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Who Are These ISIS Guys and Why Is Obama Willing to Bomb Them?

August 7th, 2014 - 7:47 pm

It may well be that ISIS is one of at least two too-clever-by-half operations masterminded by our enemies.  At the beginning, ISIS spun off from Al Qaeda because, we were told, Zawahari was too moderate for them.  AQ didn’t slaughter enough, didn’t crucify enough, wasn’t psychotic enough for their taste.

It seems that Iran gave ISIS support, in keeping with its well-documented practice of supporting all sides in other countries’ internal conflicts, the better to a) figure out what’s going on, b) penetrate organizations that might win, and seem actually or potentially dangerous to Tehran, and c) spread riot and ruin, figuring that the Quds Force and/or Hezbollah can dominate most any regional battlefield this side of Gaza.

If you want a lively and accurate picture of this Iranian strategy over the past decade or so, read this Foreign Policy piece by Michael Weiss.

Thus, the Iranians were in cahoots with ISIS, an organization that seems to have recruited the worst of the worst killers, torturers, rapists and megalomaniacs.  In a world unfortunately over populated with evil men, ISIS finds lots of would-be General Zods to demand everyone kneel and worship them.  And they love to kill everyone, Muslims, infidel Christians, the whole lot.  Perfect clients.

Except that the Iranians should have been more careful what they wished for;  ISIS did altogether too well, and declared “the Caliphate,” which excited still more followers.  The Iranians don’t like this at all (they like the idea of “the Caliphate” just fine, but under the rule of their very own supreme leader, not some nut case named al-Baghdadi).

So the Iranians are now fighting ISIS, but they’re over-committed in Syria and all over Iraq.  Ergo, when you ponder President Obama’s decision to (maybe) intervene against ISIS in Iraq, keep in mind that such a move would please Tehran.  At least for the moment.

Keep another thing in mind, too.  Please.  The Iranians are not nearly as brilliant as a lot of pundits think they are (I mean, they’ve thoroughly wrecked their own country, after all), and on this one, if I’m right, they unleashed a real monster that is threatening some of their most basic interests (above all, Bashar Assad).  And now there’s the possibility of a new monster on the block:  American military operations right next door.  To the great benefit of the Kurds.  Who are yet another threat to Tehran…

Too clever by half.

They’re not the only ones…

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“The whole world knows that the main source of the weapons serving the resistance is Iran.”

The Islamic Jihad spokesman knew what he was talking about.  His own terror organization is part of the Iranian proxy army that includes Hezbollah and, with some ups and downs, Hamas.  Islamic Jihad is very much in that network, and undoubtedly worked alongside Hamas in the recent Gaza fighting.  If you have any doubts, Iranian leaders — especially at high levels of the Revolutionary Guard Corps — have bragged about their role in the Gaza war, one of the most reliable Israeli think tanks has written about it at length, and Congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, confirmed it.

Moreover, as the region becomes more tumultuous, the Iranians have taken a big step:  they have sent their own fighters and commanders into battle in Iraq and Syria.  Lots of them have been injured or killed.  I have been told by usually well-informed Iranians outside the country that there have been several demonstrations against the regime’s strategy (this is not a “Sunni vs Shiite” thing;  Iranians generally do not love the Arabs, and don’t want their men sacrificed for an Arab “cause” of whatever doctrinal convictions).

Iranian commanders are bragging, but Gaza can’t have done much for the domestic popularity of the Iranian regime.  Like most of human life, political support is all about winning and losing, and Hamas quite clearly lost to Israel.  Therefore, the regime is in bed with losers, and all that bragging and chest-pounding can’t conceal the facts.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani know this, and they are keenly aware of the hostility of the Iranian people.  You don’t need public opinion polls to prove this.  Just look at the behavior of the regime.  It’s been about a year since Rouhani became president.  In that time, the regime has executed more than a thousand people, making Iran the worldwide #1 killer of its own people.  If Khamenei and Rouhani were confident of popular support, they wouldn’t be arresting, torturing and killing so many Iranians.

There is a second indicator.  On that death list, two names are notably missing:  opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.  Both are under “house arrest,” but the regime hasn’t dared to put them on trial, fearing uncontrollable protests.

And there is a third element:  even the pathetic pretense of press freedom hinted at by Rouhani and his claque has now been crushed.

Finally, the editor of one of the best Iranian human-rights groups was just found dead in Turkey, and it looks suspiciously like a regime assassination.

