The Jerusalem Post reports:
In a historic verdict, an 11 member jury on Monday found Arab Bank liable for knowingly providing financial services to Hamas – the first time a financial institution has ever been held civilly liable for supporting terrorism.
The Arab Bank trial took place in a federal court in Brooklyn for the last five weeks and revisited some of Hamas’ worst terror attacks, including the August 2001 Sbarro suicide bombing in Jerusalem killing or wounding 130 and a range of 24 horrid terror attacks during the Second Intifada.
The verdict was 10 years in the making, and still may be subject to Supreme Court review.
The central question was whether the 11 member jury would find that Arab Bank knew or should have known that its account holders were using it to transfer “blood money” to Hamas for terror operations – or whether it checked for suspicious transactions as best it could, and simply imperfectly missed them.
On Thursday, during closing arguments, Plaintiffs’ attorney C. Tab Turner told the jury they were in a very special situation: “a situation that no jury in the history of this country has ever been in.”
He continued, “Never has anyone sat on a case of finance terrorism, with issues like you have to decide in this case.”
“You have more power today to change the way that this world operates, the world of banking operates, than anyone else on the face of the earth,” said Turner.
Gary M. Osen, another plaintiffs’ attorney responded, saying, “The jury has found Arab Bank responsible for knowingly supporting terrorism. It found Arab Bank complicit in the deaths and grievous injuries inflicted on dozens of Americans.”
According to an unclassified U.S. State Department memorandum released after the jury began deliberations, “In 2003, the United States provided evidence to Saudi authorities that the Saudi al Quds Intifadah Committee (“Committee”) founded in October 2000, was forwarding millions of dollars in funds to the families of Palestinians engaged in terrorist activities, including those of suicide bombers.”
“The timing of the State Department’s disclosure raises deeply troubling questions,” said Plaintiffs’ trial counsel Michael Elsner, who requested the records. “Obviously, the jury reached the same conclusion about the Saudi payments in finding Arab Bank guilty for its support of Hamas, but this last minute disclosure of this evidence six years after we requested it and hours after the jury began its deliberations is telling.”
“We don’t expect the State Department to take sides in a civil case, but by withholding critical evidence until the jury began its deliberations, the State Department continues its unfortunate pattern of siding with foreign interests against American victims of terrorism,” said Elsner.
Forces of the Islamic State in Syria have mounted a huge offensive with columns of heavy armor sweeping through the Kurdish region of northern Syria near the Turkish border.
Their goal is apparently capturing the strategic border town of Ayn al-Arab, and more than 60 towns and villages in the region have fallen to ISIS forces in the past few days.
This has unleashed a nearly unprecedented wave of refugees streaming into Turkey. More than 60,00 women, children, and old people crossed the border into Turkey in the 24-hour period from Friday to Saturday, overwhelming aid resources.
Kurdish forces in the region are falling back while others are making their way to the front from Turkey to join their comrades.
Since Thursday, Islamic State rebels, backed by tanks and other heavy armor, have seized control of more than 60 villages near the regional capital of Ayn al-Arab, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. The extremist insurgents, also known as ISIS or ISIL have also forced the evacuation of about 100 other villages, Kurdish field commanders and Turkish officials said.
Turkish television on Sunday continued to broadcast footage of thousands of Kurds, many on foot, crossing the border into Turkey to escape Islamic State. The U.N. refugee agency said most of the refugees were Kurdish women, children and the elderly. Hundreds of Kurdish fighters and volunteers were traveling in the other direction to Syria to shore up their brethren’s defenses, Turkish media reported.
Kurdish militia in Syria, under the banner of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units, or YPG, said dozens of Kurds had been killed in fighting to defend Ayn al-Arab, called Kobani in Kurdish. They said the jihadists had advanced to within 9 kilometers of Kobani and appealed for international intervention to help their outgunned forces.
The call was joined by one from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a rebel group closely affiliated with the YPG, for the youth of Turkey’s mostly Kurdish southeast to rise up and rush to save Kobani. The PKK, listed as a terror organization by Washington and Turkey, has spent three decades fighting for autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds.
“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said on its website. “ISIL fascism must drown in the blood it spills…The youth of north Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) must flow in waves to Kobani.”
Islamic State’s progress toward the Turkish border again showed the group’s military strength. It seized Kurdish territory in Syria even as French warplanes launched their first attacks Friday against the group’s positions hundreds of miles away in northeastern Iraq.
The move on Ayn al-Arab follows the seizure by Islamic State insurgents this past week of a strategic bridge over the Euphrates River. The capture enabled the rebels to march on the city from the west and rain down artillery shells on the city’s streets, said Khaled Issa, a representative of the Syrian Kurdish administration in Paris.
The timing is almost too coincidental, as I’ll explore after the page break.
It’s fair to say that Rep. Emanuel Cleaver is a critic of President Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels to fight ISIS. He voted against the plan, and then he appeared on MSNBC to trash the plan.
Cleaver called the congressional vote authorizing arming the rebels a vote “to arm semi-bad buys to kill some barbarically-bad buys to teach all the world that bad guys should not kill.” Cleaver pointed out that we don’t even know who many of the rebels are or why they’re fighting.
Having said that, Cleaver says he has no plans to spend the next month “bashing” Obama because the president “had no good options.”
Plus, the president is a Democrat and there is an election on.
Cleaver didn’t say that last part. It was implied.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) offered some common sense during the debate over whether the US should arm and train the so-called moderate rebels in Syria.
Gohmert notes that despite more than a decade of working alongside the US, Afghanistan jihadists keep killing Americans. They just killed four more.
Are we smart enough to separate moderates from radicals in the Syrian rebel groups, supposing that there even are any moderates?
The 22 senators who voted against arming Syrian rebels in the continuing resolution came from each party and had different reasons for their objections.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who may be contemplating a run for the White House, told MSNBC he voted “no” because “I do not want to see this become a war between east and west, a war between Christianity and Islam, a war between the United States and ISIS.”
“The bottom line is, we will not be successful until the countries of the Middle East themselves become engaged and are prepared to take on this terrible organization called ISIS,” the senator argued.
Sanders brought up the wealth of those nations as one reason why they should pick up the fight.
“Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest military budget in the world. They spend more than the United Kingdom and France. If we talk about ISIS being a threat, they are most definitively a threat to the countries around Saudi Arabia and around Egypt. Those are the guys who are really threatened. Where are they? Where is Kuwait? Where are — where is Turkey?” he said.
“So, I do not want to see this be a war between the United States and ISIS. These guys have got to the commit both militarily and financially. Last point on this issue. It turns out, of course, that the Saudi family is worth hundreds of billions of dollars, one of the wealthiest families in the world,” Sanders continued. “You tell me why taxpayers in the state of Vermont who cannot afford to send their kids to college are in a sense subsidizing the efforts of one of the wealthiest families on earth. Does not make a lot of sense to me.”
Sanders said he supports President Obama in the overall strategy to conduct airstrikes against ISIS and forge an international coalition, “but we are not yet there.”
“I hear many of my colleagues, especially the Republicans, criticize the president because ‘he did not have a strategy for ISIS,’” the senator said. “Well, I remember a President and a vice President Bush and Cheney, they had a strategy. They were forceful. They were bold. They took action. And, they committed the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of the United States. The result of which we are trying to deal with today.”
“Let me tell you what the nightmare is. The nightmare is that a U.S. fighter plane gets shot down or some American soldiers are taken captive. The war hysteria rises in this country. Our troops get sent into battle. You are already seeing Republicans are talking about boots on the ground.”
President Obama has wanted to arm Syria’s rebel groups all along. Now, thanks to the ISIS threat, he has his wish.
Do we even know who many of the Syrian rebels are, and what their long-term goals are? Not really. But Congress has voted to arm them anyway.
WASHINGTON — Legislation requested by President Barack Obama authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State militants in the Middle East is headed for his signature after a sweeping Senate vote.
The bipartisan 78-22 tally Thursday blended support from Obama’s close Democratic allies and some of his fiercest GOP critics, including top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. It put leading contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination on opposite sides. Some of Obama’s liberal allies defected.
Best-case, it will take five or six months to get them trained. During those five or six months, our border will remain as open as it is right now.
Best-case, the Syrian rebels help drive ISIS out of Syria. But given how many of them are allied with ISIS, as Patrick Poole has reported here, the best case isn’t the way to bet.
The Free Syrian Army has been working with ISIS.
The Syrian Revolutionaries Front has been working with ISIS.
Just one more reminder — Sen. John McCain quickly hired Syrian rebel apologist Elizabeth O’Bagy after she was busted for faking her credentials. McCain has been the leading GOP voice for arming the Syrian rebels. The Syrian Emergency Task Force that O’Bagy worked with up to a year ago had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots.
