Friday, February 15, 2013

Mordechai Kedar: America Leaves Afghanistan to the Tender Mercies of the Taliban - and Iran

by Mordechai Kedar

Read the article in Italiano (translated by Yehudit Weisz, edited by Angelo Pezzana)

In his State of the Union address, the president of the United States announced that the American army will begin to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan  before the end of the year, so that by the end of 2013, 34,000 soldiers, approximately half of the total force,  will have left, and the other half by the end of 2014. The American media - the Wall Street Journal's weekend edition for the 9th and 10th of February, for example, dedicated a lot of space to the fact that the United States military is leaving without regard for the situation that these forces leave behind. The thrust of the coverage is that what is important for the United States today is how and when to get out of Afghanistan, without addressing the simple question: "What did we want to achieve and what have we actually achieved in the eleven years of the Sisyphean war in this country?".

The West's invasion of Afghanistan began in late 2001, after the September 11 attacks revealed Afghanistan to be an al-Qaeda state, and Osama bin Laden had formed a pact with Mula Umar, the Taliban leader, the main point of which was that the billionaire bin Laden would fund Afghanistan, and this would allow him to do whatever he wished with it. Bin Laden kept his word and Mula Umar kept his part as well. Within a few years - from the mid-nineties of the previous century - the state of the Taliban became a terror state, and hundreds of facilities such as training bases, enlistment centers and schools that taught the doctrine of terrorism were established on its soil.

Many Ethnicities, but None are "Afghans"

This process was made possible because the Taliban, an organization based on the Pashtun people, gained dominance over the other ethnic groups in the country. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic country that comprises more than eleven (!) ethnic groups: Pashtun, Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, Aimaqs, Balochs, Kyrgys, Turkmen, Nuristans, Pamirs and more. It is interesting to note that none of these groups is called "Afghan". The country was named Afghanistan by the British and Russians who delineated the borders in the mid-nineteenth century because "Afghan" is a variation of the name historically attributed to the main ethnic group in that area, known today as Pashtuns. 

Contrary to India, where English is the common language for all of the groups, in Afghanistan the various ethnic groups have no common language. The weakness of the civil system stems from the fact that these ethnic groups differ from each other in every way: language, culture, leaders, dress, leadership and world view. The fact that these groups are forced to live with each other creates friction and continual conflict, which has turned the country into a hell where armed militias fight each other fiercely and continually, despite the fact that everyone is Muslim. The Hazaras, for instance, are Shi'ites and are seen as unclean. It is important to note that each one of these ethnic groups is further broken down into tribes, which don't always coexist peacefully with each other, and many of them tend to resort to violence immediately.

A Litany of Failures in Afghanistan

Since the creation of the state of Afghanistan, there have been several attempts to stabilize it. The British tried, failed and left it to its misery. The Soviets tried to stabilize its political system during the eighties and failed miserably, which accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union. The United States invaded - along with its partners - toward the end of 2001, and it seems that it also is about to fail in its efforts to stabilize the state and governmental system. The question that naturally arises is why all of the attempts to stabilize this miserable state have failed. The only
possible answer is that it is simply not achievable, because the many ethnic and tribal units will never become one cohesive unit with a shared national consciousness, with loyalty to a common framework and common leadership. When a state tries to unify rival groups that have nothing in common, the task of leading all of them under one national framework is not possible.

The Impact of Ethnic Diversity in European Cases

This need not surprise us: we need only glance for a moment at Europe to see what happened to the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, who also - despite their having been functional states for more than seventy years - disintegrated into entities based on ethnicity. And what is happening in Belgium between the Flemish and the Walloons? And in Spain with the Catalonians who seek to secede from Spain? And in Britain with the Scots who, in another two years will vote in a referendum on whether to remain as part of the "United" Kingdom or not? And Cyprus, which is also divided on an ethnic basis? So what do the Aimaq and Hazara citizens of Afghanistan expect? That they will get along with each other better than the Czechs and the Slovaks? 

A Workable Solution for a Region with Multiple Ethnicities

Throughout the course of its blood-soaked history, all the countries that have become involved in Afghanistan have failed, because all of them tried to resuscitate the dead political body that is Afghanistan. What the world should have done long ago is erase the borders delineated by British colonialism and its Russian brothers, and mark new borders that would divide the country into homogeneous units based on ethnicity and tribes. The chance for each one of these units to achieve stability is immeasurably greater than the present situation, because it would be based on a homogeneous, cultural unit with a unified public consciousness, traditional and legitimate leadership,
a system of generally accepted public conventions and common goals. Stable and orderly units that recognize each other's independence and sovereignty, would be able to enter into joint activities on the basis of agreements and interests, and even establish parent organizations, in order to achieve shared goals in areas such as security (for example the Gulf Emirates and NATO) and the economy (the European Union, for example).

A Failed State that Holds Elections  is Still a Failed State

The Americans and others acted correctly when they invaded Afghanistan in order to eliminate the rule of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terror bases. This was a noble and necessary deed. But afterwards, the Americans and their comrades did not understand the need to dismantle Afghanistan, and therefore did not do the one single thing that could have stabilized the area. Instead, they organized "elections" in which Karzai was "elected", a leader whose legitimacy is highly questionable, and who tries to rule the country by extremely problematic means: buying people with jobs and positions , bribing militia groups and their leaders, and eliminating anyone who doesn't agree to join the unstable coalition of bribery and corruption. Today Karzai distributes dollars and uses American weapons. In the past, the money and the weapons were British and Soviet...