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I’d been reading about those Hamas tunnels, and I certainly noticed that the Israelis lost plenty of their boys in the ground campaign to destroy the tunnel work, and I wondered if there had been some sort of intelligence failure.  As usual in such cases, I turned to a higher authority — or maybe it’s a lower authority, since I don’t know which area of the nether regions is inhabited by the spirit of my old friend, James Jesus Angleton, the late chief of CIA counterintelligence.  So I set up the notoriously unreliable Ouija board, and lo and behold, there was the gravelly voice (decades of Camels will do that):

JJA:  “Nice to be remembered.”

ML:  “Good to talk to you, as always.”

JJA:  “What’s up?  Snowden, I suppose.”

ML:  “Not really. I wanted to talk about the tunnels in Gaza.  However it all turns out, the Israelis were pretty clearly surprised.  It seems they didn’t know the full details, even including Hamas’s plot to send hundreds of killers into Israel via the tunnels for a mass massacre next Rosh Hashanah.  They were in a terrific position to know what was going on in Gaza, but they seem to have missed a biggie.  It sounds like an intelligence failure, so here I am…”

JJA:  “It does, indeed.  But careful with those broad brushes…everybody knew there were tunnels into Gaza from the south, against which Israel and Egypt were operating.  Those tunnels were used, inter alia, to smuggle weapons from Iran and other suppliers through Sudan into Gaza.  And the Israelis say they knew there were tunnels across the Israel/Gaza border as well.  And they also say that they knew some of those tunnels were designed to infiltrate Hamas forces into Israel to attack and kidnap Israelis, especially if they were in uniform.”

ML:  “Gilad Shalit being the obvious case in point.”

JJA:  “But obviously they didn’t know all the details.  Which should not totally surprise US.  It’s normal, intelligence is invariably imperfect, even in this case, where the Israelis had exceptional coverage–aerial, electronic, agents on the ground etcetera, etcetera.”

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Courtesy of Tehran and the Whole Gang

July 29th, 2014 - 8:20 pm


As Israel’s UN ambassador, Ron Prosor, said:  “Every rocket flying out of Gaza could bear the imprint ‘Courtesy of Tehran.’”

Good point.  It should make us think more broadly about the Gaza/Israel war. That war isn’t just a conflict between Israel and Hamas, because both stand for much larger parts of the world.  Israel’s ability to wage war depends in part on the military cooperation and assistance that comes from the United States (think Iron Dome, just for starters), while Hamas’s strength derives in part from help coming from Iran and Qatar.

So the Gaza war should be seen as a test of the two sides’ backers as well as a test of the actual combatants, in the same way the Spanish Civil War tested the abilities and resolve of the two sides that would shortly face off directly in the world war.  The West’s decision to stay out of the little war encouraged Hitler and Mussolini to be more ambitious, thereby making the big war more likely.

Pundits almost never put the several little wars now raging from Europe to the Middle East in global context, preferring to deal with each separate conflict as a separate event.  But even a short look at recent headlines about Hamas shows the extent of its support network (which should be the main issue).  Here are three, in addition to the one quoting Amb. Prosor:

1.  A secret arms deal between Hamas and North Korea;

2.  Deals between Iran and North Korea;

3.  Bragging by one of the most powerful Iranian leaders, Ali Larijani, taking credit for providing Hamas with rockets.

Eyes tend to roll at the suggestion that North Korea is a significant force in world affairs, but the leaders of the hermit kingdom do matter.  Take all those Gazan tunnels, for example.  One will get you five that a good deal of the expertise, and perhaps even a certain degree of manpower, came from Pyongyang.  The North Koreans excel at tunneling, as at nuclear weaponry. (Remember that Syrian nuke facility the Israelis bombed a while ago?  That was a North Korean public works project.  And they have worked hard on the Tehran subway system and on tunnels in Iranian mountains too.)  They are totally in cahoots with the Iranians on missiles and nukes, and evidently link up with the mullahs to help terror organizations.

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How Did We Get Here?

July 24th, 2014 - 1:35 pm


Not so long ago, it was decidedly taboo to speak badly about Jews. Today, from tenured professors at major universities to mobs trying to burn down synagogues in Paris, people openly speak and write — sometimes cautiously, sometimes not — about the presumed malevolent power of Jews. Sometimes they carefully denounce “Zionists,” but open Jew-hatred is now commonplace, and the Jew-haters are getting a hearing.

It’s important to understand how we get from there to here, from a near-universal taboo against anti-Jewish remarks to toleration of nasty anti-Jewish incitement. And there’s no one who has provided as good a guide to that grim journey than Ben Cohen. It’s in his recent book, Some of My Best Friends.

