those civilians came deliberately to serve as human shields for the building, which the IDF claimed was a Hamas command center. The surviving Kawares said this explicitly, and several prominent media outlets reported it at the time. “Our neighbors came in to form a human shield,” Salah Kaware told the New York Times. Yet this all-important fact–that civilians had deliberately returned to serve as human shields, a development the IDF couldn’t have predicted–was simply omitted from the report.

The same goes for the bombing of Beit Lahiya. As the report correctly notes, the IDF warned residents to evacuate, and many did. But others stayed, and some were killed. B’Tselem blames the IDF for this, saying, “Many had nowhere to go, as the military was conducting strikes throughout the Gaza Strip.”

But Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid offered a very different explanation in a lecture at last month’s Limmud conference in England. According to his sources in Gaza, armed Hamas gunmen arrived and warned that anyone who left town would be considered a collaborator. And Hamas, as is well known, executes collaborators. So faced with a choice of certain death at Hamas’s hands or possible death at the IDF’s hands, residents who encountered those gunmen returned home.

Perhaps B’Tselem truly didn’t know this–in which case either its research is shoddy or its sources in Gaza are unreliable. Or perhaps, as in the Kaware case, it deliberately omitted this information. But either way, the result is the same: B’Tselem blamed Israel for a crime actually committed by Hamas. Had Hamas not prevented the evacuation, those civilians wouldn’t have died.

The report did acknowledge that Hamas stored arms in civilian buildings, launched rockets from civilian areas, and otherwise violated international law; it even admitted that this made it “extremely challenging … to avoid harming civilians.” So how was Israel supposed to have surmounted this challenge? That’s not B’Tselem’s problem; it “does not purport to offer the Israeli government or the military any operative plans for conducting armed conflict in Gaza.”

In other words, it admits that preventing civilian casualties under these circumstances is nearly impossible, but declares that unless Israel can accomplish the impossible, it effectively has no right to defend its citizens against a terrorist organization. And self-defense may be an even more fundamental human right than the presumption of innocence.

But in B’Tselem’s view, evidently, Israelis have no rights. They are only and always guilty.

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How to Lose a War: Schiff’s Reckless AUMF

In his State of the Union address, President Obama tried to paint a rosy picture of his administration’s failing effort to roll back ISIS. It was the sales pitch before the ask. He followed it by saying: “This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.” He should be careful what he wishes for: congressional Democrats are rewarding the president’s request with an embarrassingly unserious war authorization.

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In his State of the Union address, President Obama tried to paint a rosy picture of his administration’s failing effort to roll back ISIS. It was the sales pitch before the ask. He followed it by saying: “This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.” He should be careful what he wishes for: congressional Democrats are rewarding the president’s request with an embarrassingly unserious war authorization.

BuzzFeed’s John Stanton reports on the effort led by California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who has introduced a bill similar to one he put forth last year. The administration is relying on a 2001 authorization passed at the outset of the war on terror. But the fight against al-Qaeda and its affiliates is only part of the war on terror. Hence we have had to at times fight different terror groups in the same places or the same terror groups in different places, Syria being the prominent example of the latter.

Schiff says, correctly, that it’s time to stop pretending we’re not at war. In a statement, he said: “There is no doubt that our current offensive amounts to war, and Congress should take action both to authorize its prosecution and to set limits on that authorization so it may not be used by any future administration in a manner contrary to our intent.” Democrats have been trying to balance support for the president with a desire to see some of Congress’s traditional powers restored.

The problem, therefore, is not the idea of a new authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) but rather the text of this one. Here’s what it would include:

In addition to barring the use of ground troops, the new AUMF would also sunset in three years, as well as sunset the 2001 AUMF at that time. Additionally, Schiff’s bill would be “geographically limited” to contain counter terrorism war efforts to Iraq and Syria.

Although the White House and hawks in both parties have argued tying the administration’s hands is inappropriate, Schiff argued the overly broad interpretation of the existing AUMF should give Congress pause.

“If circumstances change, they should come to the Congress and make the case” for an expanded AUMF, Schiff told BuzzFeed News in an interview Tuesday evening. But “given how previous authorizations have been broadly construed, we would be wise to tailor this one to the current circumstances,” Schiff added.

Obama has often been (accurately) accused of relying on magical thinking in his prosecution of the war on terror. But Schiff is guilty of no less. Schiff’s logic in wanting to pass a new AUMF is that we’re at war, and so we should act like it. He really ought to follow his own advice.

The desire to avoid a ground war is understandable; the prohibition against ground troops in a declared war is outrageous. And it unlearns any and all lessons from the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan that it claims to be correcting.

One of the main knocks on the Bush administration’s prosecution of the war in Iraq was that its initial light-footprint strategy was unrealistic with regard to the kind of resistance U.S. forces would face. Another popular accusation was that there was no “exit strategy.”

Schiff’s AUMF aims to repeat both mistakes.

He may think that sunsetting an AUMF is an exit plan. It is not. Putting a time limit on the war would do nothing to end it, and in fact would almost certainly prolong it. Our enemies would know precisely how to run out the clock on us. And the war effort wouldn’t be over; the president would simply have to pause the fighting (as if he can call a timeout in war) and go back to Congress for permission to fire back at the enemy forces who would be in attack mode the whole time. Putting a three-year time limit on the war virtually guarantees it will last more than three years.

As for the prohibition on ground forces: this is so absurd as to be self-refuting. It would be nice to be able to achieve victory without ground troops, and hopefully that’s possible. But barring them from combat ties the hands of the commander in chief.

It also shows Schiff isn’t paying attention to what’s happening in Iraq and Syria. As Tim Mak reported in the Daily Beast in mid-January:

At least one-third of the country’s territory is now under ISIS influence, with recent gains in rural areas that can serve as a conduit to major cities that the so-called Islamic State hopes to eventually claim as part of its caliphate. Meanwhile, the Islamic extremist group does not appear to have suffered any major ground losses since the strikes began. The result is a net ground gain for ISIS, according to information compiled by two groups with on-the-ground sources.

