Faster, Please!

Faster, Please!

What Did Bin Laden Know About Al Qaeda Anyway?

March 1st, 2015 - 4:05 pm

A Manhattan trial has produced a few more documentary fragments from Osama bin Laden’s computer, and, among other things, they show he was in regular contact with the group’s terrorist commanders until shortly before we killed him.  And guess what?  AQ was working in cahoots with Iran all along.

So how come we didn’t hear about that when we were fighting AQ in Iraq and Afghanistan?  How was Obama able to talk about “decimating core AQ” without dealing with the Iran link? Didn’t we know it?

It’s a big question, and the answer is bigger than “because Obama.”  The documents presented at trial in New York go back to the Bushitlercheney era, and the cooperation between AQ and Iran goes back to the long runup to 2001.  Is this yet another intelligence failure?

Remember that the 9/11 Commission famously called for deeper investigation and analysis of precisely that link between Sunni al Qaeda and Shi’ite Iran.  Did the “intelligence community” do it?  If so, what are the results?  If not, why weren’t they all fired?

I was a very passionate kibitzer of that game, having worked on things Iranian ever since the 1979 revolution, and I had some great Iranian sources, as events demonstrated, first in late 2001, and then again in 2003 and thereafter.

In December 2001, one of my Iranian friends arranged for a top intelligence official to fly from Tehran to Rome to meet with me and two Pentagon officials.  Among the things he gave us was a particularly dramatic claim:  that the regime had sent a team of assassins to Afghanistan to operate against American special forces. He gave us detailed information about the would-be killers, including their orders and likely location.  We passed the information to the appropriate special forces people, who found it was accurate.  The assassins were decisively dealt with.

You might think that the powers-that-be in Washington would have been pleased, and that our spooks would have maintained contact with the proven source high and deep in the Iranian regime.  Not at all.  They—including CIA chief George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell–were furious (saying they hadn’t been informed about the meeting).  They ordered an end to all contact with the Iranian intelligence officer, and fed all manner of nonsense about the meeting to friendly journalists. Not one of those officials and journalists has shown the slightest remorse.  Meanwhile, we were being told that the Iranians had been most helpful in resolving the unpleasantness in Afghanistan.

A similar pattern unfolded around the invasion of Iraq two years later.  My Iranian sources told me in considerable detail about the Iranian preparations to fight our troops in Iraq, and I passed on the information.  It soon became clear, above all to anyone fighting or working on the ground in Iraq, that the information was solid.  But the (Bush) administration was not interested.  I knew a high-ranking Pentagon official who was repeatedly told by his CIA counterparts that the stories weren’t true.  They were so intent to gainsay my sources’ claims that, even as hundreds of Americans were blown up by IEDs that were tracked back to Iran, they denied the evidence.

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An Intelligent Citizen’s Guide to Iran Policy

February 20th, 2015 - 12:10 pm

We are on the eve of Secretary Kerry’s latest foray into creative diplomacy with Iran, and thus, as on past occasions, inundated by leaks and rumors.  So let’s clear the chalkboard of the many deceptions, lies and confusions that surround the talks.  Here are the basic principles to keep in your frontal lobes as the information flows:

The Iranians do not need a deal.  Even if you believe they were so crippled by sanctions that they swallowed their pride and sat down to talk with us, by now the sanctions are greatly reduced, and the regime has innumerable ways to get around them anyway. Moreover, the Iranians believe they are winning right now, and why shouldn’t they?  Think Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and big chunks of Africa.

And remember that Khamenei does not want a deal with the satanic Americans.  If he gets most everything he wants without a deal, why make one?

To put it a bit differently, what if the Iranians came to the negotiations NOT because they were groaning under the burden of sanctions, but because they believed the American will was broken?  That would mean that the negotiating room would be the site of American surrender, not Iranian agreement to Western restrictions.

We know that Zarif treats Kerry with contempt, yelling at him frequently.  Does that not suggest the Iranians are in Geneva to dictate the terms of OUR surrender?

Obama desperately wants a deal, which he has always considered the greatest possible foreign policy accomplishment of his presidency.