Both John Kerry and John McCain failed to vet her and the SETF before using them as experts. What are the odds that the two Johns’ vetting of rebel groups in Syria is any better?
So, best-case scenario, the Syrian rebels defeat ISIS. Then what? These rebels will now be armies in the field equipped and trained by the US military, and they will be armed with US weapons. They won’t be a state security force like the useless Iraqi military. They won’t be a cohesive pro-American force like the Kurds.
I hope Congress included a very generous buy-back program in its legislation authorizing arming them.
Those weapons will stay in the field after ISIS is beaten, even in the best case scenario. And then what?
Voters still show a negative view toward both parties, but favorable ratings for Republicans have rebounded since the low in October, 2013 following the government shut down.
Gallup reports nearly identical favorable numbers for both parties; 40/57 favorable/unfavorable for Republicans and 42/54 for Democrats.
There are encouraging and discouraging signs for both parties in the latest poll, conducted Sept. 4-7, just two months before the important midterm elections.
Americans have typically rated the Democratic Party more positively than the Republican Party since the question was first asked in 1992, so the current parity between the two is a positive sign for the GOP and a negative one for the Democratic Party. Indeed, current opinions of the Democratic Party are among the worst Gallup has measured in the past 20 years. The only time Gallup measured a lower favorable rating for the Democrats was 41% in late March 2010, just after Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law.
At the same time, Democrats can take some solace in the fact that Americans are not rating the GOP any more positively than they rate the Democratic Party, even at a time when Americans believe the Republican Party is better than the Democratic Party both at keeping the U.S. prosperous and at keeping the U.S. secure from international threats.
The situation is similar to what occurred in 2010. Even as Republicans were making large gains in federal and state offices nationwide, Americans did not view the GOP any more positively than the Democratic Party. As such, the Republicans may have merely benefited from public frustration with Obama and the Democrats in 2010, rather than having been truly embraced by Americans. Thus, if Republicans do well on Election Day this year it does not necessarily equate to a voter mandate for the party and its policies.
All Partisan Groups More Positive toward GOP
The gains, or perhaps recovery, in the GOP’s image over the past year are evident among Democrats, independents, and Republicans. Notably, Republicans’ favorable views of their own party are still not back to pre-shutdown levels.
As would be expected given the stability in overall views of the Democratic Party, the ratings of it by respondents’ political identity are also generally steady over the past 12 months. However, Democrats and independents are less positive toward the Democratic Party than they were in late 2012, after Obama’s re-election.
That “public frustration” of voters in 2010 with Democrats may have turned into something even more dangerous for Democratic prospects in November; fear. The threats we face around the world are causing a lot of concern among voters and given the Republican edge in which party can keep America safer, that may play a significant role when voters make up their mind.
Peter Beinart of the Atlantic writes of the return of the “security moms” and how that favors the GOP:
In August, white women favored a Democratic Congress by four points. Now they favor a Republican Congress by eight.
As in 2002, Democrats are responding by becoming more hawkish. In October 2002, most Democrats in competitive Senate races voted to authorize the Iraq War. Last week, Obama announced a multi-year air campaign against ISIS.
But it doesn’t work. Almost all the imperiled Democrats in 2002 lost anyway. And there’s no evidence that Obama’s new hawkishness is helping him politically either. One reason is that although women are more worried about terrorism than men, they’re actually less supportive of responding with military action. In 2002, women were somewhat more skeptical of invading Iraq. Today, they’re more wary of going after ISIS.
Fundamentally, the Democrats’ terrorism problem with women—especially married white women—isn’t about policy. It’s about trust. In 2002, at a time of heightened anxiety, women trusted a Republican president to keep them safe. In 2014, with that anxiety heightened again, they don’t trust a Democratic president to do the same.
Rather than wondering if “foreign policy” will play a larger role in the campaign, perhaps it’s more accurate to talk about “security” as a general issue where Republicans appear to have the advantage.
In as many close Senate races as we are likely to have, the security issue may be a difference maker in at least some of them.
In the question of what the group that calls itself the Islamic State should be called, France has decided to officially use “Daesh” — an insulting Arabic acronym used by Kurds and others in the region.
Secretary of State John Kerry has his own moniker for the terrorists that the administration formally refers to as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).
“What would you call — I call them ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) asked Kerry today at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the administration’s strategy.
“What would you tell the American people? OK, we are doing this support. We are at war. We are a counter-terrorism operation. Whatever you want to call it,” Poe said, referring to Kerry’s insistence on “war” terminology not being important. “Who is the enemy? Define the enemy for me. What would you call them?”
“Well, I call them the enemy of Islam, because that’s what I think they are, and they certainly don’t represent a state, even though they try to claim to,” Kerry replied.
“So, officially, we should refer to them as the enemy of Islam?” Poe asked.
“Well, I do,” said Kerry. “I don’t know if there’s an official whatever. But I hope you join me in doing that, because that’s what I think they are, and [they] don’t they deserve to have a reference in their name that gives them legitimacy.”
“Are they the enemy of the United States?” Poe continued.
“They are an enemy of humanity,” Kerry responded. “…Definitively, it is in the national security interest of our country, with Americans over there with passports learning how to fight and taking part in this.”
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said he thought “many” people were “shocked” when Obama “emphasized that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was in fact not Islamic.”
“They now simply refer to themselves as the Islamic State. You know, they don’t call themselves the Methodist State or the Episcopalian State or the Baptist State. They’re the Islamic State, and I think for good reason,” Chabot said.
“You know, when Christians, for example, are told to convert to Islam or die, that would seem to fly in the face of the president’s insistence that the Islamic State is not the Islamic State. And an indication that he may not fully accept that radical Islam is indeed something that does exist and in fact is growing.”
Kerry said the U.S. “shouldn’t compound the sin by allowing them to get away with” calling themselves the Islamic State.
“Now religious leaders, Islamic leaders are reclaiming legitimate Islam. And they’re separating it, too. So I wouldn’t compound the crime by calling them a state whatsoever. They’re the enemy of Islam. That’s what they are,” Kerry said. “And as the 21 clerics yesterday said in Saudi Arabia, they are in fact the Order of Satan. And there’s nothing in Islam that condones or suggests people should go out and rape women and sell off young girls or give them as gifts to jihadists, and you know, cut people’s heads off and tie people’s hands behind their backs, and put them on their knees and shoot them in the head.”
“These are war crimes. And they’re crimes against humanity. And we need to make clear that that is exactly what is the reality here.”
“It’s clear to me that their motivation is their religious fervor, this fanaticism, however misguided it is,” Chabot interjected. “I mean, that’s their motivation here.”
“Well, I don’t know. They use that,” Kerry replied. “I don’t know if that is in truth — it’s part of it. The caliphate is certainly on the minds of many. But I think a lot of them are thugs and criminals and people who simply want to go out and maraud and take part in the success of — vanquish and be opposed to modernity and a whole bunch of other things.”
While many have rightfully criticized U.S. President Obama’s recent assertion that the Islamic State “is not Islamic,” some of his other equally curious but more subtle comments pronounced in the same speech have been largely ignored.
Consider the president’s invocation of the “grievances” meme to explain the Islamic State’s success: “At this moment the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the Islamic State.”
Obama’s logic, of course, is fortified by an entire apparatus of professional apologists who make the same claim. Thus Georgetown professor John Esposito — whose apologetics sometimes morph into boldfaced lies — also recently declared that “The “primary drivers [for the Islamic State’s violence] are to be found elsewhere,” that is, not in Islam but in a “long list of grievances.”
In other words and once again, it’s apparently somehow “our fault” that Islamic State Muslims are behaving savagely— crucifying, beheading, enslaving, and massacring people only on the basis that they are “infidels”: thus when IS herds and slaughters “infidel” and/or Shia men (citing the example of the prophet)—that’s because they’re angry at something America did; when IS captures “infidel” Yazidi and Christian women and children, and sells them on the sex-slave market (citing Islamic teachings) — that’s because they’re angry at something America did; when IS bombs churches, breaks their crosses, and tells Christians to convert or die (citing Islamic scriptures) — that’s because they’re angry at something America did.
Although the “grievance” meme has always flown in the face of logic, it became especially popular after the 9/11 al-Qaeda strikes on America. The mainstream media, following the Islamist propaganda network Al Jazeera’s lead, uncritically picked up and disseminated Osama bin Laden’s videotapes to the West where he claimed that al-Qaeda’s terror campaign was motivated by grievances against the West — grievances that ranged from U.S. support for Israel to U.S. failure to sign the Kyoto Agreement concerning climate change.
