Faster, Please!

Faster, Please!

These Are My Principles. If You Don’t Like Them, I’ve Got Others…

December 8th, 2014 - 12:46 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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St. Andrew of Arabia

November 29th, 2014 - 12:13 pm

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

General Mattis?  General Suleimani?  James Bond?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Fantasy of the Deal

November 16th, 2014 - 6:23 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give Me a Few Born-Again Dem Hawks

November 5th, 2014 - 6:51 pm

Sandwich boards optional after Tuesday’s midterm election.

Everybody around here — and in punditworld generally — is giving advice to the Republicans.  But the electoral results suggest that the Dems are the ones who badly need guidance.  I don’t read the numbers as a general rejection of the ruling class, and frankly I don’t believe that any serious Democrat can read them that way.  The voters rejected THEM.

The best short take I heard on the radio last night (I do not watch TV very often, and the hour or so I saw last night was just awful;  radio much better) had to do with the gubernatorial miracle in Maryland, but it applies to the whole night:  The voters said to the government:  STOP!  You’re killing us!!’

Too much intrusion, too much government, too many taxes, the screwed-up health care scam, the IRS schemes, the NSA snooping on normal innocents.  That’s gotta stop.  Get out of our way, we’re smarter than you think we are.  We can do it ourselves, we don’t need you as much as you want to impose yourselves on us.  And we are sick and tired of being robbed blind by you guys, with very limited benefits, at least to those of us who want to work hard and claw our way up.

The other smart analysis, again via radio, pointed to the exit polls’ finding of widespread fear, including fear of Ebola, fear of terrorism, fear that their kids would be worse off than they, etc.

So you got a richly deserved thrashing.

National security was a big deal, which according to punditwisdom it isn’t supposed to be, even in presidential elections and certainly not in legislative off-year elections.

So I’ve got advice for the Democrats:  repent and convert.

Repent of your failed view of the world.  You’re still mouthing hundred-year-old slogans in pidgen Marxism, all that class-conflict garbage.  It had some legitimacy in the 19th century, and in some Old World countries in the 20th, but it doesn’t explain much of anything any more.  Start with the wisdom of an old Italian friend who once headed the Communist Party’s youth organization:  “but there is no working class.”

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Obama’s Inner Nixon

October 31st, 2014 - 3:48 pm


Ben Rhodes earnestly says that detente with Iran is to Obama’s second term what “health care” was to the first.  His defining issue, the one that will define his place in the history books.  Rhodes doesn’t put it as explicitly as I will, but it’s pretty clear that Obama wants his Nixon-to-China Moment:  Air Force One carrying him to Tehran for the historic handshake or hug with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

You can understand our otherwise incoherent Middle East policy decisions if you keep that image in active memory, as Obama has for many years.  He has long yearned for his Nixon Moment, as he told Khamenei et. al. even before the presidential elections of 2008.  It may well be that he cherished the thought of another such triumphant embrace–with Putin in Red Square.  But that hasn’t gone well at all.

So that leaves Iran, and he’s working very hard to get to Tehran: virtual silence about the Iranian-sponsored takeover of Yemen, strategic cooperation with Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, catering to Iranian wishes in Iraq and Syria, bending over backwards to accommodate Iranian nuclear ambitions, easing of sanctions, welcoming Iranian officials to a business conference in Pennsylvania (a promise of things to come).

The president’s lust for the Nixon Moment nicely accounts for his Israel policy, including the recent leaks.  Remember that Nixon’s China deal was based on the two countries’ common strategic fear of the Soviet Union.  What is our common strategic fear with the Iranians?  There’s the Islamic State, and we are certainly catering to Iranian objectives on that front, albeit in a very restrained way.  Some more menacing common enemy would be more in keeping with the Nixon model, and Israel fits the bill.  In case you had any doubts, the White House has thoughtfully made it luminously clear that we restrained Israel on behalf of Iran, and the nasty anti-Israel language provided to journalists would pass muster at Friday prayers in an Iranian mosque.

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The Legend of the Lone Wolf Terrorist

October 25th, 2014 - 6:28 pm

When I last wrote about this subject, I called them “homegrown” terrorists, the phrase of the month a year and a half ago.  Back then, such imaginary monsters were bombing marathons;  today they are shooting Canadian parliamentarians and security guards, and attacking NYPD guys with their jihadi axes.

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, because they’re figments of the “expert” imagination. The legend-mavens tell us that there are “normal” Americans (this part is very important) who somehow just go bad, and turn into murderous terrorists.  There is no foreign input, no alien country or intelligence service, no global conspiracy.  The terrorists are homegrown and they are on their own.  Lone wolves.

It’s not so. Patrick Poole has the data for us:

“…Max Abrahms at Northeastern University has observed:

Since the advent of international terrorism in 1970, none of the 40 most lethal terrorist attacks has been committed by a person unaffiliated with some terrorist group, (my emphasis.  Notice carefully, “none”) according to publicly available data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, which is funded by the Department of Homeland Security and stored at the University of Maryland. In fact, lone wolves have carried out just two of the 1,900 most deadly terrorist incidents over the last four decades.

That’s pretty impressive, don’t you think?  I’d like to know the two-out-of-nearly-two-thousand real cases of lone wolves on the attack, but I’ll bet you ten to one they weren’t jihadis.