Indeed, Obama has already made a deal with Iran, but it isn’t only, and not primarily, about nukes.  In essence, he’s given Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, a veto over U.S. Middle East policy.  Obama has embraced the two pillars of Iranian ambition:  he’s in full support of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, and he’s in full opposition to Israel and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

This is the strategic alliance Obama has been secretly negotiating since the presidential election campaign of  2008. We don’t know the details;  hell, we don’t even know the contents of the interim deal (aka JPOA).  State has a version, the Iranians have a different one.  Whatever is said publicly needs to be checked, but the “agreement,” being secret, is uncheckable. Alas, even the most pugnacious congressional investigators have not managed to pry loose this fundamental information.  And yet we know the names of the back channels, from Jake Sullivan to Valerie Jarrett.  Some senator or congressman should arrange for public testimony.  If we knew more about the negotiations we’d be better placed to evaluate whatever oozes out of Geneva in coming days.

There IS a Syria strategy.  It’s part of the Iran strategy:  make Khamenei happy, maybe he’ll make Obama look good by agreeing to the nuclear deal.

Hostages.  You can be sure we’re dealing with the Iranians about American hostages in their clutches, from the Marine to the priest to the WaPo correspondent.  But none of the bigtime journalists has taken an active interest in this very important component of the U.S.-Iran “relationship.”  Back in the eighties, when Reagan’s dealings to free U.S. hostages seemed a gigantic scandal, every scribbler in town was digging for details.  Not today.  I want to believe there will be an accounting for these accomplices to the big coverup.  But who will blow the whistle?

I hope that helps.  Don’t be surprised if there is no deal.  As the last two times around, the most likely outcome is that Khamenei pockets his gains and keeps on wheeling and dealing.

And we say “we’re making great progress.”

The hell of it is that Iran is very vulnerable, its citizens waiting for some signal from the West that time has finally run out on this cruel regime of fanatics and mass murderers.  When that moment arrives, everyone will be amazed at how hollow the Islamic Republic really is.  Remember Gorbachev?  Gone in a microsecond…

Are There Two Obamas?

February 15th, 2015 - 9:18 am

Still trying to sort out who he is.  Take the massacre at the Paris kosher market.  At the time, he (in official White House statements) blamed it on Jew-hatred, and then, in what he obviously felt was a friendly interview, uttered the now-infamous phrase about how “some folks” got killed in a “random” attack..

What are we to make of this?  Were the earlier statements put out, without his personal attention, by the PR underlings in the West Wing?  Did he forget what he had said by the time the interview took place, and just said the first thing that popped into his head?  Or was he focused on something else, something that made him think “don’t say anything about anti-semitism”?

There is no doubt that he gives great speeches. People don’t swoon at his presence as they did for John F. and Robert Kennedy, but they are certainly inspired.  Charisma he’s got.

On the other hand, when he’s not scripted, he says some amazing things.  A few examples:

–When he said he’d campaigned in 57 states, leaving just one more to go.

–When he bolluxed up the logic of the argument when, in support of government-run health care, he said  “UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? It’s the Post Office that’s always having problems.”

–When he showed he didn’t know how to pronounce “corps,” saying “corpse” when referring to a Navy corpsman.

–The classic line, at a San Francisco fundraiser, about voters not inclined to support him:  “It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

–His remark in Vienna that he didn’t know how to say something “in Austrian.”

The mispronunciation was written down (but didn’t save him).  The others, like the “random” killers horror, were ad-libbed.

To be sure, even his scripted lines often contain shocking errors of fact, as when he credited Muslims for importing printing to the Middle East (the first printing technology was brought to Cairo by Portuguese Jews).

Such blunders document the poor quality of the president’s staffers, as well as his own ignorance of history and geography.  No surprise there;  he’s the product of a failed educational system after all.  But I think the unscripted ad-libs are rather more than that, they open the channel to the inner Obama.

That’s why the “random” remarks are so alarming, and are well worth the attention they’ve been given.  They tell us a great deal about his core convictions.

I think they also point to his ongoing concerns about the long-sought deal with Iran.  I think he’s very careful to avoid saying or doing anything that might conceivably annoy Supreme Leader Khamenei.  If he strongly denounced anti-semitic terrorism, wherever it occurs, it would challenge one of the Islamic Republic’s core principles.  So Obama dances around it.  He doesn’t go to the Auschwitz ceremony.  He doesn’t talk about Islamic terror.  So when a questioner asks him about such things, the avoidance mechanism takes over and he slides into jive.

