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Richard Fernandez

Richard Fernandez’s portal is at Wretchard.com.

Mosul vs Ramadi

ISIS’ attack on Ramadi has apparently derailed the planned Iraqi government offensive on Mosul.  Some pundits have even suggested Ramadi’s fall proves  it was an American strategic mistake to set its sights on Mosul, implcitly suggesting that Ramadi was the correct critical point.  But rarely is the logic behind the debate explained.  Where should the emphasis have been?

Yet an examination of the respective arguments for Mosul or Ramadi brings into focus as perhaps nothing else does the respective priorities of the combatants.  If one understands why one city is regarded as more important then one also understands what the parties in Syrian civil war and the conflict in Iraq have been up to.

The best place to begin is a map.  The one below (which you can click on to expand) shows the current situation on the ground.  Dark brown marks the area controlled by ISIS.  The areas shaded green are Kurdish.  As can be readily seen, Mosul, which is at 12 o’clock on the map relative to Baghdad, represents the end-point of what can call the “northern strategy”.  Mosul, especially the Mosul dam, controls the headwaters of the great rivers and sits at the junction of the Syrian, Turkish and Iranian borders.  It is where the uplands passes descend upon the plain. Ramadi, on the other hand represents the “western strategy”.  Ramadi is the road to the Western desert and to Anbar.

The Syria/Iraq Theater

The Syria/Iraq Theater

It is easy to see why American planners would choose Mosul as the primary objective.  Taking Mosul would put Baghdad back in control of their northern borders.  It would obviate the danger that the Mosul dams would be blown,  flooding the great rivers, bringing ruin to the floodplain downstream of Baghdad.  It would open a supply route to the Kurds, secure access to the oil refineries and wells of the north.  It would provide a place where a Sunni population that did not want to live under ISIS could inhabit. Above all, it would connect Iraq along the axis of the rivers, creating the minimum territory required for Iraq to remain Iraq without being obviously partitioned. Anthony Cordesman stated this obvious point when he wrote:

the areas ISIS holds in the north are far more populated than Anbar in the southwest, and largely by Arab Sunnis that have sharply competing claims from the Iraqi Kurds. … Mosul and Ninewa, not Ramadi and Anbar, are the strategic prize that is the key to Iraqi unity, and creating some form of federalism that gives Iraq’s Sunnis status and security. …

The defeat at Ramadi should not have happened, but the war to save Iraq will be won in Mosul

Cordesman’s logic seems unassailable. Ramadi is the gateway to empty desert.  Surely Mosul is the correct objective.  But before you make up your mind forget Iraq for a moment and think about the situation without the artificiality of borders. Look at Syria and Iraq together. The area in purple-gray is the nucleus of the state ISIS wants to build. The area in violet to the south is what the government in Baghdad is trying to hold. The yellowish areas are Kurdish.


Posted at 7:55 pm on May 20th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The Road to Damnation

The Washington Post’s editorial on the unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has the quality of a man mumbling after waking from a dream — or a nightmare.  Written by the editorial board it begins by repeating a falsehood. Perhaps not a deliberate one, but a falsehood all the same.

It has been apparent for some time that the United States lacks a strategy to fulfill President Obama’s pledge to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State since it has no plan to root out the terrorists’ base in Syria. There was hope, though, that Mr. Obama’s half-measures might be enough to blunt the Islamic State’s advances in Iraq, leaving the Syria problem for the next U.S. president. With the stunning fall of Ramadi on Sunday, even that modest optimism is questionable.

This falsehood is so basic that it needs to be fixed. It should read: “President Obama began a course of action at the start of his term to leave Iraq and Syria to their fates.  He hoped the fallout of this action might be blunted until the next US president could be stuck with it.  Now, with the stunning fall of Ramadi, ISIS is presenting the president in advance with the logical consequence of his strategic decision.”