Resurgence of the Taliban

The war in Afghanistan in late 2001 brought down the Taliban regime within a few weeks, but the Taliban fighters have not been subdued and this remains an unresolved problem. They have reorganized, retrained, equipped themselves anew, acquired more ammunition, and  aided by the difficulty of the terrain,  they began to fight back and cleanse the Islamic land of  the wine-drinking and pork-eating infidels. During the eleven years of the United States' presence in Afghanistan, they have progressively lost area under their control, while the area that the Taliban control has continuously increased. Presently, the United States army controls little of the Afghanistan territory, and its soldiers are in a continual state of self-defense against a cruel and stubborn enemy. The Taliban manage to infiltrate their people  into the army and police force, and thus, during the year 2012, murdered about fifty American soldiers. 

Iran is the Winner In these Failed States

The same mistake that the West has made in Afghanistan - to leave the state whole, but hemorrhaging - was made also in Iraq, another failed state that is composed of many ethnic, tribal, religious and sectarian units that do not get along with each other. After Saddam was eliminated in 2003 the world should have reorganized the artificial state into homogeneous units, but this did not happen. The inevitable result is that Iran penetrated the wounded and disorganized Iraq, and after the United States and her allies sacrificed more than four thousand soldiers on its soil and poured out more than a trillion (a thousand billion) dollars to stabilize it, Iran is in total control of Iraq today.   

In recent years, huge deposits of metals and minerals have been discovered in Afghanistan. Iran - its western neighbor - is waiting impatiently for the United States to flee from this failed state in order to take control of it and its resources, exactly as it took over Iraq after the American army fled at the end of 2010. It is very likely that Iran will renew its terrorist presence in Afghanistan, but when it has nuclear weapons, no one in the world will dare to challenge it. 

So, because of the folly and ignorance of Western policy, and because the leaders of the Western world are paralyzed with fear, Iran manages to control its neighbors, to control the oil, gas, mineral and metal reserves in these countries, and become a regional superpower with critical influence on the global economy. Where have the Western academics been in recent years? Who among them has cautioned the leaders of the Western world about the terrible mistakes that they have made in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is their writing and research influenced perhaps by the money from the states of the Gulf that funds their research institutes and their research projects?

Bar Ilan's Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam Seeks Backers

Bar Ilan University has recently established a new Center for the Research of the Middle East and Islam, which will operate without money from the Gulf, and will tell the truth about the Middle East, the truth that many try not to see. This center - which the writer of these lines directs - seeks someone who wishes to support this project, which is so vital to the understanding of the problems of the Middle East and so essential in designing the correct policy towards it.


Dr. Kedar is available for lectures

Dr. Mordechai Kedar
( is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. He specializes in Islamic ideology and movements, the political discourse of Arab countries, the Arabic mass media, and the Syrian domestic arena.

Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav with permission from the author.

Additional articles by Dr. Kedar

Source: The article is published in the framework of the Center for the Study of the Middle East and Islam (under formation), Bar Ilan University, Israel. Also published in Makor Rishon, a Hebrew weekly newspaper.
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the author.

Have Obama's Policies Led to an Iranian Nuclear Bomb?

by Ed Lasky

The Washington Post reports that Iran has ordered banned magnets from a Chinese company that would result in its nuclear program expanding by five-fold and sharply compress Israel's timeline for dealing with Iran:

Iran recently sought to acquire tens of thousands of highly specialized magnets used in centrifuge machines, according to experts and diplomats, a sign that the country may be planning a major expansion of its nuclear program that could shorten the path to an atomic weapons capability.
Purchase orders obtained by nuclear researchers show an attempt by Iranian agents to buy 100,000 of the ring-shaped magnets - which are banned from export to Iran under U.N. resolutions - from China about a year ago, those familiar with the effort said. It is unclear whether the attempt succeeded.
Although Iran has frequently sought to buy banned items from foreign vendors, this case is considered unusual because of the order's specificity and sheer size - enough magnets in theory to outfit 50,000 new centrifuges, or nearly five times the number that Iran currently operates.
The revelation of the new orders for nuclear-sensitive parts coincides with Iran's announcement that it plans to add thousands of more-advanced, second-generation centrifuges that would allow it to ramp up its production of enriched uranium even further, analysts said.

China, of course, has been receiving waivers from Iran Sanctions legislation willy-nilly from Barack Obama who has determined that nation has been cooperating with laws meant to restrict Iran's nuclear program. Meanwhile, China has sharply boosted its import of Iranian oil and gas.

I wrote back in November 2012, that when it comes to our Iran Policy that the problem was Obama (see Iran Policy: The Problem is Obama).

What I wrote then is true now-but with greater evidence.

Lest we forget, in his Cairo speech, he also declared that "no single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons." So take that Israel - a veiled threat that Israel should refrain from attacking Iran or face the prospect of dealing with international blowback without America having its back.

The same declaration is all but handcuffing America, as well, since Obama seems to indicate he would have to go through the UN Security Council to seek permission (or as Secretary of State John Kerry might phrase it -seek a passing grade from an "international test") to strike Iran. The Security Council will oppose such a step.

What message is being heard by the mullahs in Iran over the last year as they rapidly accelerate their efforts to get the bomb?

The Hill reported early last year that White House spokesman Jay Carney had relayed that the White House was in no rush to deal with Iran despite Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stating that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon within a year.

Barack Obama late last year dismissed Israeli concerns over the Iranian nuclear program as just so much "noise."

Just a few days ago (when surely the administration was aware of the latest attempt by Iran to massively accelerate its nuclear program) the New York Times (the adjunct of the Obama administration) reported that Obama's advisers were content with "stalemate" with Iran.

The administration has issued so many national security waivers to Iran's major trading partners (exempting them from penalties) that the sanctions regime set up by Congress has been seriously compromised.

The enforcement of sanctions by the Obama team has been so flaccid that bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress have repeatedly issued letters to President Obama calling him to actually enforce the pre-existing sanctions legislation targeting Iran's nuclear program.

Repeatedly, team Obama has warned Israel not to attack Iran.