That is also why he won’t do anything to threaten Assad, who is the lynchpin of the Iranian security system, and why he isn’t more outspoken about American hostages in Iran.

Khamenei knows all this.  So why should he make any deal short of total American surrender?  He’s already getting most everything he wants from Obama right now.

There was nothing particularly new about President Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast the other day, and most of the opinion makers and shapers who feigned outrage are late to the issue.  Not that it’s unimportant.  It’s extremely important.  But the unfortunate notion that all religions, and indeed all cultures, are morally equivalent has been with us a long time, and it’s very fashionable.  It’s now the conventional wisdom, as a matter of fact.

I’m not going to dwell on the silly anachronisms and false parallels in the speech–Governor Jindal did it best, I think, when he told the president to relax about medieval Catholicism and focus his concerns on contemporary Islamism–but rather on what we’re supposed to do when we encounter religious views that offend us, or seem threatening to us.   Obama basically said we should just shut up:

…If, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.

These remarks weren’t made in a theoretical debate.  They come shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and other barbaric acts in the name of radical Islam.  They are part of the doctrine of multiculturalism, which has been well described by two Danish writers.  It started as “culturalism,” early in the last century:

 (It) is the idea that individuals are determined by their culture, that these cultures form closed, organic wholes, and that the individual is unable to leave his or her own culture but rather can only realize him or herself within it. (It) also maintains that cultures have a claim to special rights and protections, even if they violate individual rights at the same time.

It purports to defend all cultures against all alien depredations. Starting in the first half of the 20th century, most famously in the work of celebrated anthropologists like Ruth Benedict, its advocates gushed about the genuineness and beauty of tribal cultures in the Third World, and urged the West, and particularly the United States, to respect their cultural integrity.  Indeed, the movement went so far as to enlist an amazing number of philosophers and anthropologists in a campaign against the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It was only a short step from cultural relativism to moral relativism, and some anthropologists, philosophers, and politicians took that step very soon after the Second World War  The relativists came from both ends of the political spectrum, the main difference being that those on the left talked about “community” and “oppressed peoples,” while those on the right tended to use the language of traditional nationalism, claiming sanctity for national values and traditions. Universal human rights had little living space in these ideologies, and the culturalists adamantly rejected any attempt to criticize any culture from anyone outside that culture.

There’s a lot of this around, especially on college campuses, and it’s got a lot of popular support.  More than you might imagine.  A recent private poll showed a bare majority–a mere 51% of Americans–believed that media should publish images of Mohammed, including cartoons.  Interestingly, that number drops to 43% for Evanglicals, while 55% of Catholics favor it.

Many world leaders, and some countries (Canada and Malaysia, for example) are similarly multiculti.  Pope Francis put it in typically colorful language.

Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who organises pontifical trips and who was standing next to him on board the plane, he said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

Throwing a pretend punch, the Pope said: “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Obama concurs.

And then there’s Tony Blair.  When prime minister, he proposed legislation  that would criminalize any criticism of any religion. He had considerable support, even from the Anglican church. The proposed legislation called for punishment of “abusive” and “insulting” language, even if there were no intent to abuse or insult. Fortunately, there was enough resistance – and Blair himself missed the crucial vote – to defeat the measure, although two years later a somewhat milder version was passed, resulting in a considerable tightening of free speech.

As I was working on this post, a visiting rabbi at our synagogue gave a dazzling commentary on this week’s Torah portion (which includes the Ten Commandments).  His main point was that we had to keep challenging our own views of what God expects from us, and he reminded us of all the changes–some ancient, some in course today–in Jewish doctrine.  Calling on us to refrain from criticizing religious doctrine, whether our own or others’, prevents us from getting wiser, and getting closer to God.

That the president of the United States, the prime minister of Great Britain, and the Catholic pope, along with very nearly half of all Americans, have all called for silence about religious content should be very worrisome, especially to people of faith.