A net ground gain for ISIS, thanks to a halfhearted air war. This is the strategy Schiff wants to codify in law–even though we are already aware that it’s failing.

The Obama administration deserves much of the criticism it has received on the president’s efforts to colonize the powers of Congress and expand executive authority. But the president is the commander in chief, and he shouldn’t be forced to ask the military to bring a knife to a gunfight. Schiff’s bill is irresponsible and dangerous, and that’s why it shouldn’t–and almost certainly won’t–become law.

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Is Kobani the New Khe Sanh?

The Obama administration will be tempted to take a victory lap because of recent news that Kurdish militiamen have regained control of Kobani, a Syrian town near the border with Turkey. ISIS forces that had been attacking it for months have melted away. This is, to be sure, a nice achievement, but its wider significance is limited.

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The Obama administration will be tempted to take a victory lap because of recent news that Kurdish militiamen have regained control of Kobani, a Syrian town near the border with Turkey. ISIS forces that had been attacking it for months have melted away. This is, to be sure, a nice achievement, but its wider significance is limited.

As I have previously argued, the ISIS siege of Kobani, broken with the help of copious American airpower, resembles nothing so much as the North Vietnamese siege of Khe Sanh, a town in South Vietnam near the border with Laos. Held by Marines, Khe Sanh was under assault for 77 days in 1968 before the Communist attackers melted away. So insignificant did Khe Sanh prove in the end that U.S. forces abandoned it shortly after relieving its garrison.

The larger picture in Syria is that ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front, the two primary jihadist groups, continue to gain ground while the moderate opposition, once seen as the salvation of Syria, is in worse shape then ever, in no small part because it has never received the support it needs or deserves. If you don’t mind raising your blood pressure, you should read this enraging account in the Wall Street Journal today, by reporter Adam Entous, of how little the CIA has done to help the moderate Syrian opposition.

A few highlights:

  • “One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter.”
  • “ ‘We walk around Syria with a huge American flag planted on our backs, but we don’t have enough AK-47s in our hands to protect ourselves,’ a leader of the Hazzm Movement, among the most trusted of the trusted commanders, told U.S. lawmakers in a meeting.”
  • “Most CIA-backed fighters made $100 to $150 a month. Commanders made slightly more. Islamic State and Nusra often paid twice as much, making it harder for the trusted commanders to retain fighters.”
  • “ ‘We thought going with the Americans was going with the big guns,’ the Hazzm leader said, according to people at the meeting. ‘It was a losing bet.’ ”

The predictable result of this neglect–compounded by the American failure to stop Bashar Assad’s air force from bombing the few areas still held by moderate forces–is that many of the mainstream fighters have either abandoned the fight, been killed or captured by the jihadists, or joined their ranks. This, naturally, becomes a further excuse for doing nothing to aid them. But how can we possibly expect Syrians to risk anything fighting with us when we won’t risk anything to help them?

Reading this account–in which terrorist groups such as Al-Nusra and ISIS are able to outspend the world’s No. 1 economy–makes me think that if the current administration had been in charge of arming the mujahideen in the 1980s, the Russians would still be occupying Afghanistan.

The parlous state of the Free Syrian Army means that there is little prospect for making greater inroads against ISIS, much less the Nusra Front, in Syria. And that in turn means that Kobani is an isolated victory which is unlikely to have any wider strategic significance.

The Obama administration’s failure to do more to stop the bloodshed and the advance of extremists in Syria must rank as one of the worst failures of U.S. foreign policy in the past half-century. Obama can take comfort that he hasn’t repeated George W. Bush’s supposed mistake in invading Iraq; instead he’s making his own mistakes, whose costs continue to mount.

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Is It Misguided to Fight for Jewish Rights?

Lawfare is the term for the practice of employing legal proceedings to wage a kind of war on a country or cause. For the most part, the State of Israel has been on the receiving end of this effort as non-governmental organizations and others purporting to support the cause of human rights have attempted to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and to self-defense with specious efforts to arraign before the bar of justice. But not everybody in Israel believes the best way to counter these attacks is to play defense or simply ignore it. Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner founded Shurat HaDin—the Israel Law Center in 2004 to use the law to not only work for the rights of Jewish victims of terrorism but also to make the terrorists, state sponsors, and enablers in the business world pay for their crimes. For this she was rewarded with an article profiling her activities in yesterday’s New York Times that posed the question in its headline as to whether her work was “misguided,” a clear indication of the opinion of the paper’s editors. But that verdict can only be sustained if you believe those who support terrorism deserve legal impunity.

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Lawfare is the term for the practice of employing legal proceedings to wage a kind of war on a country or cause. For the most part, the State of Israel has been on the receiving end of this effort as non-governmental organizations and others purporting to support the cause of human rights have attempted to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and to self-defense with specious efforts to arraign before the bar of justice. But not everybody in Israel believes the best way to counter these attacks is to play defense or simply ignore it. Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner founded Shurat HaDin—the Israel Law Center in 2004 to use the law to not only work for the rights of Jewish victims of terrorism but also to make the terrorists, state sponsors, and enablers in the business world pay for their crimes. For this she was rewarded with an article profiling her activities in yesterday’s New York Times that posed the question in its headline as to whether her work was “misguided,” a clear indication of the opinion of the paper’s editors. But that verdict can only be sustained if you believe those who support terrorism deserve legal impunity.

The piece by Jodi Rudoren does provide us with yet another tortured food metaphor from the paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief. In describing her relentless efforts to keep probing legal foes for weaknesses and to adopt the best strategies, Darshan-Leitner made an analogy to baking challah for the Sabbath. Rudoren uses that one line to attempt to gain some insight on her subject’s career but it doesn’t work.

Even less convincing is Rudoren’s effort to put down Darshan-Leitner as either a worthless publicity hound/profiteer or an impediment to the peace process. Indeed, who is the only source Rudoren can produce to justify the headline about the Law Center’s efforts being “misguided?” The Israeli attorney who had been defending the Palestinian Authority in cases relating to its financial support for terrorists described her as a “nuisance.” I’m sure his clients and others who believe those who commit terrorism against Jewish Americans and Israelis feel the same way. But it’s hard to see why anyone else would view her activities in that same light.