A stalemate leads to an Iranian nuclear weapon. Voting present, leading from behind, allowing the window for diplomacy to be open for years (while continually warning it will be closed) while issuing waivers galore to nations importing Iranian oil, dereliction regarding enforcement of current sanctions laws, bluffs being called - all will lead to a nuclear Iran.

And in the latest signal to Iran, a known foe of sanctions and military action on Iran, Chuck Hagel, has been nominated by Obama (and will probably become) our next Secretary of Defense thanks to Democratic Senators' obeisance to Obama. Hagel seems to think that an Israeli bomb is more of a threat than an Islamic bomb.

You don't need to know Farsi to see the handwriting the wall.

Barack Obama's policies will, in all likelihood, lead to an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Ed Lasky


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Assad’s Audacity Towards Turkey

by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed

The Syrian regime has returned once more to the practice of using car bombs against its opponents. This time it has dared to do so along its borders with Turkey, sending a new message that it feels confident and will not hesitate to intimidate and threaten even its huge northern neighbor. There is a sense of confidence that Ankara will not engage in a war with the Syrian regime, after it has adopted a policy of caution for more than a year and a half.

The explosion at Bab al-Hawa a few days ago targeted Syrian opposition figures and killed at least 14 people, including Turks. It was clearly orchestrated by the Assad regime, with the Syrian information minister threatening Turkey two days before the explosion.

The irony here is that Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the first to condemn the brutality of the Assad regime at the beginning of the revolution—around two years ago—before the rebels resorted to arms. At the time, the Turkish leader was viewed as a hero by many Syrians and Arabs because he stood against Assad’s violence. But after confrontations escalated, the brutality of the regime increased, and the number of those killed by the regime—mostly civilians—became more alarming, Ankara’s voice was dampened and limited to verbal protests. Since then, a year and a half later, the Assad regime has dared to defy its northern neighbor on several occasions, either verbally or through acts of murder, as was the case a few days ago.

Syria’s land area is little more than a quarter of its huge Turkish neighbor. The Ottomans ruled Syria, their Arab gate, for centuries as a subordinate state. Yet by the end of World War I they had withdrawn after the establishment of Turkey. However, the fear of the Turkish neighbor remained prominent in the minds of the Syrian leaders that successively ruled Damascus. Hafez al-Assad was the most recent Syrian ruler to feel the heat of Turkish threats in the 1990s, when he saw Turkish tanks approaching the Bab al-Hawa border. He immediately sought to cease the activities of the armed Kurdish-Turkish opposition, and handed over its leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Another irony is that the ice of this frosty relationship did not melt until the era of President Bashar and Prime Minister Erdogan. The latter extended his hand and tried to assimilate his Arab neighbor with modern ideas and serious economic and political projects. The problem was that Bashar Assad, who is famed for his policy of playing on multiple strings, reached a dead end with all the countries he tried to outfox. Qatar, which was once one of his main allies, was the last of the countries to sever relations. As many remember, the Turkish prime minister attempted out of loyalty to extend a lifeline to Assad at the beginning of the revolution, to help him emerge from the crisis. Assad, however, turned his back on the Turks. And although Turkey repeatedly warned Assad against armed violence, its government then decided to retreat and remain neutral, apart from providing humanitarian aid to refugees and overlooking some of the Syrian rebel’s activities, especially after they seized two border crossings and vast areas in northern Syria.

It is clear that at the beginning, Erdogan sincerely attempted to help Syria and the regime avoid the tragedy we are witnessing today. But Assad is not a leader capable of making historic decisions, and this is how the country has descended into civil war. It is clear that Assad’s plan is based on an acknowledgement of defeat. He will drag the Iranian and Iraqi regimes behind him as he withdraws to the coast and establishes his state there, leaving chaos and jihadi extremists behind him. He is benefitting from Turkey’s refusal to interfere as he sows problems for the next ten years, inciting sectarian strife in northern, eastern, and western Syria. He will retreat towards the Mediterranean Sea to the home of the Alawites – the sect that he has taken hostage and implicated in his crimes against the Syrian people.

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed


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Begin's Legacy Withstands the Test of Time

by Moshe Fuksman-Sha'al

Thursday is the 21st anniversary of Menachem Begin's death. He was the sixth prime minister of Israel, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a commander of the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary group that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948 and was later absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces. This summer, we will commemorate 30 years since Begin retired from the prime minister's post and withdrew from the public eye.
Begin had a decisive influence on Israeli society and history. In one of his final cabinet meetings, Begin said he hoped to be remembered after his death as a leader who prevented civil war. 

"This is more important to me than my command of the underground [Irgun], my premiership in the government, the peace treaty or the Golan Heights law," he said.
Indeed Begin is remembered today for this, as well as other, actions. The Likud party he founded more than 60 years ago, as a party combining nationalist and liberalist ideals, is still struggling with the contrasts of its identity. The peace treaty he signed with Egypt more than 30 years ago is facing new challenges in light of recent changes in the Middle East.
Although many years have passed since Begin left this world, and three decades separate us from his retirement, it is surprising how relevant his legacy still is today. The "Begin Doctrine" could be positioned against the Iranian nuclear threat; Begin ordered the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. Begin's philosophy was that Israel will prevent, at all costs, the development of nuclear weapons by an enemy state that open declares its desire to destroy the Jewish state. 

 In the face of racism towards the Arab sector, we recall Begin's voracious struggle against the military government imposed over Israeli Arabs and, at the same time, his demand for equal rights for Arab citizens in this country. 

Even with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Begin presented a clear outline for the construction of dozens of settlements in parts of Judea and Samaria, despite his recognition of the Palestinians' legitimate rights and proposals that an autonomous Palestinian legislative counsel and police force deal with their internal matters. 

In response to the social protests, Begin set a socio-economic model to "benefit the people." On the one hand, he developed a free market economy based on private initiative. On the other hand, he worked hard to eradicate poverty, via the most massive social project in Israel to date, Project Renewal, which focused on the renewal of impoverished neighborhoods via far-reaching social reforms and legislation, such as the Free High School Act and the Income Security Act. 