There ARE homegrown terrorists, like the Unabomber, but these aren’t the people we’re talking about just now.  Unabomber is a nut, but he’s a distinctly American nut, and definitely a lone wolf.  The so-called lone wolves of recent days–the killer in Canada, the axeman in New York, and, we should add, the Oklahama City decapitator–aren’t loners, they’re members.  They’ve been inspired by local or online jihadis.

Another thing.  These jihadis often turn out to be converts, even “recent converts.”

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Those Crazy Mullahs (Attacking Me Yet Again)

October 19th, 2014 - 3:19 pm

Once again, the Iranian regime has attacked me on the front page of the hardliners’ favorite daily newspaper, Kayhan.  By my count, this is the fourth time, including the video of the Tehran show trial in which regime opponents were asked how they communicated with me (they hadn’t) and what instructions I had given them (none).  The mullahs’ complaint is the usual one:  my ongoing denunciation of the regime and my calls for democratic revolution in Iran.

The famous American theorist in his statements to the American Frontpage Magazine said; ‘”Israel has still the capacity to support the Iranian opposition and is capable of supporting them in order to overthrow the regime in Iran.”

Yes, I said it, although the mullahs have the source wrong.  It was actually in an article by Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post and reprinted at Frontpage.

My Iranian critics continue:

In his statements, Ledeen claimed Israel should start a global propaganda assault against Iran revolving around the human rights and women rights issues and it should create create Internet based means of communication to bypass the firewalls. The famous American theorist added Israeli and United States support to the opposition would not weaken the opposition to the Islamic Republic, but would strengthen their position.

Let me say straight away that the regime leaders are entirely right about my position.  I hate them, and I wish I could do more to defeat them.  Alas, they are quite wrong about my presumed influence (I suppose I should be grateful for the repetition of “famous American theorist”) but in our free society, change is always possible, so I keep at it.

They are particularly sensitive about human rights, and of course about women, who are the great revolutionary force in the Middle East.  Maybe the latest horror story about acid attacks against Iranian women in Isfahan will force the White House to rethink its current collaboration with the Iranian regime.  Valerie Jarrett, call your office please and get on this.  At least put out an official guffaw at the regime claim that your boss and the Israelis are behind the acid attacks, ok?

What does it all mean?  It tells me that the regime is worried, that there is fear at the highest levels of Khamenei’s kitchen cabinet.  They know their people loathe them, they try to portray the loathing as a foreign manipulation, and as all fervent propagandists do, they have put a face on the alien menace.  My face, several times now.

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The Iraqi WMDs and Other Disgraces

October 17th, 2014 - 7:32 pm

We are beginning to learn that the Bush administration declined to talk about the discovery of thousands of WMDs in Iraq. But that’s only the beginning of the story, since that policy was just one part of a concerted and largely successful effort to quash unwanted news from the battlefield. That effort predated the invasion of Iraq by two years, and its consequences — a systematic distortion of recent history that shapes our national security policies — are still very much with us.

Of the Bush administration’s many failures, its inability to craft and pursue a serious Iran policy was one of the worst. I don’t know all their reasons, but I do know that they didn’t want to know about Iranian killers of Americans on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan. My information is first hand, it doesn’t hinge on leaks from “sources.”

Afghanistan came first, as we invaded shortly after 9/11/2001. In December of that year, I and two DoD officials met in Rome with a senior Iranian intelligence officer who had information — including documents — about Iranian hunter-killer teams in Afghanistan who had been ordered and trained to kill Americans. The information was passed on to the commanders of U.S. Special Forces, and it was confirmed. The killers were where the Iranian official told us, and they were quickly put out of business.

I felt good about the Rome trip; it isn’t every day that you get to participate in a project that saves American lives. The Iranian official said he would be available in the future, and he had other information of the same sort, dealing with Iranian activities outside the country. I told him I was positive that the United States government would get back to him, and we discussed ways to do that.

I was completely wrong, The U.S. government was furious, at the highest levels. Both Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet were told about the meeting by the CIA station chief in Rome, who, having no first-hand information (he didn’t talk to us), conjured a series of lies out of the ether. Although the meeting had been approved in advance by the White House (in the person of Deputy National Security Adviser Hadley, and, I am convinced, the National Security adviser, Condi Rice, herself), and although it had generated life-saving information, both Powell and Tenet demanded there be no followup, and the story of the meeting — the false version from CIA — was leaked to the press and presented as some kind of scandal.

I guess you could say that bureaucracy trumps life sometimes.

The Iranian official was killed in Tehran a few years later. I don’t know why.

Then there’s Iraq. For those of us who had children on the battlefield, the lethal use of IEDs was a nightmare. Indeed, over the course of the war, IEDs were the single greatest source of U.S. casualties, and they did terrible things to our guys, producing a ghastly loss of life and limbs. It seemed intuitively obvious that we should do something against this enemy device, and the Pentagon spent billions of dollars on technologies to detect and disable the things.

I had information that the IEDs came from the Iranians, who designed and manufactured many of them, trained their Iraqi proxies how to use them, and even dispatched Iranian troops to deploy them. I reported this to the excellent assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC), Army Colonel (ret) Thomas O’Connell, a family friend. I don’t know all the things he did, but I do know that he queried the so-called intelligence community, and did not get a satisfactory reply.

O’Connell ultimately issued an order to track the serial numbers on the IEDs we captured, and lo and behold they were in large part Iranian. We were even able to identify the factories at which the components were manufactured, and the sites, inside Iran, where many of them were assembled. QED, right?

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