The past few days have produced at least three excellent articles on Obama’s secret agreements, or would-be agreements, with Iran. At the Daily Beast, Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent put it in the framework of the fight against ISIS, explaining how our constant catering to Iran’s desires makes it virtually impossible for us to defeat the Islamic State.  Mosaic’s Michael Doran lays out the history of Obama’s Iran dealings (still mostly secret, including the details of the currently-operative interim agreement), which, as Doran puts it, has resulted in the Iranians having “bested the most powerful country on earth on their terms.”  Finally, there’s Jeffrey Goldberg’s musings at the Atlantic, which more or less conclude that, while Obama hopes to strike a deal with Iran that will both end its pursuit of nuclear weapons and moderate its international behavior:

Iran seems as interested as ever in becoming a regional hegemon, on its own terms. And its supreme leader, and his closest confidants, have made it clear, over and over again, that he is not interested in normalizing relations with the United States.

Those who have followed this space over the past several years will not be shocked or even surprised at these revelations, but the fact that four authoritative analysts–and Tony Badran of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies should be added to the list of clear-eyed observers — have all concluded that Obama has been in thrall to Iran for several years now, with frightening consequences for our national interest, is news.  And there are others:  Eli Lake at Bloomberg and Kyle Orton on his own blog, for example, are two of the best.

All of these have done outstanding work, and it’s encouraging that they have all come to agree with my essays over the past several years, going back to the earliest days of the Obama administration.  It’s worth dwelling on this point, as Michael Doran of Mosaic, for example, has still not accepted it.  He thinks that the secret American talks with Iran revolve around the 2012 elections, which gave Obama greater freedom in pursuing his Iranian scheme.  But that is wrong.  The secret talks began in 2008, before Obama was even elected, and the back channel, as I was the first to reveal, was retired U.S. Ambassador William Miller, who confirmed the story to me and others.

In other words, Obama entered the White House with the intention of forging an alliance with our most dangerous enemy in the Middle East.  That fact has to be the baseline of any serious analysis of our government’s policies.

Which takes us straightaway to the great unanswered question:  Why does the president want this alliance?

I don’t know the answer.  I suspect there is no single answer, but many components.  No doubt one component is Obama’s well-documented conviction that American misbehavior is responsible for many, if not most, of the world’s problems.  He probably believes the myths about the 1953 events that restored the shah to power in Tehran.  He may well share at least some elements of the Iranian regime’s hatred of past American actions.

But those fairly widespread, basically secular, and quintessentially leftist convictions don’t get us there.  They don’t begin to explain the president’s passion to embrace the Islamic Republic, the world’s biggest killer of Americans, a regime that slaughters and imprisons and tortures its own citizens in record numbers, especially in light of its consistently anti-American behavior throughout the Obama years.

The president is apparently immovable on this matter, regardless of advice from his own people, from our military leaders, and from allies.  Doran elegantly sums up Obama’s Syria policy:

Clearly, the president viewed the anti-Assad movement in Syria just as he had viewed the Green Movement in Iran three years earlier: as an impediment to realizing the strategic priority of guiding Iran to the path of success. Was the Middle East in fact polarized between the Iranian-led alliance and just about everyone else? Yes. Were all traditional allies of the United States calling for him to stand up to Iran? Yes. Did the principal members of his National Security Council recommend as one that the United States heed the call of the allies? Again, yes. But Obama’s eyes were still locked on the main prize: the grand bargain with Tehran.

What is the reason for such relentless pigheadedness?  Most all his people were on the other side, he wasn’t getting any diplomatic cooperation from Zarif and Rouhani, American hostages were suffering in Iranian captivity, yet the president pursued his dream.

Past American sins aren’t nearly good enough.  It seems to me there must be something about Iran itself that draws him into the web of the mullahs.  Perhaps if we knew more about his life it would at least provide a clue.  Did he have a Persian lover?  Did one of his professors glorify Shi’ism?  I haven’t seen a trace of helpful evidence.

I don’t believe the theory that he’s a closet Muslim.  For this “explanation” to work, he’d have to be a closeted Twelver Shi’a, and there’s no good reason to believe that.

Other theories point to Valerie Jarrett, who was born in Iran.  Perhaps the dream comes from her?  She’s the president’s closest adviser, after all, and she’s a central player in the secret talks.  But we know a lot about her, and what we know paints a convincing picture of an American pol, an Obama friend and loyalist, a friend of Michelle, and a practitioner par excellence of Chicago School Politics.  Not a lover of the world’s leading sponsor of terror.