Dramatic changes of this sort don’t happen quickly. Cultural paradigms — embodied in standards of “good manners” — change slowly, and it has taken several generations for antisemitic language to slither back into permissible discourse. One of the many great things about Ben Cohen’s book, which is a collection of his essays over the past several years — is his keen eye for the little watersheds along the way. Bit by bit, small event after small event, we got there. Kudos to Mr. Cohen for noticing them and doing the hard and depressing work of chronicling them.

These little events range from British court decisions to parliamentary debates, to administrative decisions at major and minor universities. Mr. Cohen writes with admirable restraint about the now-forgotten case of Ronnie Fraser, “an unassuming lecturer in mathematics at one of London’s further educational colleges,” who brought a court case against advocates of an academic boycott against Israeli academics and their institutions. He lost his case, thereby, as Mr. Cohen says, “(leaving) the definition of what constitutes antisemitism to (often hostile) non-Jews.” He quotes Fraser in a very important post-verdict statement:

For the court to say that, as Jews, we do not have an attachment to Israel is disappointing, considering we have been yearning for Israel for 2000 years and it has been in our prayers all that time.

Mr. Cohen warned at the time (2012) that the British decision would create a dangerous precedent, to whit that whenever Jews say that antisemitism is a major component of anti-Zionism, they are arguing in bad faith.

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Where and How European Jews Are Winning

July 22nd, 2014 - 3:29 pm


Jews are dramatically under attack in France, but Judaism is booming in Italy.

The mounting campaign against French Jews was notably on display with attacks against Parisian synagogues last week, and with big anti-Israel demonstrations over the weekend despite an official ban.  Some Jews are increasingly considering emigration — the French emigration rate to Israel is up 60% — and many others are attempting to conceal their religious identity.

As I have written in some detail, things are quite different in Italy, where big pro-Israel demonstrations are common, kosher restaurants, especially in Rome (the biggest Italian Jewish community at around 15,000), are very popular, the old Jewish quarter around the synagogue has become trendy and pricy, and Jewish festivals abound.  There is even a trend, especially and unexpectedly in the south, towards conversion to Judaism.  The chief rabbi of Naples recently wrote to the governors of the six southern provinces, proposing an annual day of  commemoration of the forced conversion of the southern Italian Jews during the Inquisition, and some of the governors are likely to embrace the proposal.

Why the striking contrast between France and Italy?   Why are the French Jews so frightened, while the Italians are doing so well?  There are many differences, some historic, others linked to the contemporary behavior of the Jewish communities.  I think the lessons from the Italian Jewish revival should be taken to heart by Jewish communities elsewhere, including the United States.

First, the very different national traditions.  Keep in mind that France has the largest Jewish community in Europe, while Italy’s is one of the tiniest.

Most people think “Germany” when they think about European antisemitism, but modern mass antisemitism was a late 19th century French invention that subsequently spread to other Western countries.  Its infamous early appearance was the Dreyfus Affair, when a Jewish military officer was falsely accused  and then convicted of treason.  Theodor Herzl attended the trial, concluding that Jews would never be welcome in Europe, and needed their own state.  Thus was Zionism born.

The current campaign against the French Jews is in part a continuation of that old-fashioned right-wing antisemitism, intimately tied to nationalist and longstanding Catholic Jew-hatred, in part a result of radical Islamism, with deep roots among the expanding Arab community, and in part encouraged by radical leftist hatred of Israel and Jews who support it.

In contrast, there is no tradition of mass antisemitism in Italy.  While the fascist regime did many terrible things, Jew-hatred never gained mass appeal.  Unlike France, there was no popular antisemitic movement in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  As in France, many Muslims have come to Italy, but they are much more assimilationist and much less Islamist (roughly 5% of Muslims in Italy are regular mosque attendees).  As for the Catholic majority, Pope Francis is the third consecutive pro-Jewish pope.  When his Jewish friends from Buenos Aires come for a visit, he orders kosher takeout from those popular restaurants around the synagogue.  The Vatican reacts critically to antisemites, which counts for a lot in Italy.

In addition, while both countries have center-left governments, French President Hollande has no pro-Jewish background comparable to that of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who assisted the Florentine Jews when he was mayor, and even arranged for the illumination of the city’s synagogue.

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The World Is Returning to Normal

July 21st, 2014 - 4:57 pm

Of all the popular myths about “how the world works,” the most dangerous to us at this moment is the one that goes “peace is normal, war is an aberration.”  Truth is, war is normal and peace very unusual.  We’ve lived through a happy time, ever since the Second World War.  Thanks to American superpower, and the destruction of the totalitarian regimes in Rome, Berlin and Moscow, we’ve had a happy period of relative peace.  Very few big wars.  Little genocides (China is exceptional, but they changed to accommodate the global pattern).  Deterrence (as in “mutual assured destruction”) mostly worked.