Rudoren also finds some anonymous sources that bash Darshan-Leitner for getting too much credit for cases that are ultimately litigated in American courts where, as an Israeli, she of course cannot practice. But that is hardly fair. She doesn’t claim to litigate all cases to conclusion herself. Nor could she. Her job is to set in motion proceedings that both publicize Palestinian terror to international publics that hear relatively little about the subject and build support for the effort. No wonder the Palestinians, other terror funders, and their mouthpieces want to silence her.

Not all of her efforts have been successful. In even those cases she has won, collecting judgments for those who sued those responsible for terror is easier said than done. But Darshan-Leitner has always rightly understood that the main point of these efforts is to change the narrative from false charges of Israeli war crimes to the real story of Middle East terrorism in which Palestinian and Islamist groups indiscriminately slaughter Jews and think there is no way they will ever be made to pay for their crimes.

The subtext of this criticism has little to do with the letter of the law or how much the Israel Law Center has collected from terror funders and enablers. For some in the media and on the political left, any effort on the part of Israelis or friends of Israel to draw attention to Palestinian terrorism is what is really “misguided.” From their perspective, knowing the truth about the PA is, in a sense, the biggest obstacle to peace, since the more we know about it and other terror funders, the less likely Israelis or Americans will be to trust them to keep their promises or to refrain from renewing the conflict even after Israel is eventually compelled to give up even more land in the vain hope of receiving peace in exchange. In particular, Darshan-Leitner’s recent successes in launching cases against the Arab Bank and the PA have drawn the ire of Israel’s critics.

As with the State Department’s refusal to tell the truth about Palestinian incitement, criticisms of the Israel Law Center’s cases is not so much about the facts or the law as it is about the bad manners of an Israeli who wants to uncover and publicize the truth about the Jewish state’s peace partners. It is that, and not her legal acumen or publicity, that is Darshan-Leitner’s real sin. It is one for which she will never find any forgiveness from the New York Times and other outlets who otherwise ignore her efforts.

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Why Integration Won’t Stop Radicalization

Earlier this week at a joint press conference, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron were asked about domestic radicalization in the U.S. and Europe. Obama said that “Our biggest advantage … is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. And there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.” The president was right. But it raised an important question: How much of Europe’s radicalized Muslim population can be deterred by better integration into society?

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Earlier this week at a joint press conference, President Obama and British Prime Minister Cameron were asked about domestic radicalization in the U.S. and Europe. Obama said that “Our biggest advantage … is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. And there is this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength.” The president was right. But it raised an important question: How much of Europe’s radicalized Muslim population can be deterred by better integration into society?

The Obama administration seems to think the answer is: a lot. Yesterday Secretary of State Kerry met with his EU counterpart Federica Mogherini, and the two took questions from the press. Kerry followed up on Obama’s comments and went a step further, as the Weekly Standard reports:

I entered college in 1962. And in 1963, ’4, ’5, we were deeply embroiled in this country, and we – college students in the Civil Rights Movement. And we were deeply impacted by that and have always been, I think, as a generation, much more sensitive to this question of minority and rights and integration and so forth. We’ve made unbelievable progress in our nation, unbelievable progress in the years since then. But it would be completely disingenuous not to say to you that we still have some distance to travel. …

And Federica is absolutely correct; this particular incident of violence wasn’t a specific targeting that grew out of that, but we all can do work in many parts of the world that I have seen where one minority or another or another is not able to share fully in the full integration in whatever country they happen to be living.

Seeing the Muslim integration problem through the prism of Jim Crow is deeply misguided. (This is a bipartisan temptation; Condoleezza Rice once explained that she understood the Palestinian grievance against checkpoints because of her childhood in the segregated South.) Not only are the two situations dissimilar, but Kerry is offering Europe’s Muslim communities a broad claim of injustice and victimhood while laying much of it at the individual governments’ feet.

Kerry did say that the recent Paris terror attack was not the result of a lack of integration. But if he were to examine why that is, he would learn much about the limits of his argument.

In the past, one of the popular beliefs about terrorism was that it stemmed from poverty. The search for “root causes” usually meant the search for conditions that would rob terrorists of their agency. It wouldn’t excuse the violence, but it would tiptoe far too close to doing so.

And–here’s the key–it was wrong. The idea that poverty is a root cause of terrorism has long been debunked. It crops up again from time to time, a zombie theory with its stubborn adherents. But paternalistic Westerners have always liked this explanation because it suggests an easy response–give them money–while laying their endemic societal problems at the feet of Western imperialism.

The “integration” issue is certainly a legitimate concern for Europe these days. And there’s even a certain amount of logic to the belief that it must play a role in the radicalization of Europe’s Muslim minority. But in an intriguing and thorough article today, terrorism analyst Lorenzo Vidino reveals that the “integration” theory is limited, to say the least:

Several studies seem to disprove the connection. A recent and extensive study conducted at Queen Mary University on a relatively large sample of young British Muslims, for example, showed that those most at risk of radicalization were 18- to 20-year-olds involved in advanced education from wealthy families who spoke English at home. …

Dounia Bouzar, director of the Centre for Prevention Against Islamic Sectarianism, recently published the results of her study of 160 French families that had contacted her center seeking help with their children’s radicalization. She found that two thirds of the families were middle class. Moreover, according to another study, 23% of French jihadists in Syria are converts. Discrimination against Muslim immigrants could hardly be seen as the factor triggering the radicalization of this sizeable cross section of French jihadists. If we add to that that many French converts hail from affluent families (see for example this interesting New York Times article on radicalization in the town of Lunel, in which one of the individuals profiled is the son of a Jewish engineer who grew up in a comfortable home with a swimming pool recently died in Syria), we see that in many cases socio-economic issues are equally irrelevant to explain radicalization processes.

