Faster, Please!

Faster, Please!

Crowds and Power

January 12th, 2015 - 5:50 pm

I was in France in the summer of 1968, working at the World Bridge Olympiad in Deauville on the Normandy coast.  Late at night–bridge tournaments run into the wee hours–I would hitch a ride into Paris to watch the street fighting, and one weekend–as I recall it was a Sunday–I watched a million or so demonstrators march down the Champs-Elysees calling for the resignation of President Charles de Gaulle.

It was a hell of a scene, the biggest rally since Liberation.  If you’d been there, you’d have been certain that the “revolution” was unstoppable, that de Gaulle would soon take command of the dust heap of history, and that you had witnessed a truly revolutionary event.

One week later, on the same avenue, another march took place, at least as big as the first one, but this time the million or so were chanting “Long live de Gaulle!  Long live France!.”

De Gaulle won, rewrote the French Constitution, and ruled France for several years thereafter.

A march, even a monster march of the sort we witnessed in Paris, does not change the world by itself.  A change of the sort we desperately need in the West requires real action, a strategy to defeat our enemies, not just big marches and rallies.  At least Prime Minister Valls took the first, imperative, step:  he named the enemy, proclaiming that  the West is under attack from radical Islamists.

Most everyone knows that, but most Western “leaders” have shied away from speaking the simple truth, because once you’ve said it, you’re obliged to do something about it. And they don’t want that.

So now what?  Now we must win the war. We must go back to George W. Bush’s description of the war:  we will not distinguish between the terrorist organizations and the states that support them.  Alas, he didn’t sustain that policy, and he left the most important such state–Iran–untouched.  Obama added insult to Bush’s injury by withdrawing ground troops from Iraq and now Afghanistan, permitting the jihadis to reorganize and advance.

The most devastating blow we can deliver to the radical Islamists is to help the long-suffering Iranian people bring down the Tehran regime.  That is not a military mission;  it’s political, and it would be aided by a new round of time-linked sanctions that will soon come to the floor in Congress.  If the Iranians don’t make an acceptable deal by early summer, the sanctions would be automatically imposed.  Whatever the economic effect, new sanctions would send a powerful political message to the regime and the opposition:  we don’t like you, and we don’t trust you.

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Walter Berns

January 11th, 2015 - 5:50 pm

I was lucky to be his friend and colleague for many years at AEI.  Like so many of the scholars there, he’d been hounded out of the halls of academe (I often said that if AEI were a university, it would have had the best faculty on earth) and so he was down the hall, writing about the central questions all thoughtful Americans must eventually answer:  from civil liberties to the Civil War.

From time to time he would speak to us–there was an institution known as the “brown bag lunch” that featured a brief spiel from one of us, and then Q & A), and the dining room was always jam-packed.  Whatever he was addressing, the strong message was always the same:  he was a devoted American patriot, he wanted only the very best for the country, and he cared a lot about our future.  He was a good singer, too.

He and I had hip replacement surgery at almost the same time, and he suffered much more than I.  But eventually he got through it (he looked very cool with his walking stick).  He took the annoyance of old age with great humor, and, along with his friends Irving Kristol and Bob Bork, will always be a Ledeen family role model.

He wrote a lot, which is a blessing for us..  You should read him regularly, to remind yourself how a first-class mind and a skilled pen can perform such miracles.  And also to remind yourself how the current academic establishment has so ruthlessly and systematically deprived our young people of some of the very best Americans.

Blockbuster Story. Spiked!

January 6th, 2015 - 3:07 pm

I had lunch yesterday with three gentlemen who are very well read, who follow the news attentively, and who would shudder to think they are victims of ideological censorship. Yet not one of them — and the trio includes a very famous former reporter (a first-class reporter at that) for one of the country’s top newspapers — had heard a word about Egyptian President Sisi’s remarkable New Year’s Day speech, in which he called upon Muslim leaders and scholars to carry out a “religious revolution.”

All three watch TV news and read the leading dailies, so they were surprised that they hadn’t heard about it. They agreed that the story warranted banner headlines. World-wide.

I don’t watch TV, but I do listen to a good deal of radio, and the Sisi story hasn’t exactly dominated the shows I listen to. Perhaps it will, but for now it’s material for the adepts, those of us who read Roger, or Raymond, or the Examiner.

It’s a huge story. And it’s been spiked, at least for the moment.

Sisi was speaking in Cairo’s most famous theological center, and his audience included the country’s leading imams. He told them that the dominant thinking of virtually all authoritative Islamic religious leaders had turned the entire world against them:

The corpus of texts and ideas that we have made sacred over the years, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world. You cannot feel it if you remain trapped within this mindset. You must step outside yourselves and reflect on it from a more enlightened perspective.

