AS WE GO TO PRESS: TURKEY SHOOTS DOWN RUSSIAN JET FIGHTER: Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian jet fighter along the Syrian border on Tuesday, sparking fury in Moscow that threatened to undercut growing efforts to create a new international coalition to confront expanding Islamic State terrorism. The Turkish military strike, captured by dramatic video, marked the first time since 1952 that a North Atlantic Treaty Organization member has shot down a Russian plane. As Russian helicopters searched for the two missing pilots, President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of a “stab in the back” and of aiding terrorists. Ankara has repeatedly accused Russia of breaching Turkish airspace from Syria, and shot down an unmarked Russian-made drone in mid-October. (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 24, 2015)
First Things First — Exterminate ISIL: Conrad Black, National Post, Nov. 21, 2015 — In general, we want to encourage politicians to do after they win elections what they promised they would do before the election …
The Kurds Can Defeat ISIS if We Provide Incentives: Jonathan Spyer, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 22, 2015 — Islamic State (aka ISIS) is a murderous enterprise based on an insane ideology. It nevertheless desires its own survival and expansion.
The Deal and the War: Lee Smith, Weekly Standard, Nov., 2015 — In July the Obama administration and its European and Russian partners met with Iran in Vienna to sign the so-called nuclear deal.
Victory Without Soldiers?: Reuel Marc Gerecht, Weekly Standard, Oct. 26, 2015— With the war in Syria becoming ever more complex and murderous, it’s worthwhile to revisit a guiding principle of Barack Obama…
On Topic Links
Putin the Bully Just Got a Bloody Nose. Now, We Wait: Matt Gurney, National Post, Nov. 24, 2015
Iran’s Elite Forces Enduring Rising Casualties in Syrian Offensive: Steven Emerson, Algemeiner, Nov. 24, 2015
Terror Is Terror Is Terror: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, Nov. 23, 2015
Obama’s Syrian Illusions: Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2, 2015
National Post, Nov. 21, 2015
In general, we want to encourage politicians to do after they win elections what they promised they would do before the election, and from that perspective it is hard to blame Justin Trudeau for continuing to promise to withdraw Canada’s CF-18’s from the air war against the Islamic State (ISIL). I don’t think it was a pledge that ever should have been made, and I commended the Bloc Québécois leader, Gilles Duceppe, in the one shining moment of his campaign, for supporting Stephen Harper on this point…
In a blending of hope with benign intuition and a sliver of first-hand information, I attributed Trudeau’s pledge to withdraw Canada’s very small air contingent from the Allied force attacking ISIL to well-founded reservations about American leadership of the coalition. The whole effort was only mounted after U.S. President Barack Obama’s pretense that that there were no more terrorists had been exposed as completely fraudulent after his abrupt and churlish departure from Iraq, leaving most Iraqis in the hand of Iran, and control of Sunni Iraq torn between Iran and ISIL. This was the farthest possible outcome from American ambitions when the U.S. invaded that country in 2003.
What ensued was a desultory effort to train the battered hulk of Iraq’s Sunni military and a Western air campaign in the tradition of the Yugoslav Wars: bombing from such high altitudes it was a war worth killing for but not worth dying for. The action, replete with astonishing affronts from the Russians, who purported to shoulder the U.S. out of Syrian air space when they felt like doing so, plodded along in this unconvincing manner, with Obama portentously announcing on Nov. 13 that ISIL had been “contained.” This was shortly after what he had called the “JV team” (Junior Varsity) killed 224 people in a Russian airliner blown up in Egyptian airspace, and mere hours before it murdered 129 innocents in Paris.
Obama has continued his unutterably irritating practice of referring to “extreme behaviour” but not to Islamist terrorism. But France has declared a state of emergency in response to what it considers an act of war, and has invoked the European Union’s Lisbon pledge requiring all members to assist one of the EU countries that has been attacked. France has been one of Europe’s most influential countries since the beginning of the nation state, and its responses to the Paris outrages will be consequential. French President François Hollande is trying to co-ordinate a vastly escalated counter-offensive against ISIL with Russia, the United States, and other countries, and Obama’s virtual combat against a supposedly gasping rag-tag of demented amateurs has suddenly become much more purposeful.