Having fixed the foundational idea, it is easy to understand the rest of the Washington Post’s editorial in the proper light:

“ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose,” Mr. Obama declared on Feb. 11, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “We’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.” …

But U.S. airstrikes late last week proved powerless to block a sophisticated Islamic State offensive to capture Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province 80 miles west of Baghdad. Once again, the Islamist terrorists are slaughtering captives and sending civilians fleeing in fear. Once again, they have seized U.S. military equipment, including about 30 vehicles the government sent into Ramadi the day before its fall. Once again, in the absence of more intensive help from the United States, the Iraqi government is turning to Shiite militia and the Iranian armed forces that support them. Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehqan, flew into Baghdad on Monday.

The Shiite militia cannot save Iraq, as its Shiite prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, well understands. Anbar is Iraq’s Sunni heartland, and many of its residents will regard the militia with as much or more fear than they feel for the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State. But Mr. Obama will not permit U.S. trainers to work with Iraqi forces on the ground or send U.S. spotters to make airstrikes more useful.

The president was never going to defeat ISIS, because that would require what he will not do. Despite the Post’s belated exhortations, America won’t come back to Iraq. If Baghdad pulls it together, it will be a minor miracle. But it doesn’t look like it. One hundred thousand refugees are reported on the road to Baghdad, fleeing the house-to-house reprisals of ISIS and running straight into the hands of waiting bloodthirsty Shi’ite militias.

Behind the tide of misery is the Islamic state, now in control of a supply route running from Syria to the Baghdad. “This is a very big threat to Baghdad. If [ISIS] controls Ramadi and Anbar, it gives them a big morale boost,” Iraqi General Najim Abed al-Jabouri told The Daily Beast. “The road between Syria and Ramadi is open, so they can always send more fighters to Ramadi.” The capital, consumed with suspicion and hatred, waits in suspense for the assault, unable to trust itself with guns, unable to unify its strategy. Jacob Siegel of the Daily Beast reports:

The Sunni force to retake Mosul has not been built yet. The force to take back Ramadi exists, but it needs weapons, ammo, and more important, Baghdad’s willingness to trust it enough not to disarm it afterward. It may also need Iran’s approval.

The Iranians are running the show now. Obama is out the game. He’s benched himself. This basic fact must be grasped if anything is to make sense. America’s forlorn tribal allies in the the western reaches are making a last plea for help, as if Michael Jordan could still re-enter the match and turn the tide with 3 pointers from way out.  But Michael’s retired now.  He’s not coming back.

A Sunni sheikh from Iraq’s besieged Anbar province is meeting with U.S. lawmakers and administration officials this week to ask the U.S. government to arm and train Sunni tribes to repel militant advances. Sheikh Abdalrazzaq Hatem al-Sulayman said in an interview that he could rally thousands of Sunnis in Anbar to fight Islamic State, or ISIS, but they lack both resources and expertise.

The collapse in the Middle East feels like Black April, 1975, the month South Vietnam fell. And it should, because just as the collapse of Saigon did not happen in Black April, but in a political American decision to allow South Vietnam to fall after a “decent interval”, so also is the ongoing collapse rooted, not in the recent tactical mistakes of the White House, but in the grand strategic decision president Obama made when he assumed office.


Posted at 4:50 am on May 19th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Fighting Entropy Part 2

The reason the press has been trying to corner interviewees into “admitting” that George Bush made erred in toppling Saddam Hussein is the need to reassure themselves that catastrophe in the Middle East isn’t really their fault.  The constant need to be told it’s not their doing is a form of denial. The more certain they are of their blunder the more they will need to tell themselves that the sounds they hear aren’t the footfalls of doom.

Because the alternative is to admit the truth and accept that to reverse the tide, 20th century Western liberalism has to die or radically reform itself. None of the people who have built political and establishment media credentials want to hear that, but all the same …

Putin is preparing anew offensive in the summer.  Aden is under siege. Syria has returned to using chemical weapons and the Christian Science Monitor’s editorial board says its time to face the fact that very soon the country will implode.  China is pushing into the South China Sea.  ISIS has routed security forces in Ramadi who are fleeing pell-mell leaving large quantities of US supplied weapons to swell the armories of the jihad, as Hugh Naylor of the Washington Post reports.