Of course, that was all rubbish, and I have written more times than I care to remember about how in their internal Arabic-language communiques to fellow Muslims that never get translated to English, al-Qaeda and virtually every Islamist organization make it a point to insist that jihad is an Islamic obligation that has nothing to do with grievances.
Consider Osama’s own words in an internal letter to fellow Saudis:
Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue — one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice — and it is: Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually?
Yes. There are only three choices in Islam:  either willing submission [conversion];  or payment of the jizya, through physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam;  or the sword — for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. (The Al Qaeda Reader, p. 42)
Conversion, submission, or the sword is, of course, the mission of the Islamic State — not alleviating “grievances.”
Worst of all, unlike al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, from day one of its existence, has made it very clear — in Osama’s words, “with power and determination, with one voice” — that its massacres, enslavements, crucifixions, and beheadings of “infidels” are all based on Islamic law or Sharia — not silly “grievances” against the West… Keep reading
Addressing a joint session of Congress this morning, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he’s willing to negotiate to bring peace to his country but draws the line at anything that compromises Ukraine’s sovereignty.
“Over the last months, Ukrainian have shown that they have courage to stand up to the most powerful enemy. We will never obey or bend to the aggressor,” Poroshenko said. ”We are ready to fight, but we are people of peace, and we extend the hand of peace to Russia and the Russian-inspired separatists.”
“I am ready to do my utmost to avoid the further escalation and casualties, even at this point when the war has already started feeding on itself. Sooner or later, I’m absolutely sure peace will return to the Ukrainian homes.”
Despite “the insanity of this war,” he said, “I am convinced that peace can be achieved sooner rather than later, and I’m ready to offer the separatists more rights than any part of Ukraine had ever had in the history of nation.”
“And I’m ready to discuss anything except one thing: Ukrainian independence, Ukrainian territorial integrity, Ukrainian sovereignty,” Poroshenko stressed, garnering applause from the U.S. lawmakers. “And I am confident if this war is about the rights and not about the geopolitical ambition, the solution must and I am sure, will be found.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, in 1991, independence came to Ukraine at a very low cost and peacefully. Yet the more real this independence become, the higher grew its cost. Today, the cost is as high as it gets.”
The president said Russia’s invasion has taught his country to “learn the value of independence and to recognize the true friends.”
His country needs “to root out the seeds that drain Ukraine’s potential,” Poroshenko said, including those problems “largely inherited from the era of Soviet Union — decay, corruption, bureaucracy and the self-preserving cynicism of political elites.”
He asked Congress ”to create a special fund to support investment of American companies in Ukraine and to help us with the reforming of our economy and our justice system,” a request met with applause. “And I assure you that all aid received from the west will be utilized by non-corrupt institution and that the new generation of official will make sure that the funds are distributed effectively.”
“By supporting Ukraine, you support new future of Europe and the entire free world. By supporting Ukraine, you support a nation that has chosen freedom in the most cynical of the times. In Ukraine, you don’t build a democracy. It’s already exist. You just defend it.”
Poroshenko reference New Hampshire’s motto: “Live free or die.”
“Live free or die was the spirit of the revolutionary on the Maidan during the dramatic winter months of 2014 with a significant presence of the member of United States Congress,” he said. “And we thank you for that.”
“Live free or die are words of Ukrainian soldiers standing on line of freedom on this war. Live free must be the answer with which Ukraine comes out of this war. Live free must be the message Ukraine and America send to the world while standing together in this time of enormous challenge.”
MarketWatch reports today that President Barack Obama will exert tight personal control over U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria.
The U.S. military campaign against Islamist militants in Syria is being designed to allow President Barack Obama to exert a high degree of personal control, going so far as to require that the military obtain presidential sign-off for strikes in Syrian territory, officials said.
The requirements for strikes in Syria against the extremist group Islamic State will be far more stringent than those targeting it in Iraq, at least at first. U.S. officials say it’s an attempt to limit the threat the U.S. could be dragged more deeply into the Syrian civil war.
So far, Obama has handled the ISIS threat as primarily a political, not a national security, matter. He only spoke to the American people to reveal his strategy to deal with the group once the beheadings of two Americans enraged the public. Obama himself merely offered a brief statement after the beheading of James Foley, and then went straight out to play golf.
Thus far, Obama is publicly limiting the U.S. military role against ISIS to air power and “advisers” on the ground. Those “advisers” will assist the Kurdish peshmerga, the Iraqi military, and even Syrian rebels. Those American “advisers” are said to have no combat role. But the number of those advisers has already grown, from a few dozen early on to nearly 3,000.
Yet the war against the Islamic State shows no sign of progress. Overnight, ISIS captured 16 villages in Syria.
Ever since the 1970s, every time U.S. forces have engaged in any overseas conflict on the ground, Democrats and the media have warned that America could be entering “another Vietnam.” When President George H. W. Bush ordered U.S. troops into Panama to capture dictator Manuel Noriega, some Democrats warned of “another Vietnam.” At the beginning of the 1990-91 Gulf War and at the outset of the 2003 Iraq war, many Democrats warned that America was blundering into “another Vietnam.”
But none of those wars ended up resembling Vietnam. Panama and the first Gulf War featured overwhelming U.S. force that won those wars quickly, with very few U.S. casualties. The 2003 Iraq war versus Saddam Hussein’s military was actually over quickly too, but Islamist insurgencies (some of which were backed by Iran) dragged out the military action and the country’s recovery. By 2009, Iraq was relatively stable and quiescent. More than 3,000 American troops died in the second Iraq war, but that number is dwarfed by the 59,000 killed in Vietnam.
Obama inherited that stable Iraq, and withdrew U.S. forces too quickly. The Islamic State has arisen out of the Syrian civil war and the vacuum of power that Obama left in Iraq.
Now Obama is slow rolling America’s entry into the war versus the Islamic State. His strategy of limiting U.S. forces’ role to “advisers” mirrors how U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Lyndon Baines Johnson slowly increased America’s military role in Vietnam, especially following the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Within two years of that defeat, a small number of American military “advisers” were on the ground in Vietnam training the South Vietnam military. In 1962, there were 12,000 American troops in Vietnam, officially in non-combat roles. Two years later, there were 15,000 American troops in Vietnam.
In 1965 Johnson authorized Operation Rolling Thunder, a massive bombing campaign against the north. That same year, Johnson’s advisers determined that bombing alone would not be enough to win the war. Operation Rolling Thunder, though, was never intended to achieve victory. Its aim was to disrupt supply lines from the north into the south, by North Vietnam to the Vietcong guerillas. Operation Rolling Thunder slow rolled across two years, to including bombing more strategic targets in North Vietnam.
Operation Rolling Thunder was closely controlled by the White House and at times targets were personally selected by President Johnson. From 1965 to 1968, about 643,000 tons of bombs were dropped on North Vietnam. A total of nearly 900 U.S. aircraft were lost during Operation Rolling Thunder. The operation continued, with occasional suspensions, until President Johnson, under increasing domestic political pressure, halted it on October 31, 1968.
President Johnson escalated the U.S. role in Vietnam once it became clear that the advisory role plus U.S. air power would never defeat Ho Chi Minh’s communist forces. By the end of 1965, Johnson had sent 184,000 troops into Vietnam, and the “advisory” role was changed to combat.
The slow-rolled war dragged on until U.S. withdrawal in 1973, and the final defeat of South Vietnam in 1975. The victorious communists hunted down, imprisoned, tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands in South Vietnam, sparking a refugee exodus in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
During the Vietnam air war, President Johnson even personally selected bombing targets. President Obama, according to the MarketWatch report, is set to repeat that in selecting targets in Syria.
There are many obvious differences between Vietnam and the fight against the Islamic State, with Islam being the most obvious. The differences in the terrain — jungles in Asia, desert in the Middle East — is another.
But the similarities even at this stage of the ISIS fight are haunting, as we’ll explore on the next page.
During Wednesday’s House Select Committee on Benghazi testimony, one witness dropped a major revelation.
The bombshell came during discussion of just what the facility in Benghazi, Libya actually was. Was it a consulate? Was it something else? Its actual status has never been clear.
Former Homeland Security official Todd Keil told the panel that the the State Department classified it as a “Special Mission Compound.”
Under questioning from Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Keil revealed something startling about “Special Mission Compounds.”
Namely, that according to the State Department and government security nomenclature, there is no such thing as a “Special Mission Compound.”
Rep. Roskam asked Keil, “What’s a Special Mission Compound?”
Keep in mind, Mr. Keil has a career spanning 27 years in global security, and 22 years serving in various positions in State Department diplomatic security.