Where the American president had infamously drawn a “red line” over Syrian president Assad’s gassing of his own citizens, and then abdicated the prerogatives of the commander-in-chief to the hydra-headed Congress before dumping the issue into the lap of the mischief-making Russian President Vladimir Putin, French and Russian fleets are now to rendezvous in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle will bring 40 warplanes into the theatre for intensive and continuous attacks on ISIL. It is probably too much to hope that Obama’s inexplicable mental block against taking the anti-ISIL effort seriously can be entirely overcome, and he has never shown the slightest interest in keeping the Western Alliance ticking over.
But even he may have some concerns if the French and Russians stampede almost every other serious country into concerted and severe action, which is entirely justified, long overdue, and would be successful, and effectively set themselves at the head of a coalition of everyone who wants to do something about ISIL slaughtering civilians almost indiscriminately over an ever-wider arc of territory and in increasingly more appalling massacres. Obama’s aim has appeared to be not only to do nothing, but to discourage others from doing anything that might disturb his effort to appease Muslim extremists, whether sectarian zealots like the Iranian theocracy or secular despots like Assad.
His policy is insane, and has been a conspicuous failure, unless the recent acquiescence in an eventual Iranian nuclear military capability miraculously makes the world safer. But he is assumedly sincere and thinks turning the other cheek will accomplish something useful. The Paris outrages and Russian airliner bombing may not convince him to change direction, but they may effectively depose the United States as the world’s chief alliance leader, until it chooses to resume that role. Such a development would spike Obama’s offensive of pre-emptive concessions. An unlikely group of countries making common cause, probably including both the moderate Muslims like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel and even Iran, will then be interim trustees for the United States as principal power in the world while Obama plays out his pacifistic fantasies in solitude (no other country takes this charade of his seriously), until the next U.S. president is installed. Neither Mrs. Clinton nor any of the serious Republicans will continue Obama’s replacement of foreign policy with psychiatry and his transformation of the Pentagon into the Peace Corps…
In all of these circumstances, Prime Minister Trudeau should reconsider his strategy and the country’s interest. He is unambiguous in his animosity to ISIL and his desire to increase the contribution to training anti-ISIL Sunni Muslim forces is good policy. Our air contribution has been tokenistic (six CF-18’s and three support planes), but the whole campaign has been tokenistic up to now — a few missions a day and certainly nothing on a scale that anyone would expect to be more than a nuisance to ISIL…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Middle East Forum, Nov. 22, 2015
Islamic State (aka ISIS) is a murderous enterprise based on an insane ideology. It nevertheless desires its own survival and expansion. In October, prior to the downing of the Russian jet over Sinai and the attacks last week in Paris, no serious threat to its continued existence was apparent. The US-led coalition bombing campaign was halfhearted, and Western support for Kurdish and Arab elements engaged in conflict with Islamic State was clearly intended to contain, rather than destroy, it.
By its own actions, Islamic State has now altered this calculus. Why might it have chosen to do so, and what is this likely to mean for the next phase of the conflict in Iraq and Syria (and now metastasizing beyond it)? The bombings in Paris constitute the latest act in a turn toward international terrorism by Islamic State that began in the summer of this year. It claimed responsibility for a bombing of a Shi'a mosque in Kuwait on June 26. But the first really substantial evidence of this turn was the attack on July 21 on a Kurdish community center in the town of Suruc, close to the Syrian-Turkish border. This attack was clearly intended as a strike at the "underbelly" of an enemy that formed the main barrier to Islamic State's ambitions in northern Syria.
The Suruc bombing was followed in subsequent months by Islamic State acts of terrorism in Ankara against a pro-Kurdish demonstration, over the Sinai against the Russian Metrojet Flight 9268, in south Beirut against the Hezbollah-controlled Borj al-Barajneh area, and now in Paris. The tactical motivation for these attacks is fairly obvious. In all cases, the attacks are against forces or countries engaged on one level or another against Islamic State.