The fall of Ramadi represented a huge victory for the Islamic State and dealt a profound blow to Iraq’s U.S.-backed government, led by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi, and its military campaign to drive the extremist group out of the war-torn country. Just 24 hours before, officials in Baghdad announced that military reinforcements had been dispatched to defend the city, capital of Iraq’s largest province, against a brutal assault that began on Thursday.

But by Sunday, even the roads to Baghdad, 80 miles to the east, appeared vulnerable to the militant advance.

“Ramadi has fallen,” Muhannad Haimour, a spokesman for the Anbar governor told the Associated Press. “The city was completely taken…It was a gradual deterioration. The military is fleeing.”

The problem isn’t these things of themselves but the fact that nobody in the establishment seems to understand how to react to these and other challenges. As it is, no one knows where this retreat will end. Despite their outward bravado, American liberalism must suspect it could well finish, politically at least, in the New York Times’ newsroom.

ISIS is adapting very quickly and while liberalism is  adjusting not at all. Like the need for reassurances on Iraq, the more unsuccessful their projects become the more compelled they are to repeat them. Even now they must pretend that president Obama hasn’t given away the store to Iran in his nuclear negotiations.  But come on, they know that he has.

The last Belmont Club post asked: what can defeat ISIS? The answer is a civilization that can adapt faster than it; which can seize free energy more quickly than the current masters of the Jihad; a society that can seize the initiative and not simply be content to reactively “lead from behind”. That eliminates the Western status quo ideology, based on 1930s socialist ideology, from the running.  That’s never going to change.

Yet the only way to survive the challenges of the coming years is to change the existing political status quo.  The good news is that change is going to happen come what may.  The bad news is that the Left, because it is the most mobilized, will probably initiate it.


Posted at 8:37 pm on May 17th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Fighting Entropy

Most of us have watched movies where a mysterious threat attacks an unsuspecting community.  They may be vampires ravaging an Alaskan town or a blob-like being swallowing a town.  Typically the defenders, at first confident, are rapidly dismayed when they find that police firearms have little effect against the creatures.  With that realization the characters go from complacent to desperate in a few minutes of movie time until the hunted survivors are forced by desperation to try an outlandish theory from a crackpot who has a peculiar insight into the nature of the monsters.

Sometimes real life resembles a horror movie, as in the present instance when Westphalian states find to their surprise that the state-killing bullets in their arsenal can’t kill Islamic extremism.  Perhaps the epitome of such weapons is the precision guided missile-firing drone or its equivalent, the special forces raiding team directed by the signals intelligence wizardry of the NSA.  This targeted force is like Zeus’ thunderbolt;  it is inconceivably potent, almost unimaginably effective.  Surely such a thing can destroy what the president of the United States aims it at.

The United States has killed Saddam Hussein, Abu Mussab Al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden.  It was instrumental in the death of  Imad Mughniyah. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the current head of ISIS, is probably lying crippled in some safe house never to walk again from the effects of a March 18, 2015 airstrike.  And now a US special operations team has killed one of the next in line, the chief of ISIS’ oil smuggling business, its “chief financial officer”, a Tunisian with the nom de guerre Abu Sayyaf.

A U.S. official with direct knowledge of the intelligence and the ground operation described Sayyaf as “CFO of all of ISIS with expertise in oil and gas” who played a increasing role in operations, planning and communications.

“We now have reams of data on how ISIS operates, communicates and earns its money,” the official told CNN, referring to some of the communications elements, such as computers, seized in the raid.

Now that America has put a bullet through the body, head and wallet surely all that is left is to watch ISIS die. SECDEF Ashton Carter believes they’ve dealt it a serious blow. But others are not so sure. “Michael Weiss, author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror,” said Abu Sayyaf was largely unknown to close observers of the organization.” Killing him won’t hurt it any more than its been hurt before.

Weiss said he’s skeptical the United States would risk lives to capture the head of ISIS’s oil operations. ISIS hasn’t made significant money from captured oil fields since U.S. bombers began striking its infrastructure, he said.

A Pentagon spokesman confirmed in February that oil is no longer a main source of revenue for ISIS.