Note those last three words. He is telling the imams that they lack enlightenment, they are “trapped” in a mindset of their own creation — one that enforces a fundamentalist reading of Islamic law (sharia) and leads to violent jihad. I don’t know the Arabic word or phrase for “basta!” but that’s his message; he tells them they’ve got to change their thinking, and therefore, their actions. Enough, already:

we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move…

Raymond Ibrahim doesn’t give us the whole speech, but I have no doubt that his listeners got the point. They’ve seen what happens when religious thinking remains trapped in the Islamist box. They saw the Muslim Brotherhood seize power after the overthrow of Mubarak. They saw the Brothers make a mess of most everything, and then they saw Sisi’s military remove the Brothers. Sisi knew that there was no possible compromise. He knew, and knows, that this is a battle to the death. He’s either going to destroy the Islamists, or they’re going to do him in.

I’ve read some comments suggesting that he has signed his own death warrant with this speech, but the speech simply lays out his mission, about which his would-be assassins have had no doubts from the get-go. That speech says “if you don’t change, you’re doomed.”

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The Iranian Death Spiral (Continued)

December 29th, 2014 - 12:57 pm

I don’t believe that economic misery brings down regimes.  The pidgin Marxism that passes for serious analysis among all too many of our deep thinkers would have us believe that misery causes all manner of violence, from terrorism to revolution.  Whenever I hear somebody say that “if you lived as miserably as they do, you’d be a terrorist too,” I want to remind the pundit in question that there’s no terrorism to speak of in North Korea or Cuba, where misery abounds, and such terrorism as does exist in Russia is often credited to Putin’s Chekist tactics, not to a primal scream of suffering people.

Indeed, I can make a strong case for the opposite hypothesis:  that resistance to tyranny grows as economic conditions improve.  Revolution is not an act of desperation, it’s an act of hope.

All of which is to encourage policy makers to concentrate on the political/military dimension, not the economy of our various enemies.  Take Iran, for example.  It’s generally claimed–above all, by those who are unhappy about it–that living conditions are improving, largely because of the easing of Western sanctions.  I’m not sure that’s correct, mind you (I think most Iranians are bad off, and maybe even worse off than they were a year ago), but if it is, the current internal turmoil undermines the misery-breeds-revolution model.  Of late, the already significant level of political protest has grown, and public anger at the regime has, if anything, intensified.

The most surprising evidence of rising political protest comes from the Green Movement, which most Western analysts have written off as a failed effort at regime change.  Its leaders, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, have been under house arrest for nearly four years, yet they remain powerful enough to deter the regime from either trying or executing them.  Indeed, that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the various chieftains of the Rouhani government fear the Greens is confirmed by recent accusations against Mousavi and his wife.  Nobody’s likely to believe the accusations, since Mousavi was out of politics for twenty years before the 2009 presidential election campaign.

Even more surprising, Mousavi was able to deliver a stinging rebuttal.

From the onset of our house arrest my wife and I have repeatedly informed the authorities [via our prison guards] of our readiness to stand trial in an impartial and public court of law,” Mousavi stated, adding: “I stand before you ready to respond to the false allegations against me and to expose the source of the extensive corruption that has engulfed our nation and our revolution.

Which gets to the essence of the matter:  it’s not the misery, but the corruption that angers the people.  And there are enough angry people to enable Mousavi to make his first political statement since he was arrested.  This suggests a lack of regime self-confidence;  if they can’t even silence the leader of the opposition, their control is very much in question.

It’s what you should expect from a regime that is fighting on multiple fronts, including Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Africa, including Nigeria.  And unlike its well-established practice of inducing foreigners to die for Iranian interests, the regime now commands a potent Iranian fighting force abroad, and some of those fighters are coming back in coffins.  There’s the recent case of a Revolutionary Guards brigadier general killed in Iraq (ironically by an IED, not, as reported, by a sniper), along with six other RG officers.  According to the Washington Post, there are roughly a thousand Iranian “advisers” in Iraq, helping in the fight against ISIS.  Nor does the Post seem to know that there are also more than ten thousand Iranian fighters in the battle, many of whom are smuggled home without fanfare, and whose families are told not to talk about it.

There are similar numbers of Iranian fighters (mostly Hezbollahis) in Syria, in keeping with Khamenei’s orders that no expense and no effort be spared in order to save Assad’s regime.  Here, too, the casualty numbers are mounting, and the families back in Lebanon don’t like it any more than the Iranian people do.