None of his many interviewers has pressed Obama on this central question, nor have our congressional bigwigs seen fit to investigate it.  Maybe that will change, as the media mood evolves toward bafflement and criticism.  It seems to me that we are entitled to know a lot more about the secret talks, and about the White House guidance under which the talks have been conducted.  I am still baffled that Congress has not demanded the text of the current agreement with Iran on the nuclear matter, and I am frustrated that no leading journalist has the slightest interest in the hostage question, which may well be linked to Obama’s dream (maybe he doesn’t want to escalate pressure for hostage releases because he doesn’t want trouble from Khamenei).

I do know that it’s a very big question, and I wish we knew the answer.  It’s urgent.

Who Gets It? Who Doesn’t?

January 26th, 2015 - 12:21 pm

The real threats to us, and how to deal with them, that is.  Lots of well-known former foreign policy/national security officials don’t, or feel obliged to appear “realistic” (diplospeak for “don’t do anything, keep talking”).  Some former military officers do, although only up to a point.

Three duly respected policy professionals, Denis Ross (Obama’s — and plenty of others’ — Middle East guru for a few years early on), Eric Edelman (Bush’s under secretary of defense and earlier ambassador to Turkey), and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations (who recently published a very important story detailing the background of the Iranian occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran in ’79), tell us it’s time to get tougher with Iran:

[It's] time to acknowledge that we need a revamped coercive strategy, one that threatens what the Islamic Republic values the most—its influence in the Middle East and its standing at home.

In other words, threaten the regime itself and its foreign legions in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.  But just when you say to yourself, “Finally!  They’re going to call for regime change,” they tiptoe delicately into dipspeak:  “Iranian officials must come to understand that there will be no further concessions to reach an accord and that time is running out for negotiations.”
Further down, they return to the “we’re almost, kinda for regime change” theme:
the United States should consider a political warfare campaign against Tehran to complement its economic sanctions policy. The administration officials and its broadcast services should draw attention to the unsavory nature of the theocratic regime and repressive behavior. Such language will not just showcase our values but potentially inspire political dissent.
As if the Iranian people needed the State Department and the appeasers at the feckless Persian service of the Voice of America to tear the blinders from their eyes and enable seem to see that they are living in misery under a hateful regime!  If you really want to “inspire political dissent,” just do it.  Call for the release of the opposition leaders, support the students’ and workers’ and women’s movements, and call for a national referendum on the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.
But the three gurus aren’t calling for that.  They have no apparent interest in real political warfare, except as part of the nuclear negotiations. They’re calling for some sort of military action in Syria and Iraq, not as a decisive blow to the expansionist activities of the Islamic Republic, but as an essential ingredient in the parlay with Zarif and Rouhani.  Their main objective is to compel the Tehran regime to come to terms on the nuclear deal.
A regime stressed at home and under pressure abroad may yet consider the price of its nuclear intransigence.
That won’t do, I’m afraid, because, as the Washington Post said in 2012, to get an end to the Iranian nuclear project, you have to have regime change in Tehran.  To be sure, the destruction of the Assad regime would be a major step in that direction, but the three gurus don’t even mention that;  nor, for that matter, does the exemplary General Robert Scales, although he has a better grasp of the dynamics of the Middle East war.
Scales, albeit using different language, stresses the importance of defeating the jihadis on the ground, in large part because defeat undermines their messianic world-view.  He calls it depriving the enemy of “hope,” I call it a blow to their conviction that their bloody enterprise is blessed by Allah.  It comes to the same thing:

Think of hope as a material formed in a crucible over time by a series of successful terrorist strikes against the West and Western-affiliated countries in the Middle East. Since violent actions filled this crucible, only a violent military counterresponse can crack the crucible and empty it of hope. The object of a campaign against hope is not necessarily to kill in large numbers but rather to find the greatest vulnerability and shatter it dramatically and decisively.

The terrorist’s greatest source of hope today comes from Islamic State battlefield successes in Syria and Iraq. A defeat there cracks the crucible. The question is how to do it with enough drama and speed that terrorists the world over lose hope and become passive. From any perspective, the Islamic State enclave in Syria is militarily unassailable. But Iraq is a different story.