“It may be the case that he wasn’t the primary target in this operation,” Weiss said. “The U.S. might have been trying to kill or capture a higher-value ISIS leader who was thought to be at the same location. But it’d make sense to play up Abu Sayyaf’s prominence after the fact since U.S. soldiers’ lives were at risk here.”

But like the monster in the movie, it’s taken “three billion electro-volts of energy and it’s still coming on”!  Why have none of the previous heavy blows slowed ISIS or any of the affiliated rebel groups down?  Why is the jihadi organism inexplicably resistant to leadership disruptions, whether caused by drone strikes or the murderous work of rivals from other factions? How can it stand against the Olympian thunderbolt? This is an important question to answer.

It’s resistant because it is not a state.


Posted at 5:26 am on May 17th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

ISIS in Ramadi: Like the Tet 1968?

If Syria is — in the words of Al Arabiya’s Washington correspondent Nadia Bilbassy — likely to be remembered as Obama’s Rwanda, will the ISIS offensive now underway in Iraq go down as the president’s Tet?  Their attack on the city of Ramadi caught the media by surprise and the first reports coming out of the city were tinged with an alarm born of shock.

(CNN)The months-long fight for the key central Iraqi city of Ramadi now appears to be going ISIS’s way, with the Islamist extremist group capturing police headquarters, the Ramadi Great Mosque and even raising its trademark black flag over the provincial government building, sources said.

The ISIS push began Thursday, with armored bulldozers and at least 10 suicide bombings used to burst through gates and blast through walls in Ramadi, according to a security source who has since left the city. Dozens of militants followed them into the city center. …

“There will be good days and bad days in Iraq,” State Department acting deputy spokesman Jeff Rathke said. ISIS “is trying to make today a bad day in Ramadi.”

The shock was not dissipated by the assurances offered by the Obama administration. Robert Burns of the Associated Press filed a skeptical report that could have come straight out of the press coverage of Vietnam. He as much as ridiculed the administration’s explanation that the attack was a flash in the pan.

Despite major new setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. military command leading the fight against Islamic State militants insisted Friday that its strategy is working and that the militants’ takeover of a key oil refinery and a government compound are fleeting gains feeding an IS propaganda machine.

“We believe across Iraq and Syria that Daesh is losing and remains on the defensive,” said Marine Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, chief of staff for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, the name of the international campaign fighting IS. “Daesh” is the Arabic acronym for the militant group that swept into Iraq from Syria last June and swiftly took control of much of Iraq’s north and west.

Even as Weidley spoke to reporters by phone from his headquarters in Kuwait, IS militants were defying his description of them as a force on defense. Iraqi officials said IS fighters had captured the main government compound in Ramadi, the capital of battle-scarred Anbar province. Other officials said they had gained substantial control over the Beiji oil refinery, a strategically important prize in the battle for Iraq’s future and a potential source of millions of dollars in income for the militants.

The battle to push IS out of Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, which some had hoped would begin this spring, now seems a more distant goal.

Even if the administration sincerely believed ISIS was losing,  the situation was still serious enough to prompt Vice President Joe Biden to call the Iraqi prime minister to promise more weapons, especially AT-4s which can stop VBIEDs in their tracks. Still the question remains: is the sky falling or is General Weidley right when he says ISIS’ “advances were minor and unsustainable”.

The NVA gains during the Tet offensive were also minor and unsustainable from a strictly military point of view.  The offensive was a catastrophe but a PR victory for Hanoi. Giap’s forces sustained over 45,000 KIA vs 4,000 from the US-South Vietnamese side. But North Vietnam’s center of gravity wasn’t the allied armies on the ground, it was Lyndon Johnson’s will to win.  They may have lost the fight in Hue, but they won the narrative in the New York Times and CBS News.

Could ISIS be trying the same stunt? As the Institute of War points out, ISIS is attacking across the front.  They are guided by a strategic objective where  Ramadi is but a piece of the puzzle.

Posted at 3:46 am on May 16th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The TOW Missile in Syria

One of the more ambiguous symbols of the road not taken in Syria is the belated appearance of BGM-71 TOW missile in Free Syrian Army hands.  The weapons first came to the media’s attention in 2014. “Administration officials are keeping quiet about the TOW missiles. But Frederic Hof of the Atlantic Council says the appearance of American anti-tank missiles in Syria seems to represent a shift in thinking for the Obama administration. Hof was US special envoy for Syria in 2012.”