Nor does the bad news stop there. 

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Was Feinstein a Useful Idiot or What?

December 13th, 2014 - 6:15 pm

I kept asking myself, why would Senator Feinstein approve a “report” whose main effect inevitably would be to damage America?  And it occurred to me that it might be a mistake to try to understand this bizarre event in the usual context of domestic politics.  It probably belongs to a different realm of analysis:  national security, international affairs, and espionage.  Maybe that was really the point of the operation.

It benefits our enemies, after all.  It undermines other countries’ willingness to share information, and to work with us “in the field.”  Anyone who takes life seriously must acknowledge that, quite aside from the merits of the “case” brought by Democrat staffers on the Senate Intel Committee, we’ve been damaged.  It’s not the first time, but it hurts — it hurts even those of us who are not great admirers of CIA, and maybe it will hurt a lot more.

As Andy McCarthy puts it:

It has been one thing to tell our ascendant enemies — in actions and omissions that speak louder than words — that we have no stomach to fight them where they must be fought: on the ground where, we know, given time and space, they plot to kill Americans. It is quite another thing to buoy them with the assurance that a major party in this country has a bottomless appetite to fight Americans whose major allegiance is to America.

Time will tell.

It’s not the only case of its kind.  I hope you noticed the news that German investigators have been unable to find any evidence that NSA actually snooped on Chancellor Merkel.  You’ll recall that this explosive and very damaging allegation came from Edward Snowden, whose enormous dump of classified information has, we are reliably told, wreaked terrible havoc on the intelligence community.

Now it turns out that the top German prosecutor is considering the possibility that Snowden’s “NSA document” is a phony. Indeed, he seems to be certain it is:

the document presented in public as proof of an actual tapping of the mobile phone is not an authentic surveillance order by the NSA. It does not come from the NSA database.

There is no proof at the moment which could lead to charges that Chancellor Merkel’s phone connection data was collected or her calls tapped.

If that is confirmed, it will automatically throw a veil of doubt over other stuff Snowden claims to have stolen from NSA.  In like manner, if, after five years of investigations, the Feinstein “report” contains false allegations, it undermines the whole thing.

Remember that the bulk of the Feinstein “report” is still classified, and that CIA officials are sticking by their claims that there are all manner of false allegations in the report.

So we’ve got two recent blows to our most important intelligence agencies, and for all we know the world-wide scandals, demonstrations, editorials and opinion pieces are based on bogus information.  Maybe that bogus stuff is accidental, the result of the human errors that define our existence.  But maybe it’s deliberate…after all, we’re in pain but others are popping corks.

How to think my way out of all these questions?  I’m not smart enough, so I dialed up the greatest expert, the late James Jesus Angleton, who years ago headed CIA counterintelligence.  Happily, my (very) unreliable ouija board worked right away, and there was Angleton (I’ve never been quite sure about the location of “there” and don’t expect to find out), raspy voice and all (he seems to have access to Camel cigarettes, or maybe his later favorites, Virginia Slims).

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The headline above comes from Professor Groucho Marx, who understood the real world better than some of our deepest thinkers.

There’s a lot of confusion and anxiety out there, and in the interests of sound mental health I’m offering to unravel some of the mental knots we tend to get tied up in whenever the subject of hostages comes up.  They’re often linked together, so the therapy might be a bit complicated.  The best way to approach this unpretty task is via the conventional wisdom, starting with…

1.  America shouldn’t pay ransom for the freedom of hostages

There are several American hostages in enemy claws.  There’s the USAID worker in Cuba, a priest, a former Marine, maybe a former FBI special agent, and the Washington Post‘s man in Tehran, etcetera etcetera.  Then there are locals who got caught working for us (more later).  What to do?

As the knowledgeable and very sensible Max Boot writes in the Wall Street Journal, we’ve long paid ransom.  Washington and Jefferson and both Roosevelts did it.  Reagan, Bush and Obama did it (and Obama’s probably still doing it).  Some of the ransoms were cash, others were “in kind,” whether breaking our own arms embargo (Reagan) or releasing terrorists from Gitmo (Obama).

But we, and the Brits (who also pay), claim that we don’t pay ransoms.  Max thinks that’s good policy, since paying, which most of the world does (both countries and private citizens fork over the money when it’s money), just guarantees that kidnappers will continue to take hostages.

Easily said, and very commonsensical.  But there are hostages, and then there are other hostages.  When American government officers — whether diplomats, uniformed military, CIA, FBI, DEA, Peace Corps, or USAID — are captured, don’t we owe them every possible effort to free them? Experience suggests that ransom works, while negotiation often fails.  What then?