I recommend reading the whole thing. In retrospect, the falsity of the “integration” argument should probably seem as obvious as its initial rationality sounded. After all, if poverty doesn’t cause terrorism, then the least-integrated immigrants probably aren’t the most easily radicalized. If terrorists come from the educated and the middle class, they are probably well integrated.

That does not mean that Europe has no integration challenge. It does. And integration is still important for education, economic mobility, and social cohesion. But it does mean that once again, there is no easy answer. There is no wad of cash or welfare-state program that can serve as a magic bullet here. And there is no simple way to blame the West for the violence employed against it. The hard work of diligent counterterrorism has no substitute.

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The Smartest Guy Ever to Be President Isn’t Quite As Smart As He Thinks

Barack Obama is really, really smart. I know, because he told me so during his State of the Union address. Our president is especially smart on foreign policy. I know because Mr. Obama told me that, too. “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership,” the president said. “We lead best when … we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. And around the globe, it is making a difference.”

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Barack Obama is really, really smart. I know, because he told me so during his State of the Union address. Our president is especially smart on foreign policy. I know because Mr. Obama told me that, too. “I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership,” the president said. “We lead best when … we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents. That’s exactly what we’re doing right now. And around the globe, it is making a difference.”

Of course it is.

Take how smart the president has been in combating ISIS (aka ISIL and the Islamic State). On Tuesday night Mr. Obama informed us that he was asking Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State. This comes precisely a year after our really, really smart commander in chief referred to ISIS as a “jayvee team.” That prediction was so prescient that the president decided to deceive us about it.

Here are some other examples of the shrewdness of the president. In his speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama declared, “We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort [to defeat the Islamic State], and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.” This comes after the president said last August that the notion that arming Syrian rebels would have made a difference has “always been a fantasy.” The president apparently believes that supporting what he deemed a fantasy–one military official told the press they are calling the moderate Syrian opposition “the Unicorn” because they have not been able to find it–now qualifies as Kissingerian.

The president also declared on Tuesday that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance.” That would be good news–if it were true. But just last week a senior defense official was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying, “certainly ISIL has been able to expand in Syria.” According to the Journal, “More than three months of U.S. airstrikes in Syria have failed to prevent Islamic State militants from expanding their control in that country, according to U.S. and independent assessments, raising new concerns about President Barack Obama’s military strategy in the Middle East.” NBC’s chief foreign-policy correspondent, Richard Engel, in reacting to the president’s address, said, “Well, it sounded like the President was outlining a world that he wishes we were all living in but which is very different than the world that you just described with terror raids taking place across Europe, ISIS very much on the move.”

The president added, “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.” Now in commenting on those safe havens we’re denying terrorists, is it indecorous to point out that the Islamic State, located in the Middle East, is the best-armed, best-funded terrorist group on earth and that it “controls a volume of resources and territory unmatched in the history of extremist organizations,” in the words of Janine Davidson of the Council on Foreign Relations? I hope not, since even Mr. Obama’s own secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, has said ISIS is “beyond anything we have ever seen.” (That’s some jayvee team.)

Mr. Obama was also brainy enough to declare his foreign policy a terrific success on the very day that a Shiite militia group took over the presidential palace in the Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, “sparking fresh concerns about a country that has become a cornerstone of U.S. counterterrorism strategy.” Which reminded me of how President Savant held up Yemen as a model of success only last September, telling us, “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.” Which in turn reminded me of Libya.

It was in the fall of 2011 when President Obama, speaking to the United Nations and announcing yet another of his grand achievements, declared, “Forty two years of tyranny was ended in six months. From Tripoli to Misurata to Benghazi — today, Libya is free.” Mr. Obama went on to say, “This is how the international community is supposed to work — nations standing together for the sake of peace and security, and individuals claiming their rights.” And what a success it was. Just last summer, in fact, the United States, because of rising violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias, shut down its embassy in Libya and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort. Earlier this month King’s College George Joffe wrote, “Libya seems finally to be about to descend into full blown civil war.” Call it another Model of Success during the Obama era.

Our percipient president also declared in his State of the Union speech, “Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.” That assertion is so reality-based that (a) the Washington Post fact-checker declared “there is little basis” for the president’s claims and (b) the highest ranking Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez, said the more he hears from Mr. Obama and his administration about Iran, “the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.” Oh, and the president made his announcement on the very day that we learned that Russia and Iran are more aligned than ever, having signed an agreement on military cooperation between the two nations.

I also thought it was really smart of the president to declare that “we stand united with people around the world who have been targeted by terrorists, from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris”–especially since Mr. Obama was one of the very few leaders in the free world who didn’t stand with the people in the streets of Paris during a three-million-person-plus solidarity march there two weeks ago. The president stayed away even though there was no conflict with his schedule, apart from NFL playoff games, of course. And the president wisely saw fit not to send the vice president, his wife, or a member of his Cabinet to attend the rally, but rather sent as his representative the American ambassador to France. (Give yourself a gold star if you can name her without first googling her.)

For us lesser mortals, the president’s foreign policy–country by country, region by region, crisis by crisis–looks to be a disaster. But it turns out it’s actually a fantastic success. How do I know? Because “the smartest guy ever to become president” told us it is.

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Blasphemy’s New Friends

Innocent victims of violence and injustice often attract the opposite of fair-weather friends: when they are at a low point, they become a cause. The surviving staffers of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine at which twelve were murdered by Islamist terrorists for publishing Muhammad cartoons, would probably be surprised by some of their new friends. And in fact, some of those new friends might be surprised themselves.

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Innocent victims of violence and injustice often attract the opposite of fair-weather friends: when they are at a low point, they become a cause. The surviving staffers of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French magazine at which twelve were murdered by Islamist terrorists for publishing Muhammad cartoons, would probably be surprised by some of their new friends. And in fact, some of those new friends might be surprised themselves.