“It’s a belated acknowledgment on the part of the United States that what’s left of the nationalist armed opposition inside Syria really needs some assistance,” Hof says.

In other words, the so-called moderate opposition forces in Syria that the Obama adminstration says it supports now have their backs against the wall. And the White House might be trying to throw them a lifeline. …

Amr al-Azm is an associate professor at Shawnee State University and he’s also a member of the Syrian opposition. He agrees that the appearance of US-made anti-tank weapons in Syria signals a shift in American policy. But he doubts that the Obama administration wants to help the rebels actually topple Bashar al-Assad’s government.

“For the US, the dilemma has always been how to bring the Assad regime to serious negotiations without damaging it to the point where it collapses,” Azm says. By most accounts, the current situation is not looking good for Syria’s rebels.

“I think the US administration is essentially trying to shift things back to the stalemated position,” Azm says.

Part of the reason for the administration’s reluctance to back a side is the uncertainty over who is really working for whom. Thomas Jocelyn of the Long War Journal says the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria, claims it using the TOW missiles for itself and has released a number of videos showing them in action. The missiles are mind-bogglingly effective.


Posted at 7:23 am on May 15th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

So What? The End of the Era of Compassion

Compassion fatigue may finally be setting in.  David Cameron’s newly elected conservative government is planning to repeal the “1998 Human Rights Act [which] had the effect of extending the protections listed in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic UK law” and replacing it with all British legislation.  Everyone on the left, including the Scottish National Party, has vowed to oppose Cameron, believing — rightly — that it would drive a stake through the legal edifice the progressives have so carefully constructed.

But Cameron probably senses which way the political wind is blowing.  The strong turnout of UKIP, which polled twice as many voters as SNP, is an indicator that many voters have had it up to their necks with human rights. And it’s not just the Europeans.

Thomas Fuller of the New York Times notes that thousands of Muslim Rohiyngya refugees are sailing the Andaman Sea looking for a country to take them, but no one will. Not even, probably especially not, Muslim countries.

A wooden fishing boat carrying several hundred migrants from Myanmar was spotted adrift in the Andaman Sea on Thursday, part of an exodus in which thousands of people have taken to the sea in recent weeks but no country has been willing to take them in.

Cries of “Please help us! I have no water!” rose from the boat as a vessel carrying journalists approached. “Please give me water!” …

Their presence has created a regionwide crisis in Southeast Asia. Most were thought to be headed to Malaysia, but after more than 1,500 migrants came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past week, both countries declared their intention to turn away any more boats carrying migrants. Thai officials have not articulated an official policy since the crisis began, but Thailand is not known to have allowed any of the migrants to land there.

There’s a real possibility that the Southeast Asians are just going to let them die. Over by another narrow sea, the Mediterranean, just a stone’s throw from Europe, millions of Syrians have pretty much been given up for dead. Gas is once again being openly employed. It now appears clear that president Assad lied to Obama when he said he would surrender his chemical weapons. Such weapons and evidence of their use is becoming increasingly apparent, and international humanitarian organizations are urging Obama to draw a real “red line” this time, as Peter Baker and Eric Schmitt of the New York Times report.

If President Obama hoped that the danger of chemical warfare in the Middle East receded when Syria gave up tons of poison gas, mounting evidence that toxic weapons remain in the strife-torn country could once again force him to decide just how far he is willing to go to enforce his famous “red line.”

The discovery of traces of ricin and sarin in Syria, combined with the use of chlorine as a makeshift weapon in the country’s grinding civil war, undercut what Mr. Obama had viewed as a signal triumph of his foreign policy, the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal.

But Mr. Obama appears no more eager to use military force against Mr. Assad’s government today than he was in 2013 when he abruptly called off a threatened airstrike in exchange for a Russian-brokered agreement in which Syria voluntarily gave up its chemical weapons. Instead, the Obama administration responded to reports of violations this time by seeking renewed assistance from Russia and exploring a new United Nations Security Council resolution addressing Syria’s continued use of chemicals as weapons.

