Faster, Please!

Faster, Please!

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.

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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