Over at his new perch at the Atlantic, former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier has written a piece about the choice now facing the Jews of France. It’s headlined “We Are Hyper Cacher,” a reference to the kosher market whose shoppers were taken hostage by the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, who then killed four of the Jewish hostages. In discussing the history of French Jews, Wieseltier pairs the religious shoppers at Hyper Cacher and the secular satirists of Charlie Hebdo this way:

The mockers at Charlie Hebdo had no place in their hearts for the believers who shopped at Hyper Cacher, and the pious consumers at Hyper Cacher were not readers of the witheringly anticlerical Charlie Hebdo, but they were unlikely partners in the same project: a society of freedoms and rights. In striking at them both, the killers struck at the same thing. The cartoons and the challahs both were talismans of democracy, which is Islamism’s nightmare.

When cartoons and challahs occupy the same bunker in a culture war, one of them has either been sacralized or demoted. In this case, the cartoons have been sacralized.

What’s interesting about this is the clarifying moment the mass murder at Charlie Hebdo now appears to have been. The cartoons don’t suddenly possess new meaning; if such meaning is present, it predated the massacre. Wieseltier, though, didn’t seem to think so the last time they were in the news.

In the fall of 2012, Charlie Hebdo was a topic of conversation around the time of the terrorist attack on the American mission in Benghazi and the administration’s ham-handed attempt to blame it on the obscure anti-Islam video Innocence of Muslims. Right after the attack, Charlie Hebdo published more cartoons making fun of Muhammad, raising fears of more attacks and calls to tone down anti-Islam “art,” such as it was.

The Washington Post’s Charles Lane was having none of it. In a column decrying “censorship-by-riot,” Lane wrote: “I say: One cheer for Charlie Hebdo. I doubt that its cartoons are either laudable or responsible. In fact, I’m sure that they are neither. But if free speech means anything, it’s the right to say and publish things that other people find objectionable and irresponsible, even blasphemous.”

Lane was right about the attempted censorship through violence (or fear of violence). Wieseltier didn’t think so. And he particularly didn’t care for Lane’s bestowal of the term “blasphemous” on Charlie Hebdo’s antics. He shot back at Lane:

When the cartoons of Mohammed were published by Charlie Hebdo in Paris, it was another exercise in pseudo-blasphemy, even if they did give real offense, because the right of a French magazine to publish them was never in doubt. The constitutional freedoms of Pastor Jones were never imperiled by General Dempsey when he implored the odious cleric not to circulate “Innocence of Muslims,” the Islamophobic garbage that led ineluctably to violence in the Muslim world. It is not “censorship-by-riot,” as Charles Lane indignantly put it, to attempt to prevent innocent people, Americans among them, from dying. Is this video not crying fire in a crowded theater, or providing theater for a crowded fire?

Here we have two points that seem to have dissipated with the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher. First is Wieseltier’s suggestion that what Charlie Hebdo’s editors were doing wasn’t real blasphemy, and it wasn’t brave. It was the empty gesturing of ungrateful nogoodniks. This is because, according to Wieseltier, the cartoons were protected by law.

But law had no helping hand to lend when the terrorists came for the cartoonists and murdered them in cold blood. And the law certainly permitted Western newspapers from republishing examples of the subject matter that some felt was worth dying for. But the hasty and obsessive self-censorship in the wake of that attack had nothing to do with the law, because it wasn’t the law anyone was worried about. It was censorship-by-riot.

And it’s not censorship, Wieseltier said, to lean on cartoonists and filmmakers to take it easy on Muslims because lives are at stake. Once upon a time, Charlie Hebdo deserved mention alongside Innocence of Muslims while Wieseltier decried the latter as shouting fire in a crowded theater–arguably unprotected speech. Today, however, Charlie Hebdo has been promoted. It is speech that ought to be protected, it is essential to democracy, it is analogous to the bread Jews bless and eat to signify their miraculous survival by God’s grace in the wilderness.

It appears the 2012 set of incidents were the exception in Wieseltier’s worldview. In 1989, he castigated fellow Western writers for not immediately stepping up to defend Salman Rushdie from the latter’s censorship-by-fatwa. And those who found some dark irony in writers like Rushdie having opposed the free world’s democrats whose support and protection he now requires, Wieseltier called “mean and grudging and partisan.”

I don’t think so, but on the rest he was surely right then, as he is right now. And it would be mean and grudging and partisan to ignore the fact that some writers, Charles Lane among them, were right all along.

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The “Yemen Model” Goes Down in Flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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American Sniper and the Truth About Iraq

Having seen American Sniper last night, I came away stunned by the controversy over the film. As The Washington Post summarizes, a billboard for the film in West Hollywood was spray-painted with the word “murderer,” Michael Moore has claimed that snipers are “cowards” not “heroes,” Seth Rogen has likened it to a Nazi propaganda film show in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, and some have even compared Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle to the very jihadist terrorists that he fought.

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Having seen American Sniper last night, I came away stunned by the controversy over the film. As The Washington Post summarizes, a billboard for the film in West Hollywood was spray-painted with the word “murderer,” Michael Moore has claimed that snipers are “cowards” not “heroes,” Seth Rogen has likened it to a Nazi propaganda film show in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, and some have even compared Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle to the very jihadist terrorists that he fought.

Listening to the criticism you would think that American Sniper was a mindless, pro-Iraq War movie. That’s not the movie I saw. Almost entirely apolitical, American Sniper had nothing to say one way or the other about whether the Iraq War was worth fighting and even showed Chris Kyle’s younger brother cursing the war at the end of his deployment as a marine. It is true that the main narrative of the film depicts Kyle’s martial skills in uncritical fashion–he was the most deadly sniper in American history, with 160 confirmed kills–but it also makes much of the emotional cost of four combat deployments for both him and especially for his family. Among other things, the movie is a sensitive and understated depiction of post-traumatic stress syndrome, showing how much trouble Kyle had in adjusting back into the civilian world after leaving Iraq.