In other areas as well, Begin set the bar with clear positions representing landmarks on various agenda issues. He struggled for the supremacy and rule of law; he granted Israeli citizenship to Vietnamese refugees gathered by an Israeli trade ship in the China sea; he instructed the Mossad to bring our "Ethiopian Jewish brothers" to Israel. Begin's legacy is characterized by his personal example; As head of the opposition and as a senior minister of the government, he continued to live in the same rented one and a half bedroom apartment that had served as his refuge when he commanded the Irgun. 

In light of the rampant shifting of political loyalties in Israeli politics for personal gain, rather than ideology, which began already in Begin's era, he presented an alternative, displaying personal and ideological integrity. Begin preferred loyalty to the principles in which he believed, even if it meant that he accepted decades of being in the opposition. Even when he joined the government in times of crisis, the moment he felt that he was working against his principles, he would not hesitate to return to "serving the people in the opposition." 

Above all, Menachem Begin left behind a model of leadership driven by ideological consideration of values, one that believes it is possible not only to lead the state of Israel through its domestic and international political reality, but also to exercise courage and make groundbreaking decisions that can shift reality on its foundation. 

Moshe Fuksman-Sha’al is the deputy director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem and a Ph.D. candidate in history at Tel Aviv University.


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The 'Targeted-Killing' Memos

by Clifford D. May

"Think about the mothers!"
It was on the basis of these legal opinions that, again, only about a hundred detainees were subjected to sleep deprivation, stress positions and similar techniques in an effort to elicit from them life-saving information about al-Qaida’s plans and planning. Waterboarding was used on exactly three individuals: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and two other senior al-Qaida commanders. All had information vital to America’s national security. None was giving it up easily.

That was the anguished cry of one of the protesters from Code Pink, the left-wing women’s group that four times interrupted John Brennan’s confirmation hearing last week. She was apparently referring to the mothers of such al-Qaida leaders as Anwar al-Awlaki — killed by a drone strike ordered by President Barack Obama, counseled by John Brennan, his White House counterterrorism adviser and now his nominee for director of Central Intelligence. 
Doing as the protester demanded, two possibilities occur: (1) Al-Awlaki’s mom shares her son’s ideology/theology and is proud that he died a martyr waging jihad against satanic infidels, or (2) she loves her adopted homeland of America, has a tempered reading of Islam, and is mortified that her sweet little boy grew up to become a terrorist blown to smithereens by his fellow countrymen.
Let me waste no time in putting my drone cards on the table: Al-Qaida and other self-described jihadist groups have declared war on America, and are waging war against it. Congress has passed an authorization for the use of military force that gives the president the power to capture and kill members of al-Qaida and allied groups. He should do so aggressively and unapologetically. 
Drones are useful because they don’t expose American combatants to danger, and they have the potential for pinpoint accuracy. Enemy belligerents, including those who hold American passports, should not be mistaken for criminal defendants. Judges should not be confused with generals.
I do think there ought to be congressional review and oversight of drone operations and "kill lists." And members of Congress — and the public, too, I believe — should be allowed to consider the process the administration has in place for targeted killings, not least those involving American citizens. 
I’ve been trying to stay focused on these substantive issues but it’s hard not to be at least a little distracted by the intellectual inconsistency — it’s generous of me not to say hypocrisy — of those who called President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney "war criminals" for utilizing such "enhanced interrogation techniques" as sleep deprivation on about a hundred terrorists but who have been loath to criticize Obama for sending thousands of terrorists to the Big Sleep.
TIME'S Joe Klein, for example, giddily imagined "the vice president pinched midstream on a fly-fishing trip to Norway — just as Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, was indicted in Spain and arrested in London for his crimes." The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote a highly acclaimed book (which I reviewed for Commentary magazine), charging that the Bush administration had created "an American gulag," made "torture the official law of the land in all but name," used "KGB methods" and subjected untold numbers of innocent Muslims to treatment "reminiscent of the Spanish Inquisition." And does anyone remember the brouhaha that erupted in 2009 when it was revealed that the Bush administration had considered setting up "hit squads" to kill al-Qaida operatives around the world?
Bush tasked his Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council to study relevant domestic and international laws to determine which coercive interrogation techniques were permissible and which were not. The mainstream media derisively called these analyses "torture memos."

The Bush administration memos were stamped secret. Here’s why: When you bring in someone like Mohammed, you don’t want him to know how far you can go. The more fearful he is of what awaits him, the more likely he’ll talk without the need for any harsh methods. By contrast, if he knows he faces only temporary discomfort, if he’s familiar with the interrogation techniques to be used and has been trained to resist them, the chances of getting him to cooperate are diminished. Mohammed was smart enough to figure out that the there was a time limit on waterboarding. 

"Pretty quickly, he recognized that within 10 seconds we would stop pouring water," according to Jose Rodriguez, who ran the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. "He started to count with his fingers, up to 10, just to let us know that the time was up." 

In 2009, Obama declared the practices of the previous administration abhorrent, prohibited future coercive interrogations — not just waterboarding — and ordered the release of the Bush Justice Department memos. Since then, Obama has used drones to kill terrorists with a frequency I doubt his predecessor ever imagined: more than 2,500 individuals eliminated in Pakistan and Yemen, according to Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who carefully tracks drone operations.

Obama, too, asked the Justice Department to provide legal opinions. Let’s call them the "targeted-killing memos." These, too, were classified. The grounds for secrecy in this regard strike me as shaky: American citizens have a right to know their government’s legal reasoning on matters of life and death, so long as vital national security interests are not compromised.