Keil replied to Rep. Roskam, “I don’t know. To be honest, from our review, Under Secretary Kennedy, in authorizing that, made up that term in order to avoid the OSPB security standards.”
Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy is a career State Department official. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security answers to him. The OSPB is the Overseas Security Policy Board. It is charged with helping the State Department comply with a 1986 law.
Kennedy was among the high-level State Department officials who signed off on creating the facility in Benghazi, and who repeatedly denied requests for more security there. In 2013, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom testified before the House that the Benghazi facility never met the department’s security standards. Keil’s revelation explains that: Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy made up a new term to avoid having to meet security standards. The question is, why?
Kennedy answered directly to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He also supervised the selection of the staff for the Accountability Review Board, which Clinton convened in the aftermath of the September 11, 2012 attack. The ARB never interviewed Clinton, and kept its focus below Kennedy’s level.
Another State Department official, former Deputy Assistant Secretary Raymond Maxwell, has alleged that prior to the ARB’s investigation, Hillary Clinton loyalist Cheryl Mills led a basement team in scrubbing documents to remove anything that could implicate or embarrass Clinton and other high-level officials.
Four Americans, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, died in the terrorist attack on the facility in Benghazi on September 11, 2012.
ISIS released this morning what it said would be the first in a video “series” featuring another British hostage — not being executed, but delivering a case against the “Western media” portrayal of the Islamic State and the U.S.-British refusal to pay ransom.
Titled Lend Me Your Ears, the first video reveals veteran photojournalist John Cantlie, who has worked for the The Sunday Times, The Sun the Telegraph and more. He was first captured in Syria in July 2012, was shot trying to escape (“every Englishman’s duty,” he later wrote), and was rescued within a week by the Free Syrian Army.
Cantlie extensively talked about his experience after that, detailing between 10 to 15 British captors among the al-Qaeda-linked cell and threats that he would be beheaded, including “mock executions” where captors would torture prisoners and sharpen their knives.
In today’s video, Cantlie sits at a desk in an orange jumpsuit, and says he was abducted in November 2012.
Previous videos of ISIS have include hostages delivering statements criticizing their countries before they were beheaded, but have given indications that the statements were coerced. For example, Miami journalist Steve Sotloff spoke of “what little I know about foreign policy” in his video — but he wrote for Foreign Policy magazine, among others, and deeply covered the Arab Spring countries.
ISIS appears to have heard the skepticism and makes Cantlie address it directly.
Cantlie notes in the video that “many things have changed” since his kidnapping, including the “expansion of the Islamic State… a land mass bigger than Britain and many other nations.”
“Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, he’s only doing this because he’s a prisoner. He’s got a gun at his head, and he’s being forced to do this, right?” Cantlie says, making a gun-firing gesture toward his head with his fingers.
“Well, it’s true. I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as how I’ve been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of the Islamic State I have nothing to lose. Maybe I will live, and maybe I will die.”
He says that “over the next few programs” he will lay out facts that can “save lives.”
He then makes a pitch against “another conflict” in Iraq and says he’ll show how the news organizations he used to work for “twist and manipulate the truth.”
Cantlie also said he’d detail what really happened when “many European prisoners” were released by ISIS “and how they British and American governments thought they could do it differently than every other European country” — a clear reference to the hefty ransoms paid by other nations. “They negotiated with the Islamic State and got their people home, while the British and the Americans were left behind.”
“It’s very alarming to see where this is all headed,” Cantlie adds, “and it looks like history repeating itself yet again.”
“There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you, the public, act now.”
Upon returning from Vietnam, Secretary of State John Kerry testified before Congress about the war and chucked his medal at the U.S. Capitol the next day.
Today, Kerry told antiwar protesters they should be against ISIS in part because of the lack of social services they offer to women.
Kerry began his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backdropped by Code Pink protesters seated in the gallery rows. They held signs including “There is no military solution” and “No beheading. No bombing.”
“You know, as I came in here, obviously, we had some folks who spoke out and I would start by saying that I understand dissent. I’ve lived it. That’s how I first testified in front of this country in 1971. And I spent two years protesting a policy,” Kerry said. “So I respect the right of Code Pink to protest and to use that right. But you know what, I also know something about Code Pink.”
“Code Pink was started by a woman and women who were opposed to war, but who also thought that the government’s job was to take care of people and to give them health care and education and good jobs,” he continued.
“And if that’s what you believe in — and I believe it is — then you ought to care about fighting ISIL because ISIL is killing and raping and mutilating women. And they believe women shouldn’t have an education.”
Kerry noted that the Islamic State sells off girls “to be sex slaves to jihadists.”
“There’s no negotiation with ISIL, there’s nothing to negotiate. And they’re not offering anyone healthcare of any kind. You know, they’re not offering education of any kind,” he said. “For a whole philosophy or idea or a cult, whatever you want to call it, that frankly comes out of the Stone Age, they’re cold-blooded killers, marauding across the Middle East, making a mockery of a peaceful religion.”
“And that’s precisely why we are building a coalition to stop them from denying the women and the girls and the people of Iraq the very future that they yearned for. And frankly, Code Pink and a lot of other people need to stop and think about how you stop them and deal with that.”
At this point a protester began chanting, “The war invasion will not protect the homeland!” She was led from the room by security.
“There’s no invasion. The invasion was ISIL into Iraq,” Kerry retorted. “The invasion is foreign fighters into Syria. That’s the invasion. And it is destructive to every possibility of building a state in that region. So even in a region that is virtually defined by division and every member of this committee understands the degree to which these divisions are deep in that region.”
A week ago today, President Obama touted Yemen and Somalia as examples of successful counterterrorism. He made the claim en route to offering his strategy for dealing with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
US national security officials tell a different story about those two countries, according to The Hill. They are not successes.
“Al Qaeda’s official branches in Yemen and Somalia continue to remain extremely active,” National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen told lawmakers during a hearing.
Olsen said in prepared remarks that the Yemen-based group was the Al Qaeda affiliate “most likely to attempt transnational attacks” against the United States, according to Reuters.
“Of course, over the past five years Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has sought on three times to take down an airplane bound for the United States,” he said at the hearing.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson echoed Olsen’s remarks, warning that while ISIS was the “most prominent terrorist organization,” his Department has to stay focus on a range of terrorist threats.
“From my homeland security perspective we have to stay focus on a range of threats. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, for example, is still active,” Johnson said.
Obama overrode his generals in crafting the ISIS strategy he rolled out a week ago, just as he overrode them when he pulled US troops out of Iraq. Is he listening to his own national security officials?
Robert Gates was President Barack Obama’s first Secretary of Defense.
On CBS this morning, Gates made his first public comments on the Islamic State since Obama announced his strategy for “degrading and destroying” ISIS without putting any US troops in ground combat against them.
Gates said, ”The reality is, they’re not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces or the Peshmerga or the Sunni tribes acting on their own. So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by continuing to repeat that [there won't be troops on the ground], the president in effect traps himself.”
After predicting that there will be US boots on the ground if we’re to defeat ISIS, Gates continued: ”I’m also concerned that the goal has been stated as ‘degrade and destroy’ or ‘degrade and defeat’ ISIS. We’ve been at war with al Qaeda for 13 years. We have dealt them some terrible blows, including the killing of Osama bin Laden, but I don’t think anybody would say that after 13 years we’ve destroyed or defeated al Qaeda. And so I think to promise that we’re going to destroy ISIS or ISIL sets a goal that may be unattainable. as opposed to devastating it or as the vice president would put it, following them to the gates of hell and dealing them terrible blows that prevent them from holding territory. Those are probably realistic goals.”
The Islamic State currently holds territory that is roughly the size of the United Kingdom. The UK itself might shrink if Scottish voters approve a referendum to secede from the union.
Watch Gates’ comments on Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy.
Gates’ comments come alongside a new CBS News/New York Times poll showing that Obama’s approval rating on handling terrorism is at a new low.
Is it ISIS or ISIL? The French government has found its solution.
The term ISIL, meaning the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, references the eastern Mediterranean region stretching from Turkey to Egypt, swallowing up Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. After establishing their “caliphate,” the terror group dropped the Levant from its name and simply went with Islamic State.
The Obama administration, from the Pentagon to the State Department to the White House, consistently uses ISIL. A majority of members in Congress, on both sides of the aisle, also use ISIL in their press releases. Hearing names juggle between ISIS and ISIL. The British government uses ISIL as well.
Houses Democrats eventually decided in caucus to use ISIL, reportedly in part out of deference to women named Isis.
Governments are unified about not legitimizing their border-busting caliphate by calling them the Islamic State, or IS. The use of Islamic State is usually prefaced by “so-called” or “self-professed.”