Islamic State has lost around 20-25 percent of its holdings in the course of the last half year. But these losses are manageable. Indeed, the group has in recent weeks continued to expand in a western direction, across the desert to Palmyra and thence into Homs province in Syria. Why, then, embark on a path that risks the destruction of Islamic State at the hands of forces incomparably stronger than it?
The answer is that Islamic State does not, like some other manifestations of political Islam in the region, combine vast strategic goals with a certain tactical patience and pragmatism. Rather, existing at the most extreme point of the Sunni Islamist continuum, it is a genuine apocalyptic cult. It has little interest in being left alone to create a model of Islamic governance according to its own lights, as its Western opponents had apparently hoped. Its slogan is "baqiya wa tatamaddad" (remaining and expanding). The latter is as important an imperative as the former. Islamic State must constantly remain in motion and in kinetic action.
If this action results in Western half-measures and prevarication, then this will exemplify the weakness of the enemy to Islamic State supporters and spur further recruitment and further attacks. And if resolve and pushback are exhibited by the enemy, these, too, can be welcomed as part of the process intended to result in the final apocalyptic battles which are part of the Islamic State eschatology.
Because of this, allowing Islamic State to quietly fester in its Syrian and Iraqi domains is apparently not going to work.
The problem and consequent dilemma for Western policy-makers are that Islamic State is only a symptom, albeit a particularly virulent one, of a much larger malady. Were it not so, the matter of destroying a brutal, ramshackle entity in the badlands of Syria and Iraq would be fairly simple. A Western expeditionary force on the ground could achieve it in a matter of weeks and would presumably be welcomed by a grateful population. This, however, is unlikely to be attempted, precisely because the real (but rarely stated) problem underlying Islamic State is the popularity and legitimacy of virulently anti-Western Sunni Islamist politics among the Sunni Arab populations of the area.
This is evidenced by the fact that the greater part of the Syrian Sunni Arab rebellion also consists of Sunni Islamist or jihadi forces, many of them not a great deal less extreme than Islamic State. The most powerful rebel coalition, Jaysh al-Fatah, for example, is a union between al-Qaida (Jabhat al-Nusra), the Muslim Brotherhood and local Salafi elements.
As the Iraq insurgency and the Syrian and Palestinian examples show, the tendency of popular and street-level Arab politics in the Levant and Iraq is to take the form of violent politicized religion. As a result, any Western force entering Islamic State territory as a liberator would rapidly come to be considered an occupying force and would be the subject of attacks.
It is possible that because of this, Western policy will continue to follow the path of least resistance, as evidenced by the French bombing of Raqqa this week. Such bombings may serve to sate an understandable feeling of rage and desire for revenge on the part of the French public, but they will do little to degrade, much less dislodge, Islamic State…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Weekly Standard, Nov. 30, 2015
In July the Obama administration and its European and Russian partners met with Iran in Vienna to sign the so-called nuclear deal. The general idea was to at least delay nuclear proliferation in an already volatile part of the world. No doubt the White House was hoping for much more—that the Islamic Republic of Iran could be welcomed back into the community of nations, bringing stability to a violent Middle East. But it is now clear that Obama’s great diplomatic endeavor has had the opposite effect: Sectarian war is engulfing the Middle East. Four months after the Iran deal was signed in the Austrian capital, Europe is perhaps irrevocably changed. The November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris look like one salvo in what is likely to become a long-running and brutal conflict on the continent.
Sure, German chancellor Angela Merkel should be held accountable for the flood of Muslim-world refugees making their way to Europe. She welcomed 800,000 to her own doorstep, and millions more will feel encouraged to follow. She didn’t mean to overwhelm her EU neighbors and expose them to danger. She didn’t mean to overtax European security services already concerned about European Muslims returning from the war in Syria and Iraq. And neither did Barack Obama. He wanted to extricate America from Middle East conflicts, not broaden them.