In response to a demand from senators of both parties, the White House last week announced that it would release the targeted-killing memos to the House and Senate Intelligence committees. Thanks to the leak of a Justice Department "white paper" to NBC News’ Michael Isikoff, however, we have some insight into their content. John Yoo, a Bush Justice Department official and one of the principal authors of the "torture memos," argues that his successors err by attempting to impose a law enforcement/criminal justice template on what should be an exercise of war powers. 

"The administration has replaced the clarity of the rules of war with the vague legal balancing tests that govern policemen on the beat," Yoo wrote in the Wall Street Journal. 

According to the white paper, Obama’s lawyers believe that lethal force can be used only if a terrorist attack is "imminent" and if capture of the targeted individual is "infeasible." The first term is defined with astonishing elastically. And has it really been infeasible to capture any of the terrorists Obama has used drones to kill? The president has made clear that he does not want to add to the detainee population at Guantanamo. Could that disinclination be playing a role in his kill-vs.-capture decisions? If so, would that mean that the administration, based on its own reading of the law, is killing people illegally — not to mention losing the opportunity for obtaining intelligence that could be used to defend American lives and property. 

These are only some of the issues that would benefit from a more vigorous debate. For the Left and the Right to find common ground will not be easy. But maybe the two sides could agree on this: The conflicts of the 21st century are different from those of the past — they involve different enemies, different battlefields, and different technologies. As former terrorism prosecutor and legal expert Andrew C. McCarthy has long argued, “a new, hybrid legal framework for the modern realities of international terrorism” is needed if we are to fight effectively, lawfully and morally. Creating such a structure is the responsibility of the White House and Congress. Perhaps it’s time they got started.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.


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Is the U.S. Ready to Fight Syrian Rebels?

by Michael Rubin

There’s an unfortunate tendency among foreign policy decision makers in Washington to believe that all options remain on the table indefinitely. Hence, President Obama may believe that the same debates and policy options that occurred two years ago, at the start of the Syrian uprising, still exist today.

The fact of the matter, be it in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, or anywhere else is that realistic policy options and opportunities to achieve the most favorable outcome for the United States diminish over time. Two years ago, it made sense to support the Syrian opposition. President Bashar al-Assad, far from being the Western-educated reformer in which the Clinton administration and State Department officials placed so much hope, was a brute who supported Hezbollah, transformed Syria into an underground railroad for Al Qaeda terrorists infiltrating Iraq, and sought to build a covert nuclear program.

The United States is never the only player in the sandbox, however. By standing on the sidelines, the United States took a pass as supposed allies like Qatar and Turkey aided not the more liberal or nationalist Syrian opposition, but rather the most extreme elements. Qatar did so for ideological reasons, and Turkey did so both because of its leadership’s ideology and because it would rather support religious radicals than allow more secular Kurds to establish a canton across the border in Syria.

John McCain is right to be frustrated by President Obama’s refusal to head the advice of his national security and diplomatic advisers and aid the Syrian camp at a time when U.S. intervention—via a no-fly zone or a safe-haven—might have averted 70,000+ Syrian deaths (and just as many disappeared) and also could have hastened an end to the brutal war before Assad succeeded in his campaign of ethnic and sectarian cleansing, and before Al Qaeda-affiliates like the Nusra Front took root.

Now it appears that al-Nusra has established itself on the Iraqi border, where it can wage sectarian terrorism not only in Syria but in Iraq as well. Al-Nusra today has released footage of yet another suicide bombing it perpetrated in Idlib. Its statements read like Al Qaeda-themed Mad-Libs.

Make no mistake: Seeing what the Syrian opposition is now does not make Bashar al-Assad a better option. The simple fact is that both Assad and the opposition are now both equally detrimental to U.S. national security interests. Washington has no good options. The idea that some moderate force might emerge in Syria committed to rebuilding their shattered state rather than perpetrating terror against Syria’s own population and that of its neighbors is now an unrealistic dream.

In his State of the Union address, Syria was an afterthought. “We’ll keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian,” Obama declared in his last minutes on the podium. That’s too little, and two years too late. The simple fact of the matter is this: Because of Obama’s Syria bungling, we will face a potent threat from that regime for years to come regardless of whether Assad is overthrown. Against the backdrop of sequestration, it would behoove the United States to start planning not simply for next month, but for how it handles the threat from the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean in 2016, 2017, and 2018, for the Syrian opposition–not the five-star hotel exiles who carry little weight on the front line of battle, but rather the Nusra front and the radicals on the ground–is quickly becoming as potent a threat as the Assad regime itself.

Michael Rubin


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CAIR's Hooper: If Brennan's A Muslim, He 'Reverted'

by Andrew Bostom

Former Marine, FBI agent and Islamic terrorism expert John Guandolo has argued very cogently that Obama's nominee to head the CIA, John Brennan, was unsuited for the job given his willful blindness to, or frank denial of Islamic jihadism in virtually all its manifestations.  Guandolo, as part of his case against the Brennan nomination also put forth (here, here, here, and here,) the plausible hypothesis that Brennan, succumbing to an influence campaign by Saudi intelligence, converted to Islam while serving the US in Saudi Arabia. Although Guandolo has repeatedly made plain that the more dangerous aspect of Brennan's reported conversion is that it occurred as part of an overall influence operation by Saudi intelligence, the vitriolic responses to Guandolo's allegations have focused exclusively on Brennan's alleged conversion.   

Interviewed by US News, Ibrahim Hooper, himself an American convert to Islam, and communications director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Hamas-linked, unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation jihad terrorism funding trial, clarified that although he  had "no knowledge of Brennan converting to Islam," if the allegations were true, Brennan had merely "reverted" to the primordial faith of Islam:

Everyone is born in a state of Islam and your parents make you into something else-Jewish, Christian," he said. The conversion process itself, Hooper noted, is uttering a short profession of faith, the Shahada. "From that moment on you're a Muslim," said Hooper, "of course it helps if you believe it."