For those hostages, every government with which I’m familiar has paid and will continue to pay, and I’m not so sure it’s the wrong policy.  As so often in real life, it all depends.  Sometimes the matter gets pretty fuzzy, as with the Bergdahl case, in which CENTCOM reportedly paid a ransom to an intermediary believed to be in touch with the hostage holders.  That money came from a slush fund used to pay for information.  I can well imagine that the payment was described in just those terms.  That the payment also might have sprung an American hostage was an additional component of a complex deal.  Was it a violation of principle?  Or not?

Remember your Groucho:  forget about general principles, because there aren’t any that will always apply.  Different cases require different principles.  If we insist on having just one set of principles, we’ll end up thwarting ourselves with unnecessary frequency.

2.  The best chance for success is to let the government deal quietly.  Publicity is dangerous to the captive.

I detest this approach.  I think we’re usually better off making a big stink about it.  Most of our enemies hate being exposed, and most of the world deplores hostage-taking.  I thought the White House had the right idea when it revealed that President Obama had discussed American hostages during his telephone chat with Iran’s President Rouhani, and I was disappointed when the press failed to press the issue.

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St. Andrew of Arabia

November 29th, 2014 - 12:13 pm

I’ve been shot at and bombed and they’ve tried to blow me up. People say, “Aren’t you afraid where you are?” Never, not one day; I love it. I feel really sad that I’m not there now.

General Mattis?  General Suleimani?  James Bond?

No, it’s a man of the cloth, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican who tended to Christians (and Jews, too, it turns out) in Baghdad in good times and bad, who tirelessly negotiated for the release of hostages, worked for inter-religious harmony throughout Iraq, traveled constantly to “the West” in a quest for moral, financial, diplomatic and military support for the dwindling Christian population of his adopted country, and just recently was recalled to his native England, where he is clearly frustrated beyond words.  At least the words he has been educated to use in public.

He’s been a hostage himself (bribed his way out of it), he’s plagued with multiple sclerosis, he’s tireless, creative, and, depending on how you judge such unique men, either spectacularly brave or crazily foolhardy.

I think of him as the religious version of Lawrence of Arabia.

I met him during the happy days of Iraq, maybe a year after the destruction of Saddam’s regime.  He was a participant in a week-long conference on Iraqi reconciliation, held in Copenhagen, sponsored by the Danish Foreign Ministry.  I was the lone “outside observer.”  Every significant religious group in the country was represented, from Sunnis (including Saddam’s Imam) and Shi’ites to Chaldeans and Catholics.  The leading women’s organization send two representatives.  The national security adviser was present.  And the conversation was fascinating, with Andrew deeply involved.  He was clearly trusted by everyone, there was remarkable candor on all sides, and all resolved to work for the “national interest.”  I thought then that all the talk about the irreconcilable differences between the different cults was badly misguided.  You couldn’t help but be optimistic.

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It’s a tyrannical theocracy, crucifixions and decapitations are routine, women are shrouded and intimidated, the grim religious police are all over the place.  It’s your Islamic State.

How do we know?  Basically from defectors, now as during the Cold War the most valuable sources for Western intelligence services.  Some of these ex-IS followers are free in the West, others are standing trial, as in the case of the 46 Belgians who returned from the IS and are accused of crimes ranging from torture and murder to extortion and terrorism.  These men returned to Belgium from Syria, for the most part deny involvement in IS’s numerous crimes, and run the gamut from disillusioned one-time jihadists to devout believers.  To be sure, the tiny handful who have publicly spoken about their experiences have been threatened by IS, and il Foglio‘s careful reporter, Daniele Raineri, appropriately reminds his readers that we’re not likely to hear from as many future defectors.

One of these confessed upon discovering that Belgian authorities had some incriminating telephone intercepts, as when he told his girlfriend:

Today I killed a man.  An infidel…his family had collected only thirty thousand euros for him, but the price was seventy thousand.  I killed him with a shot in the head.  Bang!  I wanted to make a video but my camera didn’t work right…

Young men are excited by the chance to murder, but when you sign up with IS, you have an excellent chance to lose your own life, and this is often an eye-opener for some of the bourgeois European believers.  After seeing their comrades drive off in suicide vehicles, they sagely reconsider.  But getting out is much harder than getting in;  the religious police constantly patrol the streets, looking for unreliables, enforcing their instructions to reward virtue and punish sin, and young men who suddenly have second thoughts are jailed and tortured.  Sometimes killed.  Even if they escape, they are often captured by IS enemies, and it isn’t easy to convince their new masters that they’ve changed their minds.