I certainly agree with the general’s main point — defeat of the enemy is very important, and when we defeat them it is not just a gain of terrain but also an ideological and political victory for our side — I think his context is too narrow, and I don’t share either his pessimism on Syria or his surprising optimism regarding Iraq.  I remain perplexed at the failure of our policy elite to advocate all-out political and military support for the Kurds.  They are pro-Western, they are tough and brave, and their enemies in the region are ours: above all, Iran, Turkey and Syria.  They are the most effective force against ISIS.  Our failure to do more for them is yet further evidence of Obama’s grotesque alliance with the Iranians, from Syria and Iraq all the way down to Yemen.

In like manner, I don’t get the optimism about Iraq, which is effectively at the mercy of Iran, and therefore a totally unreliable force.

Why not go to the source, as my late boss General Alexander Haig loved to intone?  Tehran is the source.  Unmentioned by Scales, pigeonholed by the three gurus as a negotiating challenge rather than the terror master of the world, its defeat should be the West’s central mission.

Should the French Jews Bail Out Now?

January 20th, 2015 - 1:18 pm

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has told the French Jews to pack up and get out before things — as he insists they inevitably must — get even worse.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls openly worried about the possible flight of the country’s Jews, warning that if 100,000 (out of half a million) left, it would represent “the failure of the Republic.”  That’s quite a statement when you recall that France gave birth to the first European mass antisemitic movement in the last quarter of the nineteeth century.  The Dreyfus Affair was the most infamous manifestation of the Jew-hatred of the time, and the best-selling La France Juive by Edouard Drumont was its unholy text.  It is still in print.  Antisemitism carried on into the next century with a vengeance, from French collaboration with the Nazis to President Charles de Gaulle’s nasty anti-Israel remarks (“sur de soi, et dominateur”) after the 6-Day War.

The massacres in Paris had a decidedly antisemitic core.  The Jew-killers were radical Muslims, who bragged of avenging the Prophet Mohammed.  Nor were these surprising:  the weekend massacres were part of a pattern of intensifying attacks against French Jews, a pattern that extends over much of contemporary Europe (here‘s a long, thoughtful treatment of the French situation).

So it’s remarkable when the French prime minister says massive Jewish emigration would be disastrous for his country.  I can’t remember another top European government official saying anything similar.

The question for French Jews, as for those elsewhere in Europe, is whether they can remain and raise their families in peace, or whether  they must get out.

For most European Jews, this question is aimed directly at their governments, and they will not have been encouraged by President Hollande’s insistence that the terror attacks had nothing to do with Islam.  The French Jews, like most of their countrymen, have long since entrusted their security to the state, so if the state cannot protect them, they are likely to conclude that they must leave (Israel says that fully ten percent of French Jews inquired about emigration procedures last year).

Yet  just across the Riviera lies Italy, like France a Catholic country with its own ugly history of Jew-hatred, from the Inquisition to the fascist era.  There are far fewer Italian Jews than French ones — perhaps 35,000 in a country with roughly the same population — and yet the Italian Jews are flourishing.  Those who look into the matter will find that Italian antisemites are physically afraid of the Jews, that Jewish holidays are publicly celebrated in the public piazzas and even soccer stadiums of the major cities, that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is famously philosemitic (when mayor of Florence he ordered the illumination of the synagogue, and at the Paris rally he not only said “Nous sommes Charlie, nous sommes juifs,” but spoke of Italy’s “solidarity with France…and with our Jewish brothers so terribly attacked…”), and that the mayor of Rome recently accompanied more than a hundred high school students on an Air Force jet to visit Auschwitz.  Rome is building a Holocaust Memorial Museum on the grounds of Mussolini’s former residence.  Still more surprising, there is a small but persistent flow of Catholic converts to Judaism, especially in the south.

There are many reasons for the success of Italian Jews, and one of the most important is the widespread Italian distrust of the state.  They don’t expect the government to protect them against their enemies, and so they’ve done a lot by themselves.  Right after World War II, when there were many neofascist and neonazi groups in Rome, the city’s chief rabbi, Elio Toaff, quietly organized a Jewish self-defense organization.  Over time, this group prevailed against the antisemites, and spread throughout the peninsula.  Toaff was remarkably farsighted, and alongside the self-defense group, he created a “temple for the young” where Roman children were given a religious education that reinforced their identities.