Obama didn’t want to commit force to the Syrian conflict because he believes there’s little upside in engaging in the endless wars of the Middle East. No less important, he feared that backing proxy forces to topple Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad was likely to anger Assad’s patrons in Tehran, causing them to walk away from the deal. Senior members of his own cabinet recommended to the president that we at least establish a buffer zone, or a no-fly zone to protect those fleeing from Assad and his allies, a policy that would have had bipartisan support. But protecting those refugees might have required firing on the forces hunting them, angering the Iranians, so Obama turned a deaf ear. The Iran deal, he thought, would balance out these warring sects and force them to come to an accommodation with each other.
As the wars in Syria and Iraq raged, observers noted that the borders of the Middle East were collapsing. Whether the post-World War I state system of the region is falling apart or not, the reality is that borders are somewhat irrelevant in a part of the world where tribes extend from Lebanon to Yemen or Syria to Saudi Arabia. The key feature of Middle Eastern history throughout the ages is not the borders, but the populations. The White House had its eye on the wrong big picture.
There is some confusion in the popular imagination about the source of the refugee crisis. ISIS, for all the gory violence and punishments it visits on the townsfolk it rules, is responsible for only a small percentage of the refugees from the Syrian civil war (among them the Yazidis and Christians it has targeted for extermination). Overwhelmingly, the Syrian refugees are Sunnis in flight from the campaigns of sectarian cleansing waged by the pro-Iran camp, especially the Assad regime and its Hezbollah and Iranian allies. Many European leaders now let on that they agree with Iran and Russia that Assad should stay, believing this is the only way to stabilize the situation. But it’s the Syrian president who drove the Sunnis out. With no buffer zones, the refugees went first to the states on Syria’s borders, and some made the long trip to the Gulf Arab states. The numbers of refugees, in the millions, and their needs quickly overwhelmed Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Besides, Europe was always a more attractive destination. All they needed was an invitation.
Without question, the vast majority of these poor and huddled masses are simply looking for safety, work, and a future for their families. Some are hustlers, of course, happy to sign up for a handout from self-advertised welfare states. And a few others have war on their minds. War against Europe, and war against each other. A colleague recently back from Germany showed me photographs he’d taken of the refugees. These are Syrians, he said. And these are Iranians. Even among the Syrians are scores of Lebanese and Iraqis, including Shiites, traveling on forged Syrian documents to enhance the probability of finding refuge in Europe. In other words, the two sides of the Middle East’s sectarian conflict, Sunnis and Shiites, have made their way to the continent. Most of them are young men of military age.
If ISIS managed to send operatives back to the continent from which they came, the region’s other bad actors have probably also done the same. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which waged a campaign of terror in Paris in the 1980s, would not want to miss out on an opportunity to place assets among the refugees. We’re therefore likely to see a replay of previous waves of terror in Europe, which is to say further terrorist attacks, street violence, and assassinations.
The nuclear deal with Iran may well go down in history as a pivotal moment, just not in the way Obama imagined. Not only has it paved the way for Iran to have a nuclear weapon within 15 years, as its many critics correctly warned, but it has also worsened the sectarian conflicts of the Middle East and exported them to Europe. Some deal.
Reuel Marc Gerecht
Weekly Standard, Oct. 26, 2015
With the war in Syria becoming ever more complex and murderous, it’s worthwhile to revisit a guiding principle of Barack Obama: The use of American military power is likely to do more harm than good in the Middle East, and even in the region’s violent struggles, soft power is important, if not decisive, in resolving conflicts. If Islamic militancy is to be defeated, better ideas, advanced by Muslims, backed up if necessary by Muslim soldiers, must be the principal means.
We do not know whether the president sincerely believes in this military-lite, soft-power-heavy, Muslim-versus-Muslim answer to Islamic radicalism; he may well just care about his progressive agenda at home. A non-interventionist foreign policy, and all the intellectualism that surrounds it, may be only an afterthought, a byproduct of his determination to keep his liberal aspirations for America undiminished by arduous and expensive foreign adventures.