“You’re dealing with a regime that is not very credible on weapons of mass destruction programs,” said Robert Ford, the Obama administration’s former ambassador to Syria. “No one should be surprised the regime didn’t declare all of its facilities. But the bad news in all of this is the regime is using chemical weapons regularly — even if not sarin gas now, they’re using chlorine gas regularly and they are not deterred from doing so.”


Posted at 5:05 am on May 14th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The Quality of Mercy

Why is mercy less potent than cruelty?

Newsweek calls Kim Jong Un “the last Bond bad guy”, in reference to his almost cinematic villainy.   The North Korean dictator’s latest project is apparently to persecute Christians, in addition to his practice of executing high officials by anti-aircraft machine gun fire,  mortar and flamethrower.  These accounts are apparently true.  His latest stunt, which involves machine-gunning a line of hapless victims with six 14.5mm ZPU-4 AAA guns is supported  by overhead reconnaissance evidence.

Sometime on or about October 7th, 2014, some very unusual activity was noted on satellite imagery of the Kanggon small arms firing range. Instead of troops occupying the firing positions on the range there was a battery of six ZPU-4 anti-aircraft guns lined up between the firing positions and the range control/viewing gallery. The ZPU-4 is an anti-aircraft gun system consisting of four 14.5mm heavy machine guns (similar to a U.S. .50 caliber heavy machine gun) mounted on a towed wheeled chassis. It is neither safe nor practical to use such weapons on a small arms range, as the combined weight of fire from the six ZPU-4 (a total of 24 heavy machine guns) would quickly destroy the downrange backstop and necessitate reconstruction. A few meters behind the ZPU-4s there appears to be either a line of troops or equipment, while farther back are five trucks (of various sizes), one large trailer, and one bus. This suggests that senior officers or VIPs may have come to observe whatever activity was taking place. Most unusual in the image, perhaps, is what appears to be some sort of targets located only 30 meters downrange of the ZPU-4s.

The most significant element of Kim’s tableau are the viewing stands. The proceedings were meant to be watched by those it was intended to terrify. The purpose of these grotesque spectacles is simple: pour encourager les autres: to impress the audience with the power of the North Korean king and to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who should think of crossing him.

Kim isn’t the only candidate for the James Bond bad-guy sweepstakes. The New York Daily News notes that in Syria, both Assad and ISIS vie to outdo each other in cruelty by performing a series of acts each more dreadful than the last.  ”Assad’s forces “continued to perpetrate massacres” and commit rape, torture and kidnappings, while ISIS chops off body parts of total innocents in Syria.” These horrible spectacles are in their own perverse way a form of statecraft, as dueling potentates compete for the crown of the Most Terrible.

To the Most Terrible goes the allegiance of the crowd. ISIS knows this, according to some analysts,  and is therefore pursuing “strategy of social control … designed to frighten an audience into submission”. Just how well it works is demonstrated by the reluctance of Western intellectuals to say anything that might provoke or anger Islamic radicals even to the point of not drawing cartoons. While they explain their delicacy away as the consequence of high-minded enlightenment, were they more candid they would admit the real reason was fear.  The more frightful ISIS is, the more “tolerant” Western intellectuals become.


Posted at 5:22 am on May 13th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

Business As Usual

Perhaps Samuel Huntington’s most famous assertion comes his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations in which he argues that “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards.” The Western world is likely to remember the “borders” yet apt to forget the “innards”.  Yet it is the innards which is generating the greatest misery.  The quarrels of Islam are spewing out broken people at a near historic rate. There are more refugees in the world today than at any time since the Second World War: fifty million, according to the UNHCR.  Most of them are Muslims.

Though the great bulk of displaced persons come from the Middle East, Central Africa, South Asia and West Africa  the convulsions are now general. Apart from the boat people crossing the Mediterranean sea, thousands of Rohingaya and Bangladeshi Muslims have been cast out on the high seas, expelled by Burmese and Thais who have long fought and feared them — the “most unwanted refugees on earth”.