Why, then, all the criticism? Perhaps because almost all of the Iraqis are depicted as bad guys–or to use the word that Kyle used “savages–while Kyle and his SEAL teammates are depicted as dedicated professionals who try as hard as possible to avoid killing civilians. Although the movie shows a scene at the beginning of Kyle killing a woman and her child who are carrying a grenade to blow up a Marine column (in reality he only killed the woman–there was no child present), it later shows how relieved he is that a child who picked up a rocket-propelled grenade and aimed it an American Humvee put down the weapon and ran away before Kyle could shoot him. This is, in short, not a movie like  Platoon or Born on the Fourth of July or In the Valley of Elah or MASH that depicts American soldiers in the worst possible light.

But guess what? In my experience having visited Iraq a number of times during the war, Clint Eastwood, the movie’s director, is telling it like it is. Oh sure, large elements of the film are fictionalized (no, Kyle did not have a personal duel with a Syrian sniper called Mustafa), as is the case with pretty much every Hollywood movie. But the movie gets the larger truth right–that, with some lamentable and inevitable exceptions, American soldiers did behave themselves in exemplary fashion in Iraq, certainly compared to their enemies who drove car bombs into crowds of civilians and ruthless tortured to death anyone they suspected of opposing them.

The movie gets it, right, too that for many combat became an addictive high that was hard to let go of, and that, while many veterans bear psychological scars from their service, few have any regrets about their service. Many would no doubt nod in recognition along with Chris Kyle when he says that his only regret was that he couldn’t save more American soldiers–by, presumably, killing more of their enemies. Now many veterans would add another regret to their list–that President Obama pulled out all American troops from Iraq in 2011, allowing the extremists to retake towns from Fallujah to Mosul that Americans had fought so hard to clear. But I haven’t heard any veterans say their service was a mistake and that they were victims of a malign and deceitful American government–which is presumably what the MoveOn.org crowd is waiting to hear.

American Sniper could and should have done more to depict the brave Iraqis who fought alongside Americans against Shiite and Sunni extremists. (No Iraqi soldiers are shown, only interpreters who may or may not have been Iraqis.) It at least does have one scene which shows the extent to which Iraqis themselves were victimized by these fanatics–a harrowing depiction of an enforcer called “The Butcher” killing a boy with a power drill. What the movie’s critics may not like, but which is nevertheless true, is that this is an accurate depiction of the enemy that American troops were (and are) fighting–merciless fanatics who have staged the worst terrorist killing spree in history. And unfortunately that spree continues because ISIS, the group that has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria, is a direct descendant of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the group that Kyle and his fellow SEALs fought in the movie.

No doubt some would love to see American Sniper show moral equivalence between SEALs and their jihadist enemies in the manner of Jean Renoir’s 1937 masterpiece Grand Illusion, which depicted the commonality between French and German soldiers in World War I. That might make the movie more complex and more artistic, but it would also make it fundamentally false. Sorry, there simply isn’t any moral equivalence in the ongoing battle against jihadism—any more than there is any moral equivalence between American soldiers in World War II and their Nazi enemies.

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Obama’s Yalta Syndrome

President Obama may have been hoping to get some momentum back last night with a stridently partisan campaign-style speech. But it appears the media are losing patience with this game, finally. Both NBC News and MSNBC’s commentators were incredulous over Obama’s interpretation of world affairs. And the New York Times’s chief White House correspondent Peter Baker dropped a dreaded phrase into his analysis of Obama’s conception of his foreign policy: “What he did not mention was that….”

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President Obama may have been hoping to get some momentum back last night with a stridently partisan campaign-style speech. But it appears the media are losing patience with this game, finally. Both NBC News and MSNBC’s commentators were incredulous over Obama’s interpretation of world affairs. And the New York Times’s chief White House correspondent Peter Baker dropped a dreaded phrase into his analysis of Obama’s conception of his foreign policy: “What he did not mention was that….”

You know Obama’s having a tough run when the New York Times hits him with a yes, but. In this case, what Obama did not mention was that “Russia maintains control of Crimea, the peninsula it annexed from Ukraine, and continues to support pro-Russian separatists who are at war with Ukraine’s government despite a cease-fire that has failed to stop violence.”

Obama had been bragging about simply waiting Vladimir Putin out until the Russian economy started (or continued) to crumble. But Baker’s next sentence shows what is so unsound about Obama’s approach to foreign affairs: “Russia’s economy has indeed taken a huge hit, in large part because of the fall in oil prices, but so far Mr. Putin shows few signs of backing down.”

That, in fact, is what the divide is all about, because Obama considers that a victory while most of the reality-based community disagrees. To Obama, what happens to insignificant states–as he sees them, at least–isn’t important. This is a kind of great-power politics stripped of all nuance. It’s what someone who wants to practice great-power politics but doesn’t really understand international affairs would think constitutes such a policy.

To Obama, it’s the large states–or as he sees them, important states–that matter. Because Obama is a follower, not a leader, he gravitates toward the strong horse. He does not want to be in conflict with Russia, whatever that means for Russia’s ability to crush nearby states that the U.S. has promised to protect. Obama’s foreign policy suffers from Yalta syndrome.

And it’s the reason for what was really the centerpiece of Baker’s Times article on Obama’s unrealistic foreign policy: ISIS and the war on terror. Here’s how the article begins:

Under the original plan, this was to be the State of the Union address in which President Obama would be able to go before the nation and declare that he had fulfilled his vow to end two overseas wars. Only the wars did not exactly cooperate.

Mr. Obama pulled American troops out of Iraq in 2011 and ordered all “combat forces” out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. But before he could seize the mantle of peacemaker in Tuesday night’s speech, the rise of a terrorist group called the Islamic State prompted Mr. Obama to send forces back to Iraq, and security challenges in Afghanistan led him to leave a slightly larger residual force.

The total American military commitment overseas has shrunk significantly since Mr. Obama took office, with just 15,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, down from 180,000 six years ago. The situation in both countries, however, is not as clean or as settled as the president had hoped. Instead of ending American wars abroad, he now faces the prospect of finishing his presidency in two years with at least one of them still unresolved.