With the emergence of a self-confident and physically effective Jewish community, the official security forces became more enthusiastic allies, and today state and community work closely together.

This suggests to me that European Jews are not faced with the stark alternatives of enduring murderous violence or packing up and leaving the country.  Paradoxically, state support, as well as favorable public opinion may be more forthcoming to communities that fight for themselves.

The lesson is important for American Jews as well.  Very few have organized effective self-defense;  like the French, they depend on the police and other security forces to protect them.  This isn’t good enough.  The Italian case suggests that Jews can fight and win, and that the European and American Jews’ long term interests — both religious and security — are well served by fighting back.

Which brings us back to Bret Stephens’ insistence that the French Jews are doomed and that they must choose between emigration and slaughter.  I’m reluctant to give them advice, preferring to try to help them, whatever they do.  And my crystal ball isn’t as precise as Bret’s.  Life is full of surprises, and our world is on the boil.

I do think more attention should be paid to Italy.  If its tiny Jewish community can do so well, it seems to me the very much larger and wealthier French community — and the significantly bigger American one as well — ought to consider it a learning moment.

The Citizen’s Guide to Regime Change

January 16th, 2015 - 3:59 pm

All of a sudden, it’s OK to talk seriously about regime change in Iran and even elsewhere.  It had been a taboo subject since the final years of the G.W. Bush administration, aside from yours truly, a few friends such as Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan, and the Washington Post editors, who remarked in 2011 that “only regime change will stop the Iranian nuclear program.”  The latest elected official to join the party is newly elected Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas:

“The goal of our policy must be – regime change in Iran,” Cotton said. “We cannot and will not be safe as long as Islamist despots rule in Iran.

“The policy of the United States should therefore be to support regime opponents and promote a constitutional government at peace with the United States, Israel and the world,” he added.

He’s got it just right:  promote regime change in Tehran by supporting the vast political army of Iranian citizens who hate Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, including President Hasan Rouhani and other recent idols of the deep-thinking set.

Those of us who worked with anti-Soviet dissidents throughout the Empire know that non-violent regime change can be achieved.  When Reagan moved into the White House, hardly anyone believed such a thing was possible.  Indeed, lots of politically active men and women–in undoubted good faith–implored us not to “put Gorbachev’s back against a wall” and to “work with him” to achieve detente.  Even today, there is passionate unwillingness to credit Reagan’s policies with the fall of the Empire, even though the winners on the ground, from Lech Walesa and Havel to Natan Sharansky and Vladimir Bukovsky, all testified to the electrifying effect Reagan’s words and actions had on regimes and dissidents alike.

It was not all that difficult, and certainly not prohibitively expensive.  It didn’t require military action (although the relentless growth of US military power was indubitably important in deterring any Soviet action).  It didn’t involve a vast bureaucracy (I would guess that there were maybe 20-30 high-ranking officials involved, including those very important people at the radios).  Plus those great foreign leaders, like Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.

The main requirement was the will to bring down that wall.  Once the world saw that, it was really no contest.

I think that sort of non-violent regime change is possible in Iran — and elsewhere — today.  It’s quite amazing how rapidly the world can be changed for the better once the United States begins to move.  Indeed, we’ve seen that in reverse with this president, haven’t we?  It works both ways.  And the chances for successful regime change in Iran are considerably better than they were in Gorbachev’s Soviet Empire in the ’80s.  The percentage of Iranian citizens ready to demonstrate their opposition to Khamenei et. al. is much higher than Soviet citizens back when, and the Iranian regime is considerably weaker.  The Soviet Union was a superpower, Iran isn’t.  The USSR had nukes and a big army.  Not so the Islamic Republic.

Nor is Iran the only candidate for regime change.  Venezuela is fully ripe, as the Chavez/Maduro failure becomes more evident and more dramatic every day.  We have actually taken a few steps to demonstrate our unhappiness with the Caracas tyranny (as we have with Iran), but the crucial ingredient is lacking:  the explicit, forceful and repeated denunciation of Maduro and his henchmen by the American president, secretary of state, and other top officials.

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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.