For the most part, they stay in the Islamic State, and are subjected to constant indoctrination–compulsory mosque attendance, interrogations in the streets, and, if they are in automobiles, they must prove their mastery of prayer at the many check points.

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The Fantasy of the Deal

November 16th, 2014 - 6:23 pm

Everyone’s an Iran expert, as you may have noticed.  Everyone has an opinion about what sort of deal is being concocted between us and the Iranian regime, with pundits, experts, reporters, and pols weighing in on epiphenomena ranging from the number of Iranian centrifuges that will be allowed to how quickly or slowly the remaining sanctions will be lifted.

Here in Washington the “inside story” that has been circulating for more than a week is: the deal is all done and it will be announced before the 24th, the nominal deadline for the negotiations on a “permanent” agreement.

I’ve been here since 1977, approaching forty years, and “inside stories” have been wrong…almost always.  Say 80-90 percent of the time.  That’s because the “information” is circulated to advance or sabotage policies or individuals, not to inform.  So I don’t pay much attention to such stories.

I try to reason from first principles or known facts.  It’s not as sexy as passing on “what the insiders are saying,” but it has a somewhat better track record.  Yeah, most forecasts, even those based on known facts and first principles, are wrong, but they aren’t THAT wrong, if you see what I mean.  And when it comes to Iran, there’s always a considerable amount that we don’t know and aren’t going to know, so it’s best to be tentative.

But we do know some things, and there is an historical record that is pretty consistent, so let’s go with that stuff.

–We know that Obama badly wants a deal, most any deal that will get him on board Air Force One for a spectacular arrival in Tehran and an embrace with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.  His Inner Nixon dream.  He’s prepared to make all manner of concessions to stage that scene.  So we pretty much know “our side” of this melodrama;

–On the other hand, we also know that Khamenei does NOT want a deal with the Great Satan, and he has no interest in securing Obama’s legend.  He is sick, he may well believe that he has limited time left on this earth, and he doesn’t want his legacy to read:  he came to terms with Satan;

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It’s not as if it’s something new, after all.  Obama’s been cuddling up to Khamenei for more than six years, as I have revealed in some  detail.  And I’m not the only one:  Tony Badran, Michael Doran, Lee Smith, Sarah Carter, Michael Weiss, and, just now, Jackson Diehl–to take six of the best–have been all over the Obama-Khamenei deal for quite a while.  So why all of a sudden are pundits and pols getting excited, and thinking deeply about the inner meaning of the latest letter?

Part of the explanation is corporate:  it’s the Wall Street Journal, after all, not a blog.  That gives the story higher standing.  So even pundits like Suzanne Maloney–a Rouhani fan who advocated American concessions after the last Iranian elections–felt obliged to deal with the deal, although she and many others acted as if it were a new development.

I think most of these people knew what was going on–they read plenty of blogs–but chose not to acknowledge it.  Why?  Because they were rooting for Obama to succeed, and they were afraid that if they wrote about the Obama-Khamenei deal, it might snafu the public (nuke) negotiations.  They don’t want to be blamed for that outcome.  (Yes, they think their columns have a decisive effect on policy.)

Then there’s the desire to avoid being associated with losers.  There is growing conviction that there won’t be a nuclear deal, and the pols and pundits want to show how smart and foresighted they are.  The letter, so far as we know, reinforces that conviction, since it allegedly says that we’ll go easy on the Iranians in the negotiations if they’ll join with us on the Iraq battlefield.  It doesn’t take a Kissinger to see this as begging, nor to conclude that Khamenei would see the letter as further evidence that Obama will do whatever Iran wants.  So why make a deal that Khamenei detests?  Obama has long wanted an alliance with Tehran, but Khamenei has never wanted an agreement with Washington.

Instead of focusing their considerable energies on the letter, the pols and pundits should try to solve the mystery:  why has Obama always wanted an alliance with Iran?  Moreover, whatever the explanation, the president’s Iranian mission gravely distorts American policy and puts American lives on the line in favor of the objectives of a mortal enemy.  That’s infuriatingly more important than yet another letter to Khamenei, even more important than whatever agreement may or may not emerge from the negotiationathon in Vienna.

There should have been Congressional hearings on this very important subject long since, and the so-called investigative journalists have had years to unscrew the administration’s appalling behavior.  Valerie Jarrett is deeply involved, along with now-retired Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan.  Are they unreachable?  Are their colleagues’ lips sealed, even now?  Or will our deep thinkers and elected representatives just focus like a laser on the letter, and studiously ignore one of the central compulsions of our commander-in-chief?