But we cannot ignore the fact that terrorist safe havens now cover a large swath of the Middle East and may soon extend once again across southern Afghanistan. Let us assume that the president sincerely believes that Islamic militancy must be defeated by ideas for it to be downed on the battlefield. Let us also assume that this Middle Eastern question will eventually compel some sustained attention from Republican presidential candidates, since one of them may well succeed Obama and confront the Syrian war, which is rattling both Europe and the Near East. A Republican president could choose to ignore the conflict, citing the same arguments Obama does, with a conservative twist. Republicans don’t appear any more eager than Democrats to send American forces again into Muslim lands. Vladimir Putin’s arrival has probably made punting an even more attractive bipartisan option, since changing policy in Syria could well pit the United States militarily, indirectly or directly, against Russia. Barring a massive terrorist strike against America launched from the Islamic State or elsewhere in Syria, even a half-million dead Syrians—double the current accepted number—and millions more made homeless will likely not push Americans to intervene.
But fear of entanglement aside, does the president’s view make sense historically? Have Muslims viewed militant irruptions as preeminently battles of ideas? Or have they seen such struggles as contests of swords and gunpowder? In the past, what have been the winning strategies against “violent extremism” in the Middle East?
Historical parallels to the Islamic State are imperfect. Although Islamic history has seen an enormous number of politico-religious rebellions, the vast majority failed to displace the ruling powers, and successful movements seeking explicitly to revive the early caliphate have been rare. The Islamic State in this sense is a product of modernity: It couldn’t have happened without the rise of modern fundamentalism, which zealously ignores—or delegitimizes—the history, the perceived moral compromises, of medieval and modern Muslim empires and states and returns the believer to the most virtuous age, to the community of the prophet Muhammad and the first four caliphs, the Rashidun, the Rightly Guided Ones.
But jihadist revivalism is a not infrequent occurrence. As Princeton’s Michael Cook noted in Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought, an important book for understanding historically the moral reflexes and agony of faithful Muslims: It was the fusion of this egalitarian and activist [Arab] tribal ethos with the monotheist tradition that gave Islam its distinctive political character. In no other civilization was rebellion for conscience sake so widespread as it was in the early centuries of Islamic history; no other major religious tradition has lent itself to revival as a political ideology—and not just a political identity—in the modern world…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Putin the Bully Just Got a Bloody Nose. Now, We Wait: Matt Gurney, National Post, Nov. 24, 2015—Tuesday’s destruction of a Russian Air Force SU-24 warplane by Turkish F-16 fighters is, to say the least, a worrying development. NATO and Russian forces haven’t directly and openly exchanged deliberate fire since the early days of the Cold War. This is not some nervous sentry popping off over a border fence with a rifle. This is a high-tech warplane blowing another high-tech plane out of the sky with a guided missile in compliance with specific and clear orders and rules of engagement. It’s a big development, a scary one, even. But it’s not surprising, or even unwarranted.
Iran’s Elite Forces Enduring Rising Casualties in Syrian Offensive: Steven Emerson, Algemeiner, Nov. 24, 2015 —Fearing the overthrow of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, an emboldened Islamic Republic of Iran has drastically increased its involvement in Syria, despite suffering heavy losses among its elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
Terror Is Terror Is Terror: Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, JCPA, Nov. 23, 2015—Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was scheduled to make an official visit to France on November 14, 2015. Then, a short time before his arrival, terror struck Paris, and the Iranian foreign minister hastened to announce the visit’s postponement.
Obama’s Syrian Illusions: Wall Street Journal, Nov. 2, 2015—So the U.S. government that was surprised by Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea, surprised by his invasion of eastern Ukraine, surprised by his plan to sell S-300 missiles to Iran, and surprised by his intervention in Syria now thinks the Russian strongman will sue for peace in Syria on U.S. terms and oust Bashar Assad.