The flame consuming the Islamic world is burning so hot that it has reduced the dreams of young men to ash.  The Daily Beast notes that the horrible reality of war has disillusioned many a young Muslim who thought it was all fun and glamor. “There used to be each week 100 to 200 foreign [Western] recruits arriving in Raqqa; now there are five or six every week. The foreigners inside are communicating to their friends back home not to come and they’re explaining the reality of what life is really like inside.”

You would think they would stop, but that’s unlikely. Odds are the fire will just find fresh fuel. Daniel Byman of the Brookings Institution argues that a deadly fuse has been lit within the innards of the Islamic and in Western countries as 20,000 unemployed terrorists return to their domiciles at loose ends.

Exact figures are elusive, but in February 2015, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center testified that over 20,000 foreign fighters from at least 90 countries had gone to Iraq and Syria. Only 3,400 from the United States and Western Europe—the rest came from Muslim countries, particularly those in the Arab world. Few countries are spared: longstanding jihadist hotbed Saudi Arabia is again a reliable supplier of fighters, but so too are countries far from Syria and Iraq like Tunisia, Libya, and Morocco.

But what happens when these fighters return home?

Foreign fighters who gain combat experience in Iraq and Syria pose a double danger. Many of those who go to war will come back as hardened veterans, steady in the face of danger and skilled in the use of weapons and explosives—ideal terrorist recruiting material. More important, their worldview may change. While in the conflict zone, they will form networks with other radicals, embrace techniques like suicide bombings and beheadings, and establish ties to jihadists around the world, making them prone to further radicalization and giving them access to training and weapons they might otherwise lack.

Byman suggests moderating the threat with reintegration programs, but it may do too little to stop a chain reaction.  Once chaos gets going, it acquires a momentum of its own. The Washington Post reports that grade school children in Yemen are going straight from the classroom into the the Jihadi recruitment pipeline. The parents are helpless before the tides of history, but at least they recognize them.


Posted at 7:05 am on May 12th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez

The Fool On The Hill

America, the country Madeleine Albright once called the “indispensable nation”,  is suddenly nakedly and humiliatingly dispensable.  Two of the most important Gulf rulers have decided not to attend the summit on Iran president Obama scheduled in Washington.  It’s a vital meeting on which the president has staked the future of his so-called historic initiatives.  But “the only two monarchs from the six countries confirmed to attend the summit at the White House and the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., were the emirs of Qatar and Kuwait.”

Saudi Arabia’s monarch pulled out of a summit to be hosted by President Barack Obama on Thursday, in a blow to the White House’s efforts to build Arab support for a nuclear accord with Iran.

King Salman’s decision appeared to ripple across the Persian Gulf. Bahrain said on Sunday that its ruler, King Hamad bin Isaa Al Khalifa, had opted not to travel to Washington….

At stake for the White House is Mr. Obama’s key foreign-policy initiative, an Iran pact that is proceeding toward a June 30 deadline without support from regional powers. King Salman’s decision signals that the Arab states aren’t on board and could continue to act on their own to thwart Tehran, as Saudi Arabia has done in leading a military coalition against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

It’s diplomatic cream pie in the face. The signals being sent from the region are scathing and dismissive. The New York Times quotes Jon Alterman, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as saying “for the White House though, it sends an unmistakable signal when a close partner essentially says he has better things to do than go to Camp David with the president, just a few days after the White House announced he’d have a private meeting before everything got underway.”

The king is the latest top Arab official who will not be attending the summit meeting for delegations from members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The United Arab Emirates is also sending its crown prince to the meetings, the officials said. The Emirati president, Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan, was never expected to attend because of health reasons, American and Arab officials said. Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman also will not be attending because of health reasons, officials said.

In case the president didn’t get the message the Wall Street Journal quotes a “senior Arab official” who says “there isn’t substance for the summit”, a diplomatic way of saying that Obama’s historic pow-wow is Mickey al-Mouse. Obama had planned to offer the Arabs a package of assurances, but evidently they do not even think it worth their while to listen.


Posted at 9:12 pm on May 10th, 2015 by Richard Fernandez