That was a rare time.  Now we’re getting back to normal.  There’s a good reason for that old Roman wisdom “if you want peace, prepare for war.”  It’s because “peace” most always happens when somebody wins a war, and then imposes conditions on the losers.  That’s what “peace conferences” are all about.  Our recent happy time was the result of war, and our adoption of the Roman wisdom.  We smashed our enemies, we created military alliances to deter our new enemies (NATO, etcetera), we built and maintained a big arsenal on land, air and sea.

We prepared for war to make peace possible.

It worked so well and lasted so long that we forgot why we were doing it. Over time, the “peace is normal” myth took hold and its attendant policies — “future wars will be economic, not military” and “guns to butter” — came to define our strategic thinking.

Moreover, Americans have always been conflicted over foreign policy.  We have always wanted two incompatible things at once:  we want to export the American model, and we want to stay out of other countries’ affairs.  We have invariably waited until the eleventh hour before fighting.  In the last century, we were torpedoed into the First World War by the Germans, bombed into the Second World War by the Japanese, and frightened into the Cold War by Stalin.

Then came 9/11 and we were reminded that there are (always) enemies out there.  In time, we forgot that, too, and now, having deceived ourselves into believing that peace is normal, we are trying to talk our way out of the global war.  It won’t work.  It never has.

So we’re back to normal.  War, and the runup to more war, is the order of the day, as it has been for most of human history.  Our real options are the same as they have always been:  win or lose.  Both lead to “peace,” but the one is a happy peace while the other is an extended humiliation.

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We discount many of our enemies’ public statements as sheer propaganda, or bravado, or just stuff “for domestic consumption,” but what if it’s what they actually believe?  What if Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the Caliphate crowd think that the Almighty is on their side, that the U.S. and Israel are on the run, and that Judgment Day is imminent?  What if Vladimir Putin is dead set on restoring a Russian Empire?

In other words, what if our domestic-profit-and-loss model of foreign policy has very little to do with our enemies’ intentions and beliefs?

A remarkable quantity of the “analysis” of the current unpleasantness is devoted to explaining what is “really” going on inside the various hostile regimes and organizations around the world, the tacit assumption being that foreign policy is only understandable in the context of domestic disputes, power plays, schemes and whatnot.  Thus, Putin’s maneuvers regarding Ukraine or Moldova are reflections of inner turmoil, Hamas’s attacks on Israel show us the internal divisions of the movement, and the proclamations of one or another Caliphate are the result of power struggles within the Islamist universe.  Thus, Iran’s annoying refusal to come to terms with “the West” is because of an ongoing spat between Iranian reformers and hard-liners.

I think we ought to take their announced intentions more seriously, especially at the very top.  I think Putin, Khamenei, Mashaal, Abbas et al. are trying to avenge what they see as historic catastrophes, and I think they are their allies are trying to dominate and destroy us.  I think they despise and fear our freedom and democracy, both of which threaten their tyrannical rule.

So I think they hate us both for what we are, and for what they believe we have done in the recent and ancient past.  I think these are strong convictions, and I don’t think we are likely to talk them out of them.

Swift rightly said “you can’t reason someone out of something he wasn’t reasoned into in the first place.”

In other words, there is no easy, conflict-resolution negotiation way out of the war that has been launched against us.  Our enemies will wage that war until they have either won or lost.

Footnote:  this means that, contrary to the multiculti dreams taught to Western students, all men are NOT the same, do NOT want the same things, and will NOT come to the same conclusions when presented with the same “information.”  Lee Smith has some very good thoughts about the ways in which our foreign policy makers are more like Hollywood movie actors than serious strategists.

All of which brings me to the battlefields of Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon….

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My heart goes out to Jeffrey Scudder, who was thrown out of CIA after trying to get some documents declassified.  His story, captivatingly told in the WaPo by Greg Miller, will be incomprehensible to those who have been spared the Kafkaesque experience of trying to get the agency to cough up important old stories.  I’ve been there, and Mr. Scudder’s story, albeit very unusual, rings true.

He’d had a promising career in various overseas postings, and he had the sort of personality that you’d think CIA would cherish:  intense, tenacious, highly patriotic.  Sounds like a great dinner guest.  In one of those personnel moves driven by the intelligence and foreign policy establishment’s managerial gurus, he was moved to a sleepy corner of the CIA forest:  the unit charged with reviewing material for possible declassification and public release.  There he found more than a thousand files, mostly from long ago, that he felt should be released.  Some were.  Many weren’t.  So when he moved on, to a position in counterintelligence, he filed an FOIA request for some of those still-classified stories.