ISIS, which generally has been favored by a majority of news outlets including The New York Times and ABC News, stands for the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham — parts of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, which formed Greater Syria, after a caliphate was formed in the 7th century. Al-Sham can also be interpreted to mean the same territory as the Levant or to simply refer to Damascus.
After President Obama appeared on Meet the Press earlier this month, host Chuck Todd theorized why the administration uses ISIL. “Obviously we refer to it at NBC News as ISIS. The Obama administration, president, says the word ISIL,” Todd said. “The last S stands for Syria, the last L they don’t want to have stand for Syria.”
Maureen Dowd called it “a bit odd that the administration is using ‘the Levant,’ given that it conjures up a colonial association from the early 20th century, when Britain and France drew their maps, carving up Mesopotamia guided by economic gain rather than tribal allegiances. Unless it’s a nostalgic nod to a time when puppets were more malleable and grateful to their imperial overlords.”
While the successor to al-Qaeda in Iraq sees Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL as legitimizing their caliphate aims, they take Daesh as an insult.
The formal name of the group is al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham. Take the “D,” an “A,” and the “Sh,” and that’s where the loose acronym Daesh comes from.
It was first pegged by Arabic media and quickly caught on among Free Syrian Army and Kurdish fighters, civilians in the region opposed to IS, Twitter Kurds, and governments in the region that want to dis’ the Islamic State. It’s also used in Israel.
The great part is the term’s multiple meanings among IS opponents, as the word sounds like the Arabic term for trampling or crushing underfoot: daes. It can also sound like Dahes, explained France24, which can either mean “one who sows discord” or refer to the Dahes wal Ghabra war in the pre-Islamic period of Arabia.
France thinks that’s just perfect.
Stressing that “this is a terrorist group and not a state,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters last week that he will be using the Arabic term — and he urged news organizations to do the same.
“The Arabs call it ‘Daesh’ and I will be calling them the ‘Daesh cutthroats,’” Fabius said.
The latest press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs leaves out the “cutthroats,” but holds fast to the Daesh vow — while attempting to train people on the term.
“M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, had a meeting today with his British counterpart, Mr Philip Hammond,” said a Tuesday statement. “During this first bilateral meeting, the ministers took stock of the common battle against Daesh [ISIL], support for a solution to the crisis in Ukraine, the priorities for the European Union following the appointment of the new Commission, and the fight against the spread of the Ebola epidemic.”
“There can be little political ambiguity behind the French government’s decision to deploy Daesh as a linguistic weapon,” noted France24.
And IS/ISIS/ISIL goons really hate Daesh:
Several residents in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city which fell to the extremist group in June, told The Associated Press that the militants threatened to cut the tongue of anyone who publicly used the acronym Daesh, instead of referring to the group by its full name, saying it shows defiance and disrespect. The residents spoke anonymously out of fear for their safety.
Last month, the Associated Press ruled that it would not use ISIL in stories anymore except in direct quotes, telling Poynter: “About a month ago ISIL changed its name, so our approach is to refer to them on first reference simply as ‘Islamic militants,’ ‘jihadi fighters,’ ‘the leading Islamic militant group fighting in Iraq (Syria), etc.’ On second reference, something like ‘the group, which calls itself the Islamic State,’ with ‘group’ helping to make clear that it is not an internationally recognized state.”
What do you think they should be called?
— Asaf Ronel (@AsafRonel) September 17, 2014
— Ruwayda Mustafah (@RuwaydaMustafah) September 17, 2014
— Tony Karon (@TonyKaron) September 17, 2014
— Peter Spooner (@pjspooner) September 17, 2014
On the next page, you’ll find the most cogent analysis of what fueled the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and why we now find ourselves facing a new iteration of the same enemy. Elan Journo, fellow and director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute, talks with interviewer Steve Simpson about the confused foreign policy which has led to the longest war in American history.
Journo begins by accurately identifying the enemy, an essential prerequisite to engaging and defeating them. He tells Simpson:
ISIS originated as one of the insurgent groups in Iraq. And they, like a lot of the insurgent groups – the ones that survived were the ones that were better at killing Americans and better at doing savagery. They went into Syria and they became stronger. They are basically now marching to the beat of the Islamist goal, which is to create a regime based on Allah’s laws on Earth, which is what the Taliban did, which is what the Iranians see themselves as doing. So, in that sense, [ISIS is] not unique. They’re basically part of the same enemy.
Indeed, in failing to accurately identify and destroy the enemy which attacked us on 9/11, we merely “scattered them,” as Journo puts it. That’s why we find ourselves facing ISIS today.
The question becomes: why have we failed? How has the most powerful military force on Earth been unable to defeat the relatively ragtag practitioners of Islamic totalitarianism? Journo attributes the failure to our self-crippling morality:
The conventional morality that people take for granted is that you should be selfless.
Now, that sounds crazy in the context of war, because obviously – most people’s healthy reaction is, if [enemies] come after you, you have to defend yourself. [Most people] have self-respect enough to believe in that. But when push comes to shove, [most people] are conflicted, because a lot of people accept the ideas of altruism, of self-sacrifice as a moral idea. Now, put that [idea of altruism] in the context of trying to defend yourself. In fact, that is the doctrine that colors the [conventional] views of how to conduct war…
So take Iraq. The goal there was not to eliminate whatever threat Saddam Hussein posed… It was to rebuild Iraq so that the Iraqis would be lifted out of poverty and would get elections and so-called freedom. That was to serve the Iraqis. That did not serve American interests. Our interests are served by eliminating those who want to kill us.
… People don’t realize that the rules under which the [American] soldiers operate are so restrictive that sometimes they cannot defend themselves, let along eliminate the threat. And so, we put our soldiers in harm’s way. We tie their hands. And then we’re surprised that there’s an insurgency that grows fiercer and more bold, and that Iraq is a mess. Well, you have to look at the ideas that shape the policy.
Since World War II, the West has pursued a policy of restraint in the face of aggression, fueled by various altruistic notions. One of those notions is that we need to free populations under oppression and teach them the virtues of democracy.
That, in essence, was the Bush doctrine. It proceeds from the presumption that, given the opportunity to vote in free and fair elections, people will elect a state dedicated to liberty and justice. Journo swats that presumption down with ease:
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a small-scale version of the West versus the Islamist movement… Under the Bush doctrine of bring democracy all over the place, the Palestinian territories were subject to that. The Bush administration pushed for Hamas to be allowed to run in elections. And Hamas in fact won by a significant margin, enough for it to be unequivocal. And it was a free and fair election… So, in effect, the Bush doctrine here is illustrated in its failure, in ushering Islamists [our enemies] into power.
Simpson responds, “So much for the wonders of democracy.” Indeed, democracy provides only that a voting majority gets their way. It does not ensure that the way they pick will be just.
Check out the whole video, plus my podcast commentary, on the next page.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) turned in an epic gavel-wielding, gavel-banging, gavel-pointing performance today in combat with the antiwar group Code Pink at a hearing on ISIS.
A sampling of the Levin Smackdown:
LEVIN: OK. Would you — we’re asking you again to please sit down, and if not, we’re gonna ask you to leave.
LEVIN: No, thank you. Thank you for — would you please now leave?
LEVIN: Would you please now leave?
LEVIN: I’m asking you to please leave.
LEVIN: You’re acting very war-like yourself.
PROTESTER: No more war.
LEVIN: Would you please leave?
PROTESTER: (OFF-MIKE) We do not want war. No military solution to this. No more war. No more war. No military solution.
LEVIN: We’re asking you nicely. We’re asking you nicely to please leave the room.
LEVIN: Look, we’re asking you nicely. Would you please leave the room. Thank you.
LEVIN: We ask you for the last time. Thank you very much.
PROTESTERS: If the U.S. (inaudible) the way for ISIL. U.S. military will not be (inaudible) and its counterproductive.
LEVIN: General Dempsey, as soon as the noise is removed from the room…
PROTESTERS: … war. We’ve had 13 years of…
LEVIN: We would ask all of you to avoid these kind of outbursts. They’re not doing anybody any good, including hearing what this testimony is, and they’re not doing you and whatever your cause is any good either.
LEVIN: Thank you very much. Would you please — I’m asking you nicely to please leave the room.
PROTESTER: Please, Senator. (inaudible) the issues. Bring in (inaudible).
LEVIN: Thank you very much. Good-bye. Good-bye. Thank you.
LEVIN: Would you please — please be quiet?
I’m asking you now to please leave the room.
Please remove this lady.
LEVIN: Please remove her. The disruptions are not gonna be acceptable to anybody.
LEVIN: I ask you to remove the lady. Please remove the lady from the room. Thank you very much (inaudible).