Even that understates it just a bit, but it’s mostly on-target. If the president ended or almost ended the two long wars the U.S. military has been engaged in, why isn’t he a peacemaker? The standard answer, which is correct but not quite complete, is that ending a war isn’t the same thing as winning a war; if you leave the job unfinished, it will be almost impossible to credibly pretend otherwise.

But it’s also because of the particular age in which Obama was elected to be that very peacemaker. Terrorism has long been with us, but 9/11 did change our recognition of the threat and thus our posture toward it. Land wars feel like a relic–even though Russia is proving they still occur, and will continue to occur. Asymmetric warfare, however, is much more difficult to avoid, as events both in the U.S. and especially in Europe of late have shown.

The spread of ISIS has nudged Obama even more into the arms of the country he sees as the Muslim world’s strong horse: Iran. We are now aligned with Iran’s client in Syria, Bashar al-Assad, a man the president previously insisted must be deposed from power. And we are in pursuit of the same near-term goal in Iraq: the defeat of ISIS.

And Obama has made it quite clear he intends to kick the nuclear can down the road far enough for it to be his successor’s problem (just as he, to be fair, inherited it from his predecessor). What he doesn’t want is conflict with Iran. If that means chaos in Yemen and slaughter in Syria while Iran gets away with exporting revolutionary terror–well, it is what it is. And if that means Iran displacing some of the hard-earned American influence in Iraq–well, what can you do. And if that means continuing to consign Lebanon to Hezbollah’s control, or trying not to pay much attention to another of Iran’s enemies dropping dead in a foreign country–you get the point.

The Georgians watching South Ossetia apprehensively are paying attention. Surely so are the states in China’s near abroad. For that matter, Poland too is getting nervous. They know a Yalta when they see one.

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Incitement Causes Routine Terror for Israel

The world was appalled earlier this month when Islamist terrorists committed a massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. But there will be no similar fuss about the brutal attack on an Israeli bus earlier today in which a Palestinian attacker stabbed 12 Israelis leaving some in serious condition. The incident, which took place in Tel Aviv, was, after all, merely just one more in a series of numerous attacks on Israelis by Palestinians using knives, guns, and even cars to commit indiscriminate acts of terror on civilians that have left many dead and more wounded in the last several months. What lies behind the recent upsurge in terror? The cause isn’t a mystery nor is the failure of the international community to condemn those responsible.

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The world was appalled earlier this month when Islamist terrorists committed a massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. But there will be no similar fuss about the brutal attack on an Israeli bus earlier today in which a Palestinian attacker stabbed 12 Israelis leaving some in serious condition. The incident, which took place in Tel Aviv, was, after all, merely just one more in a series of numerous attacks on Israelis by Palestinians using knives, guns, and even cars to commit indiscriminate acts of terror on civilians that have left many dead and more wounded in the last several months. What lies behind the recent upsurge in terror? The cause isn’t a mystery nor is the failure of the international community to condemn those responsible.

The key to understanding the increase in terror attacks is the willingness of both the Palestinian Authority and their Hamas rivals to incite hatred for both Israel and Jews in their official media and schools. Such incitement isn’t new but the recent efforts by Palestinian leaders to encourage terrorism in order to “defend” Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem against mythical Jewish attacks has created an atmosphere in which such acts are lauded in official media and often praised by their officials, including those like PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, as champions of peace.

It should be remembered that Abbas praised the Palestinian who attempted to assassinate a rabbi and activist who advocated for the right of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as a “martyr” who went “straight to heaven” when he was killed after a gunfight with Israeli soldiers. Using a tactic that has been tried by Palestinian leaders for a century, Abbas sought to inflate an argument over Jewish prayer rights—that were, ironically, opposed by the Israeli government—into a holy war.

Thus, it was no surprise that today’s attacker used the dispute over the Temple Mount as well as anger about the war launched by Hamas last summer as the excuse for his atrocity. As the New York Times reported, after the assailant was captured, he told Israeli police that he was inspired in part to try to kill random Jews by promises heard in an Islamic broadcast which spoke of “reaching paradise.” While the man, who was captured alive, did not get to Heaven and the promise of virgin rewards, he did have the consolation of being praised by Hamas spokespersons today as having committed a “heroic” act of “resistance.”

It is little wonder Israeli leaders are losing patience with Western governments that profess peace and advocate concessions to the Palestinians but find it hard to speak when it comes to condemning the acts that lead to Arab violence against Jews. Unlike most of the world, many Israelis rightly feel that attacks on Jews in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv should be seen in the same light as those on Jews in Paris. Indeed, the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, fueled as it is by Islamist propaganda against Israel, is in no small measure the product of attitudes and prejudices imported to the Continent from the Middle East.

Those European governments and United Nations agencies that have been vocal in advocating for recognition of Palestinian independence fail to take into account that what they are calling for is, in effect, the creation of terror states, whether it is Hamasistan in Gaza or the hate-fueled Fatah-run kleptocracy in the West Bank.

The volume of recent Palestinian attacks illustrates the dilemma for those seeking to prop up a dead-in-the-water peace process. So long as Abbas isn’t held accountable for the incitement committed by both the PA and its officials, it’s hardly surprising that he sees no reason to halt the incitement. But until he does, all talk of a revived peace process is just that much more evidence that the world doesn’t value spilled Jewish blood. When terror against Jews is considered too routine to get too worked up about, it’s a surefire sign that peace is nowhere in sight.

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Obama Makes Clear: No Foreign-Policy Recalibration Coming

Listening to President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address last night, I was more struck by what was missing rather than by what was included. The speech, naturally, featured a long wish list of domestic policy proposals (free community college, etc.) that have no chance of passing a Republican Congress. The president, as commander in chief, has more executive authority in foreign policy and yet foreign policy was by and large missing from the speech. By my count it consumed only 1,100 words out of a 6,800-word text–in other words, only 16 percent. It was sandwiched between domestic policy and global warming which are obviously areas that Obama feels much more passionately about.