At that point, the agency fired him, after an “investigation” that normal people would call harassment, that involved a 6 a.m. search of his house and interrogation of his family, seizure of his child’s and wife’s computers, etcetera etcetera and so forth.

The WaPo story dutifully reproduces the agency’s explanation, involving Mr. Scudder’s alleged mishandling of classified documents, but you can pretty much ignore that stuff.  The CIA often invents things about documents it want to retain.  Or maybe even destroy, as I found out over many years.

In the late 1970s I learned of the existence of an operation conducted by the U.S. government in Italy shortly after the end of the Second World War.  The operation was called “gyre” (from “Jabberwocky,” which led me to believe that James Jesus Angleton, the head of U.S. military intelligence in Italy during the war, had been involved).  The “gyre” file had a lot of material on the Italian Communist Party, going back to its founding (1921).  According to what I was told, that material documented the true nature of the party, which was very closely linked to Soviet intelligence.  As it had both a public and a clandestine component (known to adepts as the “armed party”), the structure was designed to deceive outsiders.  They could only see the public party, but not the clandestine part, and certainly not the close cooperation with the Soviet spooks.

I requested the file, but was told that the documents were properly classified, and thus not available.  I asked why documents from the early 1920s, dealing with our enemies, were properly classified.  I was told that the source was still alive.  So that was that…until 1981, when I became special adviser to the secretary of state, and had plenty of security clearances. One day I told this story to Bill Casey, who arranged for me to read the file, albeit with a caveat:  I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  It seemed redundant to me (I was  bound by an agreement to keep ALL secrets secret, right?) but I signed.  And I read it.

It’s a very important file for anyone who wants to fully understand Soviet espionage, and of course for anyone curious about the Italian Communist Party.  I can’t say much more about the contents except that the description given to me was very accurate.  I waited about ten years, when I learned that the source had died, and again requested the file.  Rejected again!  This time on the grounds that “there were no such documents.”

I pointed out that I knew they existed.  Indeed I had read them, so I was in a plight similar to Mr Scudder’s:  trying to make public documents I had actually seen, convinced they were important, knowing they did not involve any secrets that could damage American interests.  But CIA just said there were no such documents, so what could they do?

Then came the Mitrokin files…

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Iran and the Straw Man

July 1st, 2014 - 2:28 pm


The estimable Sohrab Ahmari of the indispensable Wall Street Journal editorial page does some helpful reporting from London, telling us about leading British advocates of a deal with Iran.  Mr. Ahmari thereby confirms the durability of that famous line about the newspaper: “Interesting paper — opinion on the news pages and news on the editorial pages.”

He interviewed three leading proponents of making deals with the Khamenei regime, and they trot out the usual “arguments,” above all the presumed importance of giving international support to the  imagined moderation of President Rouhani, so that the presumed hard-liners around Supreme Leader Khamenei will be forced to make concessions.  Of the three, the best-known is former Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who talks about a recent trip to Iran as if it were a Western metropolis:

“Tehran looks and feels these days more like Madrid or Athens than it does, say, Mumbai or Cairo,” he wrote in a January op-ed.

“I know that Tehran is not Madrid,” Mr. Straw told me. “My point was that’s what the city felt like from the narrow perspective of the journeys that I was making. That was all. It feels more like those cities, Athens too, it felt to my entirely subjective judgment, than, I think, Cairo or Mumbai — what it felt like looking out from the car.”

Which gives a fairly alarming picture of strategic “analysis” by one of Great Britain’s most influential characters.

But then, we already knew a great deal about Jack Straw’s vision of the Islamic Republic.  He was the mastermind of one of the many failed attempts to set up a grand bargain between the United States and Iran, back when George W. Bush was in the White House and Condi Rice was at Foggy Bottom.  Straw convinced Rice that the time was ripe for settling matters with the mullahs, and he arranged for the secretary of state to talk to Ali Larijani, then the West’s favorite Iranian official.  After months of talks, the Americans involved believed they had reached an agreement with Larijani — the usual deal, the Iranians promise to stop enrichment and we lift sanctions — and the signing and/or celebration affair was scheduled at UNHQ in September, 2006.  Condi and her right-hand man, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns, flew up to New York for the happy occasion, but Larijani’s plane never took off.

So Mr. Straw has not only advocated a deal with Iran, but has vigorously acted in a very British way — manipulating his U.S. colleagues — to try to accomplish it.  Many thanks to Sohrab Ahmari for showing that Straw is a man of strong convictions.  Pity they’re so dangerous for us all.

(Artwork created using multiple images.)