Shocking as Hooper's claim may sound to non-Muslims, he is simply re-stating with candor classic, mainstream Islamic doctrine, consistent with Koran 3:65, 3:66, 3:67 and the mainstream exegeses of these verses, for example,  from the seminal Tafsir al-Jalalayn, meaning "The Commentary of the Two Jalals," named after its two Egyptian authors: Al-Suyuti (1445-1505), a brilliant multidisciplinary scholar; and his mentor Jalalu'd-Din al-Mahalli (1389-1459). The great contemporary Dutch Islamologist Johannes J.G. Jansen notes in his treatise "The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt," Tafsir al-Jalalayn remains one of the most popular as well as the most authoritative Koranic commentaries in Egypt. Here are the glosses on Koran 3:65, 3:66, 3:67, from  Tafsir al-Jalalayn:

When the Jews claimed that Abraham was Jewish and that they were following his religion, and the Christians made a similar claim, the following was revealed: O People of the Scripture! Why do you argue about, dispute over, Abraham?, claiming that he belonged to one of your [two] religions, when the Torah was not revealed, neither the Gospel, but, a very long time, after him, and it was only after these two were revealed that Jewry and Christianity came into being. What, do you not comprehend?, the falsehood of what you say?... Lo! (hā, 'lo', is for calling attention to something), You (antum, 'you', is the subject) are those (the predicate is [what follows]) who dispute about what you know, concerning the affair of Moses and Jesus, and your claim to be adhering to their religions: why do you then dispute concerning that of which you have no knowledge?, of Abraham's circumstances; and God knows, his circumstances, and you know not... God, in order to dissociate Abraham [from their claims], said: No; Abraham in truth was not a Jew, neither a Christian, but he was a Muslim, professing the Oneness of God, and a hanīf, who inclined away from all other religions towards the upright one; and he was never of the idolaters.

Shamim A. Siddiqi, an influential American Muslim commentator and author (for  example, of Methodology of Dawah Ilallah in American Perspective, or as Daniel Pipes notes "The Need to Convert Americans to Islam"), in  a candid late 2001 letter,  ostensibly rebutting allegations of Islamic supremacism within the American Muslim community, opened by  proclaiming the "innocence" of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman ("who is suffering a life sentence for no wrongdoing of his own but because of the Jewish lobby's prejudices against Islam and Muslims"), despite Rahman's conviction for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and other planned acts of terrorism in the New York Metropolitan area. Siddiqui's letter included a re-affirmation of Ibrahim Hooper's mainstream, supremacist viewpoint that Islam was the primordial "Abrahamic" faith:

Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad were all prophets of Islam. Islam is the common heritage of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim community of America, and establishing the Kingdom of God is the joint responsibility of all three Abrahamic faiths. Islam was the din (faith, way of life) of both Jews and Christians, who later lost it through human innovations. Now the Muslims want to remind their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters of their original din [religion]. These are the facts of history.

A decade ago, theologian and Islamic scholar Mark Durie highlighted the dangers of such mainstream, traditionalist Islamic doctrine-a toxic dogma that combines historical and religious negationism, while, under the guise of "affirming" Christianity and Judaism , seeks to replace them altogether within a universal, Sharia-based Islamic order.

What is being affirmed is in fact neither Christianity nor Judaism, but Jesus as a prophet of Islam, Moses as a Muslim etc. This is intended to lead to 'reversion' of Christians and Jews to Islam, which is what Siddiqi refers to when he speaks of 'the joint responsibility' of Jews and Christians to establish 'the Kingdom of God'. By this he means that American Christians and Jews should work to establish shari'ah law and the rule of Islam in the United States.

Siddiqui articulated that goal unabashedly in his 1989 Methodology of Dawah:

Every Muslim living in the West will stand in the witness box in the mightiest court of Allah...and give evidence that he fulfilled his responsibility as witness against the people; that he left tone unturned to bring the message of the Qur'an to every nook and corner of the country where he used to live...
It matters little for the Islamic Movement as to whether it takes one or many decades to make the ideology of Islam prevail over the mental horizon of the American people. The action must be taken now. The Movement must be set out forthwith. The struggle for making Allah's Deen dominant must take shape without any further lapse of time...
The Muslims of America (both immigrants and indigenous), individually as well as collectively have been ordained by Allah to fulfill that obligation. They are to carry out the message of Prophet Muhammad and establish Allah's Deen. It is incumbent upon us without any excuse...
The Muslims of America have no option. They have to carry out the struggle in the way I have discussed in this book to the last breath of their lives until either the mission is accomplished or they pass on from this world as Mujahidin-fi-Sabil-Allah.[i.e., Holy warriors, jihadists, fighting to impose Sharia, emphasis added]

This is the overall context in which John Brennan's  words and actions ((here, here, here, and here) must be considered before he is confirmed as our next CIA Director. 

Andrew Bostom


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Ban Remains on Muslim Prayer in Spanish Cathedral

by Soeren Kern

All had been relatively quiet at the Córdoba Cathedral for more than 750 years, until January 2004, when Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden began encouraging Muslims to "reconquer" Spain for Islam by declaring it to be "the lost Al-Andalus." Many Muslims believe that much of Spain still belongs to them, and that they have every right to return and establish their rule there.
A court in southern Spain has acquitted eight Muslims who were accused of resorting to violence to break a ban on Muslim prayers in a cathedral in the city of Córdoba. The church was once the world's second-biggest mosque and remains the single most powerful symbol of Islam in Spain.

Some observers say the ruling, which caught Spanish public prosecutors completely by surprise, reflects a desire by local judges to dispense with a highly sensitive case that has the potential to inflame Muslim sensibilities.

But the ruling is likely to embolden the growing Muslim community in Spain and elsewhere, who believe they have a legitimate claim to the historic monument because of its former identity as a mosque.