When singled out for heckling, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) chuckled and quipped, ”I always appreciate special attention from this group, Mr. Chairman.”
The UK Guardian has published an editorial on how to deal with the Islamic State from Bradley/Chelsea Manning.
Manning is currently serving 35 years in Leavenworth for leaking classified intelligence during the Iraq war.
The strategy itself sounds like the one Obama first offered, between the lines, last Wednesday. That may be why it got past Manning’s jail cell and out to the Guardian.
Manning counsels “containment,” allowing ISIS to maintain the territory it currently holds. That will, in Manning’s reckoning, let them fail as a state, divide and disintegrate. It may take years, even decades. Manning doesn’t specify a timeline. It only took the Soviet Union more than 70 years to fail as a state. Caliphates have come and gone in the Middle East over the years, but some of them have lasted centuries.
The Islamic State has armor (ours), aircraft that it may or may not not be able to fly (Syrian) and it pulls in about $2 million a day from oil. Its presence also exacerbates the Kurdish issue: The longer Iraq’s central government remains weak and its territory divided, the longer the Kurds have to maintain their own security — and fosters their own feelings toward independence from Iraq, Turkey, etc.
Manning never lays out what to do if ISIS decides to outgrow its boundaries, or if Syria’s secular dictator falls, or ISIS’ presence crushes the Baghdad government, or Iran intervenes on the ground, or any number of other scenarios that are far from science fiction including ISIS launching strikes outside its territory. ISIS has threatened to do that. Manning does not address that.
Obama never came out for containment, in fact he said that his strategy would eventually “degrade and destroy” ISIS. But he did hold up Yemen and Somalia as examples of what he believes are successful counterterrorism fights.
Terrorists have had free or nearly free run in both for decades now. They are occasionally degraded in drone strikes, but never destroyed.
As for Manning, he (he was a guy at the time) took it upon himself to break his oath and the law in leaking sensitive information that the military had entrusted to him. Manning did this largely out of spite against the military’s gay policies (cluebat: ISIS’ gay policies aren’t friendlier).
Why does the Guardian believe that the opinion of such a person is worth printing? Why does such a person have the ability to communicate with media?
Over the course of the last week plus, the Obama administration’s story on the Islamic State has evolved — the put it kindly. Are we at war? Is it just counterterrorism? What would success look like? What would failure look like? Who’s in the coalition and what will they be doing?
If you’re seeking a straight answer, the Obama administration is probably the last place you’d go for one.
During today’s often-interrupted Senate hearing on the rise and threat of the Islamic State, Gen. Martin Dempsey testified that ISIS’ fighters have taken up the fight over “grievances.”
Use of that word would seem to justify their actions, or at least give them some moral cover for them.
Gen. Dempsey testified: “The nature of the threat is such that, as I mentioned, it will only be defeated when moderate Arab and Muslim populations in the region reject it. And therefore, the way forward seems to me to run clearly through a coalition of Arab and Muslim partners, and not through the ownership of the United States on this issue. And so the strategy does that.”
“It seeks to build a coalition, encourage an inclusive government to address the grievances that have caused this in the first place, it applies U.S. military power where we have unique capability to do so, and over time it allows those populations to reject ISIL.”
What “grievances” have causes ISIS’ rise “in the first place?” Dempsey did not elaborate, and he was not asked to explain.
Dempsey has a checkered history when it comes to dealing with so-called “grievances.”
Just over two years ago, on September 12, 2012, Gen. Dempsey personally called Florida pastor Terry Jones and asked him to “withdraw his support” for Innocence of Muslims. That was the obscure YouTube video that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were blaming for the terrorist attack at the US facility in Benghazi, Libya on the day before.
Jones also planned to burn a Koran on video in 2010. It was Gen. Dempsey again who called Jones and asked him not to do it, so as not to offend Muslims.
h/t Weekly Standard
According to reports, the House Armed Services Committee is currently preparing an amendment to arm and train the Syrian rebels that will be voted on this week. If passed, the bill will be attached to the continuing resolution to fund the government until December. **UPDATE** The amendment has been posted.
The most troubling element to the proposed amendment is a provision allowing the Obama administration to arm and train rebels with ties to terrorism. The “vetted moderate rebel” groups supported by the administration are known to be partnering with designated terrorist organizations, and the passage of this amendment would give congressional blessing to such arrangements.
According to The Hill:
The measure includes several provisions intended to satisfy Republicans and Democrats worried about giving the administration blanket authority to arm and train rebel groups, who would be used in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
It would require Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to submit the administration’s plan for training the moderate opposition 15 days before the commencement of any such activities, the aide said. That requirement was put forward by the administration, the aide added.
After that, Hagel would have to submit an update to lawmakers every 90 days.
That will be the extent of oversight by Congress — notification by the Pentagon.
But then there’s this:
The Pentagon would be required to list every individual they are recruiting, and would have to provide information on their backgrounds, including any possible links to terrorist organizations, according to the aide.
But the bill would not prohibit people with links to terrorist groups from actually participating in the program, the aide said. Such a blanket prohibition could make it tougher to recruit people for the training program.
Remarkably, this amendment is being billed by Republican leadership and the D.C. media as limiting Obama’s powers.
As I’ve been reporting here at PJ Media the past two weeks, considerable evidence is mounting that the “vetted moderate rebels” that the U.S. has already sent weapons to are allying with ISIS and other terrorist groups on the local level.
On September 3, I reported that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) — the main rebel group fighting the Assad regime — recently allied with ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria. A FSA commander later confirmed my reporting on their alliance near the Lebanon border.
Then on September 9, I reported on one of the first rebel groups to receive heavy weapons from the CIA earlier this year, Harakat al-Hazm, which has also allied with Jabhat al-Nusra.
And this past weekend I reported that the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), which had been billed as “the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies,” has signed a peace deal with ISIS according to both Arabic and English media reports. The head of SRF yesterday published a denial — in English (meaning, for Western audiences) — of those reports. And yet, the Wall Street Journal reported in May about SRF’s open cooperation with Jabhat al-Nusra.
So with this House amendment, Republicans would be endorsing the Obama administration’s existing policy of arming and training Syrian rebel groups known to be working with terrorists, which would effectively give Obama political cover in the case of more U.S. weapons ending up in the hands of ISIS and other terrorist groups.
They don’t call the GOP “the stupid party” for nothing.
Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged getting past the “tortured debate” of whether the U.S. is at war with the Islamic State, backtracking on comments made last week.
Kerry previously told CBS News that “war is the wrong terminology” to describe the fight.
This was followed by the Pentagon and State Department saying that the U.S. is at war with ISIS.
Kerry was asked about his assessment Sunday for CBS’ Face the Nation.
“I think there’s, frankly, a kind of tortured debate going on about terminology,” Kerrys said. “What I’m focused on obviously is getting done what we need to get done to ISIL. But if people need find a place to land in terms of what we did in Iraq, originally, this is not a war. This is not combat troops on the ground. It’s not hundreds of thousands of people. It’s not that kind of mobilization.”
“But in terms of al-Qaeda, which we have used the word war with, yes, we went — we’re at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates. And in same context, if you want to use it, yes, we’re at war with ISIL in that sense,” he continued. “But I think it’s a waste of time to focus on that. Frankly, let’s consider what we have to do to degrade and defeat ISIL. And that’s what I’m frankly much more focused on.”
Kerry also sought to tamp down rumors that the U.S. would be coordinating its campaign with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
“We will certainly want to deconflict to make certain that they’re not about to do something that they might regret even more seriously,” he said. “But we’re not going to coordinate. It’s not a cooperative effort. We are going to do what they haven’t done, what they had plenty of opportunity to do, which is to take on ISIL and to degrade it and eliminate as a threat.”
On his travels to build a coalition, Kerry said he was “extremely encouraged to hear from all of the people that I have been meeting with about their readiness and willingness to participate.”
“I can tell you right here and now that we have countries in this region, countries outside of this region, in addition to the United States, all of whom are prepared to engage in military assistance, in actual strikes, if that is what it requires,” he added. “And we also have a growing number of people who are prepared to do all the other things. People shouldn’t think about this, this effort just in terms of strikes. In fact, as some have pointed out, that alone is not going to resolve this challenge.”
Kerry said some nations have offered to put boots on the ground.
“But we are not looking for that, at this moment anyway. The answer is, yes, there are some that have said that. There are some that are clearly prepared to take action in the air alongside the United States, and to do airstrikes, if that’s what they’re called on to do,” he said.
“What we’re doing right now is putting together the whole package. And it’s not appropriate to start announcing, well, this country will do this, this country will do that.”