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Listening to President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address last night, I was more struck by what was missing rather than by what was included. The speech, naturally, featured a long wish list of domestic policy proposals (free community college, etc.) that have no chance of passing a Republican Congress. The president, as commander in chief, has more executive authority in foreign policy and yet foreign policy was by and large missing from the speech. By my count it consumed only 1,100 words out of a 6,800-word text–in other words, only 16 percent. It was sandwiched between domestic policy and global warming which are obviously areas that Obama feels much more passionately about.

This focus is perhaps understandable given that the economy is looking up and Obama wants to claim credit, whereas there isn’t much to claim credit for in foreign affairs. Mainly Obama tried to claim credit for what he isn’t doing–“Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.”

This was, once again, a not-so-subtle dig at his predecessor, George W. Bush, and his current critics, such as Senator John McCain, implying that they are warmongers. The implication became even clearer in the section where he promised to veto further sanctions on Iran: “Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran, secures America and our allies, including Israel, while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.”

Obama is right that he has avoided repeating Bush’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead he’s made his own, allowing Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen to spin out of control. All of those countries are consumed in violent civil wars where America’s enemies, both Shiite and Sunni, are gaining ground. Obama was just flat-out wrong to claim that “in Iraq and Syria, American leadership, including our military power, is stopping ISIL’s advance.” ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State may be stopped in Iraq but it hasn’t been rolled back, much less “destroyed,” and in Syria it hasn’t even been stopped–it’s been gaining ground since the U.S. began dropping bombs back in August.

Not surprisingly Obama omitted any mention of Somalia or Yemen, which in September he had cited as a model for fighting ISIS. That model is looking like an Edsel amid recent reports that the Houthis, a Shiite militia backed by Iran, have overrun Yemen’s capital.

Nor, predictably, did Obama make any mention of Boko Haram, which has carved out its own Islamist caliphate in Nigeria much like the Islamic State caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Remember when Michelle Obama joined the hashtag campaign to #BringBackOurGirls? Neither does her husband. The girls are still missing, and Boko Haram has been killing thousands of people but it did not merit a mention in the address.

Also ignored was the U.S.-aided campaign to combat the homicidal Lord’s Resistance Army–a campaign that resulted in U.S. Special Forces capturing top commander Dominic Ongwen, but that has not led to the capture of Lord’s Resistance Army commander Joseph Kony who was the subject of another hashtag campaign (#Kony2012). In fact the only mention of Africa was a well-deserved shout-out “to our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola, saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.”

Likewise Asia–once a key area for the administration, which touted its Pacific Pivot–all but disappeared from the address. No mention of “rebalancing” our military commitments–only an anodyne sentence about how “in the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief.”

Ultimately what was missing from the State of the Union is any hint that Obama is prepared to rethink the “lead from behind” policies that have diminished American power and made the world–especially the Middle East–a much more dangerous place. There was no sign that, a la Jimmy Carter, this president had been mugged by reality and would become a born-again hawk. Instead he sounded confident, energetic, even arrogant in defending his (failed) record. Any recalibration of American foreign policy, it is clear, is at least two years away. That’s a long time given how dangerous the world looks right now.

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“I Am Nisman”

On Sunday night, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment. A gun was found by his side. The initial report of the Ministry of Security suggests that it was a suicide but Argentines are not buying it. Thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe yesterday, bearing signs that read “Yo soy Nisman”–“I am Nisman”. “Basta de mentiras,” some of the protestors demanded, “Enough with the lies.”

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On Sunday night, Alberto Nisman, the special prosecutor charged with investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, was found dead in his apartment. A gun was found by his side. The initial report of the Ministry of Security suggests that it was a suicide but Argentines are not buying it. Thousands took to the streets of Buenos Aires, Mendoza, Salta, Córdoba, and Santa Fe yesterday, bearing signs that read “Yo soy Nisman”–“I am Nisman”. “Basta de mentiras,” some of the protestors demanded, “Enough with the lies.”

Nisman’s death came only hours before he was scheduled to testify before a commission of the Argentine Congress on an alleged secret agreement between Iran and the Kirchner administration trading impunity for oil. Nisman was prepared to testify that the deal, struck between the two governments in 2013, centered on the July 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA). The attack killed 85 and injured 300 more. It was the most lethal incident in a month of attacks that included the still-unsolved downing of a Panamanian plane carrying 12 Jews among others, the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, and the bombing of the London offices of the United Jewish Israel Appeal.

Nisman had been building the case against Iran and Hezbollah for their involvement in the AMIA bombing since 2005. In May 2013, he issued a lengthy indictment charging one Lebanese Hezbollah operative and seven Iranians, including former President Akbar Rafsanjani, with involvement in the attack. One of the Iranians indicted, Mohsen Rezaei, is currently a high official in the Iranian government, while others have served it in diplomatic and military capacities. The indictment came only months after the Kirchner government entered a controversial agreement with the Iranian government agreeing to establish a “Truth Commission” to examine the AMIA bombing.

At the time, President Cristina Kirchner hailed the agreement as a historic one that “guarantees the right to due process of law, a fundamental principle of international criminal law.” It would have allowed five judges (none Argentine or Iranian) to question those allegedly involved in the bombing, offering effective immunity for the perpetrators. Last year, an Argentine federal court barred the implementation of the agreement and ordered the courts to reinstate all extradition orders against the suspects in the bombing.

This is why Argentines are taking to the streets demanding, “Enough with the lies.” It is not simply because the Argentine government dragged its feet in investigating the bombing two decades ago, and it is not because justice has been so woefully delayed in this case. It is because Alberto Nisman, the principal champion of the truth in this sordid affair, stood ready to present evidence that the Kirchner government attempted to trade impunity for oil, and he paid for it with his life.

Initial reports detected no gunpowder residue on Nisman’s hand. The only note found in his apartment seems to have been one he left for his housekeeper: a shopping list for the coming week. Friends, colleagues, and journalists alike report that Nisman did not appear to be suicidal. Yet he did appear to be aware that his days were numbered. “I might come out of this dead,” he told reporters on several occasions. One can only hope that in the weeks and months to come, the people of Argentina continue to pressure their government for the truth, uncompromised and uncorrupted by deals with criminals.

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