The trial, held at Criminal Court of Córdoba on February 4, 2013, involved an incident that took place on March 31, 2010 at the Córdoba Cathedral, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, one of the most visited monuments in Spain.

An altercation broke out when eight members of a group of 118 Muslim tourists from Austria unrolled their prayer rugs inside the church, kneeled on the floor and began praying loudly. When security guards ordered them to stop, the Muslims responded by attacking them.

After a dozen police reinforcements were called into the church to arrest the Muslim offenders, they, too, were attacked. Two security guards were injured in the melee, which police said was planned in advance.

Spanish public prosecutors had asked the court to sentence the eight defendants to a total of 15 years in prison for disturbing public order, assaulting law enforcement officers and injuring the security guards.

During the trial, the Muslim defendants denied all of the accusations against them, saying they were the ones attacked by the security guards and the police, and not the other way around.

During their testimony, the plaintiffs displayed evidence of their injuries to the court; but they also offered what the judge considered to be contradictory accounts of several details of the incident. As a result, the defendants were acquitted based on a lack of evidence.

In his ruling, Judge Juan Luis Rascón said although it was proved beyond a doubt that the defendants engaged in Muslim prayers in the cathedral, they did so "in an area not specifically dedicated to Catholic worship." He added that there were "logical doubts" [dudas lógicas] as to whether the incident was planned in advance. Moreover, there was no proof that the ringleader of the group, Zaid El-Aifari, actually assaulted a security guard with a knife, as the prosecutor had alleged.

Rascón also said it is not within the court's competence to assess whether Muslim prayers performed inside a Catholic church could be considered to be a provocation.

Finally, Rascón said that although the defendants' behavior may be considered by some to be "socially reprehensible," to convict them would "do a disservice to freedom of religious thought and respect for the plurality of religions."

Prosecutors were blindsided by the ruling, which they say will be appealed. The decision was all the more surprising because another judge involved in the case had previously ruled that the incident was indeed premeditated, that the defendants were "clearly organized" (they had used walkie-talkies to coordinate their movements inside the building), and that security cameras had recorded the incident.

Some observers have speculated that the judge's decision may have been politically motivated. They point to the fact that before becoming a judge, Rascón was a politician with the Spanish Socialist Party, which is firmly committed to multiculturalism and has long sought to undermine the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Spanish society.

In any case, the dispute over Muslim demands to share the church are unlikely to subside.
The Córdoba Cathedral is built on the site of what was originally the Visigothic church of San Vicente, which was built in the year 590. After the Islamic conquest of Spain, Muslims razed the church and in 786 replaced it with a mosque. In 1236, Córdoba was re-conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile in the Reconquista, and the mosque was subsequently consecrated as a church, which it has remained ever since.

All had been relatively quiet at the Córdoba Cathedral for more than 750 years, until January 2004, when Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden began encouraging Muslims to "reconquer" Spain for Islam by declaring it to be "the lost Al-Andalus."

In a speech titled "Message to the Muslim People," bin Laden said: "No Muslim territory should ever become non-Muslim. … Let the whole world know that we shall never accept the tragedy of Andalusia."

Andalusia, a region in southern Spain, derives its name from Al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to those parts of Spain, Portugal and France that were occupied by Muslim conquerors (also known as the Moors) from 711 to 1492.

Many Muslims believe that much of Spain still belongs to them, and that they have every right to return and establish their rule there.

In April 2004, not long after Bin Laden's call to arms, the president of the Islamic Council of Spain [Junta Islámica], the late Mansur Escudero, formally petitioned Pope John Paul II for the right to pray in the Córdoba Cathedral, in the interests of promoting "inter-faith dialogue." At the time, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue rejected the request out of hand.

In December 2006, Muslims sought to capitalize on Pope Benedict XVI's efforts to defuse Muslim anger after his so-called Regensburg Lecture, in which he quoted disparaging remarks by a 14th century Byzantine emperor about the Prophet Mohammed.

In a letter to the Pope, the president of Islamic Council of Spain, the late Mansur Escudero, wrote: "We invite you to create a new example, to send a message of hope to the world. Do not fear. Together we can show the violent, the intolerant, the anti-Semites, the Islam-phobes and also those who believe that only Islam has a right to remain in the world, that prayer is the strongest weapon imaginable."

The letter says Spanish Muslims do not intend to take control of the building or "recover a nostalgic Al-Andalus." Rather, they seek to restore the "spirit of Al-Andalus, where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in relative harmony."

Shortly after mailing his letter to the Pope, Escudero declared: "Al-Andalus will continue being Al-Andalus for Muslims of all ages. It is there; we have created it. Here we have our dead, who remain alive, awaiting Resurrection Day."

In September 2007, Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, said: "Reconquering Al-Andalus is the duty of the Islamic nation in general and of you [the Al-Qaeda fighters] in particular."

In October 2007, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa endorsed Escudero's demands during an OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) conference against "Intolerance and Discrimination" held in Córdoba. In his opening remarks, Moussa said Muslims must be allowed to pray in the Córdoba Cathedral "to demonstrate our religious coexistence."

Moussa said: "All churches and mosques are built for prayer and to be used for this end; I think there wouldn't be a religious clash at all; the clash would be instead of a political nature." However, he ignored questions pertaining to why Christians are not only forbidden to pray in mosques but are even prohibited from building churches in some Muslim countries.

The Roman Catholic Church in Spain has so far held its ground by continuing to reject Muslim demands for joint use of the cathedral. It says Muslim proposals "fit within the framework of a false dialogue."

According to the Bishop of Córdoba, Demetrio Fernández, the recent violence shows the impossibility of sharing a house of worship with Muslims, which would be akin to "sharing a wife between two husbands." As a result, he says, the ban on Muslim prayers must remain in place.