Today is the 200th anniversary of the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner,” an event commemorated in Baltimore this weekend — the site of Fort McHenry whose defense against a pitiless British bombardment inspired Francis Scott Key to write the stirring words that eventually became our National Anthem.
Every school child in America knows the story — or, at least, they used to. Today, I’m not so sure. With such short shrift given to the uplifting parts of our national narrative, Key’s remarkable, emotional story may have become something less than a footnote in history books.
Key was on a mission approved by President Madison to negotiate an exchange of prisoners with British Admiral Alexander Cochrane, including a good friend of Keys who had been captured a few days earlier. The attack began on the morning of September 13, with the British launching huge mortar shells and Congreve rockets against the fort. The rockets were more of a psychological weapon at that time as they were very loud but not very destructive. Not so the mortars that arched over the walls of the fort causing few casualties but wreaking havoc on the fort’s infrastructure.
The British plan was to silence the fort’s big guns that would have made any attempt to sail past McHenry into the harbor a suicide mission. Once in the harbor, the ships would then support a ground force whose job was to take the city of Baltimore.
It was a good plan, but dependent on the ability of Cochrane’s ships to either so demoralize the Americans that they surrendered, or cause so much damage that the the fort could not effectively resist. Cochrane believed Key would be useful to negotiate the fort’s surrender so he allowed him to reboard the sloop that brought him to the admiral’s flagship and join the fleet that was bombarding McHenry.
Key had a birdseye view of the bombardment. By all accounts an emotional man, Key watched and fretted while the fort took a pounding for more than 24 hours, as nearly 2000 shells and 1000 rockets pummeled the works. Toward morning, the fort’s defenders replaced the storm flag that had flown throughout the battle with the huge 46′ by 32′ flag that now resides in the Smithsonian.
But Key couldn’t see in the dim light and because smoke obscured his view. Finally, as dawn broke, Key caught sight of the huge flag and was so filled with gratitude and patriotism, that he wrote the poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” which was later put to music — “Anacreon in Heaven” – and the rest is history. The “Star Spangled Banner” become the official anthem of the US in 1931.
There have been numerous complaints through the years about the anthem; it’s too “martial”; it’s hard to sing; the song is inappropriate because it was originally a drinking song (not true, but it’s a good story); the lyrics are overwrought.
Steve Vogel, author of “Through the Perilous Fight: From the Burning of Washington to the Star-Spangled Banner: The Six Weeks That Saved the Nation”, debunks several myths about the anthem in a recent column for the Washington Post:
Rather than martial chest-thumping, Key’s first verse is a long question, wondering not just whether the flag still flew over the fort but whether the young nation would survive. In the dark hours before dawn, the guns fell quiet. For Key, the silence was dreadful, a sign that the fort may have fallen. The second verse captures Key’s relief at spotting the American flag “in full glory reflected” at first light.
The rarely sung third verse is angry and vengeful, rejoicing that the enemy’s “blood has washed out their foul footstep’s pollution.” Perhaps the lyrics reflect Key’s emotion after watching the British attempt to incinerate Baltimore. Key takes a more pious tone in the fourth and final verse, celebrating the return of peace and the end of “war’s desolation.”
The man who wrote this most patriotic of American songs in fact deeply opposed the war. Key had been dismayed by the U.S. declaration of war in 1812, considering it foolhardy for the young nation to take on one of the most powerful militaries on Earth.
Politico’s Ted Widmer wonders if it isn’t time to replace the “Star Spangled Banner” with a song that’s easier to sing, and with a less problematic history. Apparently, Key owned slaves and was a vigorous defender of the abomination. Should this disqualify him and his creation?
Two hundred years after that long night in Baltimore, is it time to rethink the Star-Spangled Banner? It has its merits—to drown out bad news with bluster, brass and percussion worked in 1814, and the song continues to radiate personality, even as most of us try and fail to sing along with its awkward leaps over one-and-half octaves. It feels right that the city that gave us Hairspray also surrendered this essential bit of national theater. The music has entered so deeply into our consciousness that even its parodies can seem beautiful—much as the Jimi Hendrix version, inflammatory at the time, has acquired a great dignity of its own.
But the story of Key’s nearness to slavery cannot easily be forgotten, especially in an era that demands more accountability, and offers to tools to find it. Critics over the years—I am hardly the first—have been brutal about the Star-Spangled Banner’s many shortcomings. The New York Herald Tribune dismissed it as “words that nobody can remember [set] to a tune that nobody can sing.” In 1918, a woman named Kitty Cheatham denounced the words as “German propaganda” (because they undermined the Anglo-American alliance), and saw the music as a product of “darkness,” “degeneracy,” and “the carnal mind.” Christian Science leader Augusta Stetson called it a “barroom ballad composed by a foreigner.” A 1965 writer thought it “as singable as Die Walkure, as American as ‘God Save the Queen’”; the columnist Michael Kinsley has ripped its “empty bravado” and “mindless nonsense about rockets and bombs.”
Perhaps—like Old Glory herself—the unsingable song is here to stay. But if not, we have a worthy contender waiting in the wings: “America the Beautiful,” a stirring piece of music, easily sung and irrefutably composed by U.S. citizens.
Like all of us, Key was a product of his times. The fact that he supported slavery is only one aspect of his character, and to condemn him unmercifully for a sin shared by tens of millions of Americans north and south seems harsh and arbitrary. Using that logic, no American born before 1865 deserves recognition for anything. It cost the US 600,000 lives to wrench the institution of slavery from our midst — a horrible price to pay and illustrative of just how difficult it was to escape the institution’s historical trap.
Certainly Key should be criticized for his views on slavery, especially when you consider the growing abolitionist movement in America during his lifetime. He could have changed but he didn’t. That’s a black mark on his character that history will not wash away.
But why besmirch his heartfelt patriotism and sheer relief that Baltimore was saved and possibly, the war with it? The emotional lyrics to the “Star Spangled Banner” are a celebration of American values and a demonstration of the American character. It is as much a part of American history as any icon we possess.
Surely we can find room for Francis Scott Key in the pantheon of American heroes despite his flaws, and celebrate his creation no matter how hard it is to sing. For the sake of our children, we have to.
Obama’s hope to do anything of substance in Syria took another severe blow yesterday as the U.S.-backed and armed Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) struck a peace deal with ISIS, according to both Arabic and English language news reports.
The SRF had only a few months ago been deemed by the U.S. foreign policy establishment as “the West’s best fighting chance against Syria’s Islamist armies.”
Now AFP reports:
Syrian rebels and jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria have agreed a non-aggression pact for the first time in a suburb of the capital Damascus, a monitoring group said on Friday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the ceasefire deal was agreed between ISIS and moderate and Islamist rebels in Hajar al-Aswad, south of the capital.
Under the deal, “the two parties will respect a truce until a final solution is found and they promise not to attack each other because they consider the principal enemy to be the Nussayri regime.”
Nussayri is a pejorative term for the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam to which President Bashar al-Assad belongs.
According to media reports, other groups joining the ceasefire with ISIS include Liwa Ahrar Turkman al-Golan, Liwa Hittin and Liwa al-Umma al-Wahida.
When seeking U.S. heavy weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles, SRF commander Jamal Maroof was full of bravado, declaring war against ISIS. In May, McClatchy reported that SRF and other “vetted moderate rebel” groups had received TOW missiles from the U.S. and posted videos of their use.
But as soon as weapons were being delivered to Maroof’s SRF forces, he was giving interviews to Western media making clear that “al-Qaeda is not our problem.”
A May 2014 report by Jenan Moussa of Al-Aan notes that Maroof runs SRF in a cave with his three wives and children:
During that interview where Maroof talks about receiving U.S. military aid and his soldiers receiving U.S. training, there is one curious artifact in the background, as you’ll see in the photo on the next page.
I am of two minds about this story. Certainly, we can all relate to the desperation of the parents of Steve Sotloff and James Foley. They were willing to do anything to get their children back — as any of us would do in a similar situation. The fact that the government apparently threatened both families with prosection if they tried to raise ransom money seems harsh and arbitrary.
But the government is forced to think not only about present hostages, but any future hostage taking of Americans by the terrorists. It seems logical that paying ransom for hostages only encourages more hostage taking. Recall in Lebanon in the 1980s when the U.S. bartered arms for hostages only to see more hostages taken by the terrorists.
But there is more to this story. Specifically, White House lies about being in “constant contact” with the families of hostages. That’s not the story the families are telling. And the manner in which the message about potential prosection was delivered is more reminiscent of a threat delivered by a mafioso than a caring, compassionate government.
The mother of slain American journalist James Foley said she wasn’t necessarily surprised that the U.S. government threatened her family with prosecution should they raise money to pay her son’s ransom, but she was astounded by how such a devastating message was delivered.