Fernández asks: "Would they be happy to do the same in any of their mosques? Absolutely not. I understand their religious feeling and they have to understand ours as well. The religious feeling is the deepest one in the human heart, so it is not possible to share."

In an opinion article in the Spanish newspaper ABC, Fernández compared the situation in Córdoba to the Basilica of Saint John the Baptist in Damascus. After the Arab conquest of Damascus in 634, the Byzantine cathedral was converted into a mosque. Also known as the Great Mosque of Damascus, it is considered by some Muslim to be the fourth holiest site in Islam.

Says Fernández: "We wouldn't think of asking for the Damascus mosque, because it belongs to the Muslims and for them it is an emblematic place. It is the same for Christians because Saint John's basilica is very important to us, but we understand that history does not go back. It only goes forward. So, it does not make sense to ask for the Córdoba Cathedral to convert it into a mosque. It does not make sense because history is irreversible."

Many Muslims disagree with Fernández and the dispute is unlikely to go away until the church concedes defeat. As the Muslim population in Spain continues to grow in size (it is expected to nearly double by 2030) and in political influence, history may be reversed earlier than most Spaniards might imagine. 

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.


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What to Expect When No One’s Expecting

by Mark Tapson


When I was young, one of the overarching dreads of our society was the imminent “population explosion” – the threat of humanity outstripping its planetary space and resources, a fear generated largely by Paul Erhlich’s seminal 1968 book The Population Bomb. Like global warming, we simply accepted Erhlich’s doomsday scenario as inevitable fact. But Jonathan Last, in his new book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, claims that not only did the population bomb never explode, the world’s population will soon begin shrinking. The greatest threat to American life isn’t terrorism, he asserts, or China, or the crushing debt – it is our collective reluctance to have more children.

Last is a senior writer at the Weekly Standard. His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon, Slate, and many other publications. He is a regular commentator in the media and has appeared on ABC, CNN, Fox News, NPR and elsewhere. In his compelling short new book, Last explains why the population implosion happened and how it is remaking culture, the economy, and politics both at home and around the world.

Mark Tapson: Mr. Last, the subtitle of your book is “America’s Coming Demographic Disaster” – exactly what disaster are we facing?

Jonathan Last: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling. Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria. I’m just kidding – that’s the old Ghostbusters line.

What we’re really facing is this: as fertility rates fall, your population’s age profile inverts, so that you have more old people than young people, which destabilizes the Social Security and Medicare regimes. And then puts a drag on the economy, stunting innovation and dynamism. Also, it becomes harder to maintain your armed forces because of both the demands of the entitlement system and the skinnier cohort of military-aged men and women. So that’s the best-case scenario.

The worst-case is that you head toward social destabilization at home, which pits the generations against one another in a zero-sum game. A couple of weeks ago in Japan, for example, the country’s finance minister said that it was time for old Japanese folks to “hurry up and die.” And then you get geopolitical destabilization abroad, as the autocratic countries which are struggling with the same problems – China, Russia, Iran – undergo tumult.

MT: What’s the cause of this fertility collapse?

JL: There’s a whole constellation of factors: the decline in infant mortality; increasing urbanization; the sexual revolution; the expansion of college to middle- and lower-middle class Americans; the creation of Social Security and Medicare; the creation of no-fault divorce; the rise of cohabitation. This is a partial list.

MT: How have immigrants and women factored into this collapse?

JL: In America, immigrants are the only thing keeping us from careening off the demographic cliff that Asia and Europe have already hurled themselves over. But when you look at the fertility rates of recently-arrived immigrants to America, you find that over a few generations they begin to move quickly back toward the national average. The effects of our fertility-dampening culture are that powerful.

The migration of women into the workforce has made the two-income family nearly a requirement of middle-class life. Feminists don’t want to hear it, but it’s objectively true that education and workforce participation of women drive their fertility downward. There are lots of wonderful benefits to having a country full of educated, working women who have mastered their fertility planning. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t created demographic problems.

MT: We’re familiar with China’s official One Child Policy; tell us about America’s unofficial One Child Policy.

JL: Basically, modern life has evolved in such a way that middle-class Americans now have about the same number of children as the Chinese. It isn’t that we don’t want kids. We do. For 40 years, our average “ideal fertility” has been about 2.5. But there’s a yawning gap between the kids we want to have – 2.5, on average –and the kids we do have – 1.9, on average. The key is understanding all of the economic and cultural factors which cause people, in the real world, to have fewer kids than they want.

MT: How does this affect our national security?

JL: If Sweden or Japan have to fold up their militaries in order to pay for their entitlement programs, no one cares. If America does it, it’s a different story. And a big part of the fertility collapse is that defense becomes harder and harder to pay for and support.

And out there in the world, there are problem spots. Russia, China, and Iran are all likely to become increasingly unstable as they come to grips with their own fertility problems –which are way worse than ours, even. In an autocratic country, when the state runs into financial ruin, they don’t typically convene blue-ribbon commissions and have break-out sessions at the Brookings Institution.

Demographics suggest that one of our national security focuses for the next fifty years should be managing sudden instability from fertility-challenged powers.

MT: What should we be doing, and what shouldn’t we be doing?

JL: What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to lecture and preach at people who don’t want kids. There are plenty of perfectly rational reasons not to have babies and what we should say to the people who don’t want them is: Godspeed.

We also probably shouldn’t expect that we can have the government step in and adopt a bunch of pro-natalist policies, which solve the problem. A lot of research has been done on the efficacy of these things and it suggests that (1) natalist government spending only brings about returns at the margins of the fertility rate and (2) natalist government programs need to be in effect for decades in order to achieve even those modest returns. There probably aren’t any magic bullets.

So what should we do? No one really knows yet. But the guiding precept for all natalism should be about identifying the roadblocks standing between the people who want children and the families they find out of reach.

Mark Tapson, a Hollywood-based writer and screenwriter, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He focuses on the politics of popular culture.


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