“I was surprised there was so little compassion,” Diane Foley told ABC News today of the three separate warnings she said U.S. officials gave the family about the illegality of paying ransom to the terror group ISIS. “It just made me realize that these people talking to us had no idea what it was like to be the family of someone abducted… I’m sure [the U.S. official] didn’t mean it the way he said it, but we were between a rock and a hard place. We were told we could do nothing… meanwhile our son was being beaten and tortured every day.”
Earlier this week five current and former officials with direct knowledge of the Foley case confirmed the alleged threats were made.
“It was an utterly idiotic thing to do that came across as if [the U.S. official] had the compassion of an anvil,” said a former official who has advised the family.
At times, Diane Foley said the family “had to beg” the government for information on their son.
“We were an annoyance, it felt, at some level… They didn’t have time for us,” she said.
Today White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said that government officials were in constant contact with the Foley family and declined to comment on the alleged ransom warnings, telling reporters he’s “not going to be in a position to detail the kinds of conversations that took place so often between members of the administration and the Foley family.”
“It is a long standing policy of this administration, it was the policy of previous administrations that ransoms should not be paid to terrorist organizations,” Earnest said before referring more specific questions about the Foley’s situation to the Justice Department.
Secretary of State John Kerry today told reporters that he was “really taken aback [and] surprised” by Foley’s allegations. “I can tell you that I am totally unaware and would not condone anybody that I know of within the State Department making such statements,” Kerry said.
The family of Steve Sotloff, the other murdered American, was also threatened directly with prosecution at a White House meeting.
Sources close to the families say that at the time of the White House meeting the Sotloffs and Foleys — after receiving direct threats from IS — were exploring lining up donors who would help pay multimillion-dollar ransoms to free their sons. But after the meeting those efforts collapsed, one source said, because of concerns that “donors could expose themselves to prosecution.”
Although European hostages have been freed through ransom payments that have run into the millions of dollars, the Obama administration has taken a hard line against any such payments, viewing the transfer of cash as a violation of federal laws that forbid providing “material support” to a terrorist organization.
“They’ve been stricter than any administration on this,” said a former law enforcement official who has been working with the families of IS hostages.
Barfi said that within a few hours of the White House meeting, he was at a separate meeting with State Department officials. One of those officials repeatedly mentioned the “material support” law and made it “clear,” said Barfi, that criminal prosecutions could result if ransoms to the IS terrorists were paid.
Such explicit threats made to parents who “had to beg” to get any information about their children points to an administration that employed clod-hoppers as liaisons to the families. No doubt it was a tough job to inform the families of the law and the potential penalties that would have come with raising ransom money. But it’s obvious from statements made by both families that the administration blew it. The situation called for striking the right balance between showing compassion and imparting the matter-of-fact information about potential prosections. The White House chose people without tact or empathy to deliver their message and struck out.
Even though they’re right about the policy.
The Obama administration spent Thursday (the 13th anniversary of 9-11, by the way) arguing that the United States is not at war with the Islamic State/ISIS/ISIL.
The White House spokesman said it wasn’t a war. Secretary of State John Kerry and his spokeswomen at the department also said that it’s not a war. Kerry, for his part, called it…what was that again?
Right — it’s a “heightened level of counter terrorism operation.”
Well, today, the White House and the Pentagon have finally come around. This thing we’re doing against ISIS is, in fact, a war. Take a look.
An old book that most people don’t pay much attention to these days says “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
Chris Matthews is skeptical. Tom Friedman wonders where the Chinese are.
And that’s just a start. Others in the mix include Chuck Todd, Ed Schultz, Tom Brokaw, and Jim McDermott.
For a mind-bender on a par with that Bill Maher clip we posted yesterday, some of the Democrats’ criticisms sound like some of ours — that the strategy that the president laid out is too wimpy, and is very unlikely to work.
Take a look.
Drudge is fronting this major story from CNN. The thrust: ISIS is even bigger than previously believed.
A CIA assessment puts the number of ISIS fighters at possibly more than three times the previous estimates.
The terror group that calls itself the Islamic State “can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria,” a CIA spokesman told CNN on Thursday.
Analysts and U.S. officials initially estimated there were as many as 10,000 fighters, including those who were freed from prisons by ISIS, and Sunni loyalists who have joined the fight as the group advanced across Iraq.
“This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate, greater battlefield activity and additional intelligence,” the spokesman said.
To put that into some perspective, a division in the US military ranges from 10,000 to 18,000. So ISIS’ numbers equal a couple of US divisions, or a corps. With the proper combined arms strategy and decisive command, the US military could wipe ISIS off the battlefield fairly quickly.
That would require a decision to put those troops in the field to do the job, of course.
ISIS doesn’t respect any secular national boundaries, and it recruits globally. Its recruitment efforts are slick and apparently effective.
A simple way to assess the strategy that President Obama outlined Wednesday is to ask, will it kill ISIS fighters faster than the group is able to recruit new ones? So far, the answer is obviously no. Their numbers may be triple the previous estimate.
Since the president touted Yemen and Somalia as models of effective counterterrorism, have we been able to kill al Qaeda and al-Shabab recruits in those countries faster than the groups find new recruits?
It doesn’t seem likely, does it? We drone kill terrorist leaders in both countries with some regularity, but the groups survive, elevate new leaders, and go on holding territory and staging attacks — and recruiting new terrorists.
Don’t call it a war, says Marie Harf at the State Department.
Don’t look for any definition of “victory,” says Josh Earnest at the White House.
It’s…whatever John Kerry means here.
— SalenaZito (@SalenaZitoTrib) September 11, 2014
Whatever it is, we’re losing potential coalition partners.
— Ali Weinberg (@AliABCNews) September 11, 2014
When did our foreign policy get lined up like a running Fawlty Towers gag?
Update: According to a “Senior Administration Official,” Saudia Arabia shares an “extensive border with Syria.”
ISIL has been I think a galvanizing threat around the Sunni partners in the region. They view it as an existential threat to them. Saudi Arabia has an extensive border with Syria. The Jordanians are experiencing a destabilizing impact of over a million refugees from the Syrian conflict, and are profoundly concerned that ISIL, who has stated that their ambitions are not confined to Iraq and Syria, but rather to expand to the broader region.
The Syrians had taken the stance that any US airstrike on IS on Syrian land would be an act of war against Syria.
[Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal] Mekdad openly expressed support for airstrikes on Syria — an option detailed by President Barack Obama in an overnight speech — by saying his administration has “no reservations whatsoever.”
But he said cited the need for logistical coordination with the U.S. before any airstrikes so “there should be no mistakes,” and said “it is a must” for Obama to call Assad.
He even suggested that Syria could join the US in a coalition against IS that includes Russia, China and Iran.
Mekkad doesn’t want the US working with the Free Syrian Army, though.
When it came down to international law, Mekdad was most concerned about Obama’s plan to arm rebel groups in Syria.
“Betting on other forces in Syria is a very big mistake,” he warned.
During today’s White House press briefing, a reporter asks spokesman Josh Earnest a simple question: “What does victory (over ISIS) look like here?”
Earnest turns the serious question into a joke: “I didn’t bring my Webster’s Dictionary with me.”
Let’s briefly go over what we’ve learned recently.
The president does not believe that the Islamic State is Islamic.
The president claimed that national security is his highest priority, yet he has not secured the border and has no intention of doing so.
The president has replaced “Don’t do stupid sh*t,” his previous foreign policy guidestar, with “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” That’s hardly a new principle to American foreign policy, though it is evidently new to Barack Obama.
The president believes that Yemen and Somalia are models for effective counterterrorism against Islamic State. Terrorists freely operate in both countries, though they are subject to the occasional setback via US drone strike. Drone operations in both countries, using that term loosely, show no signs of actually destroying the terrorist groups operating in them.
The president who accused Bush of “going it alone” in Iraq refuses to consult Congress, and is going into his non-war versus Islamic State with a much smaller coalition than Bush had going into Iraq.
Among the coalition he has assembled is the Free Syrian Army, which is known to be in alliance with IS — the enemy.
The president, through his spokesman, has not even defined what victory over IS will look like.
Oh yeah, this is going to work out real well.
Secretary of State John Kerry is in Saudi Arabia, where he announced that 10 Arab nations including Iraq have signed on to support the fight against the Islamic State. Kerry’s announcement comes a day after President Obama announced that the US would build a coalition for the fight, but would not seek congressional approval and apparently will not seek any authorization from the United Nations.
President George W. Bush sought both congressional and UN approval, and won both, and built a coalition of some 40 nations for the war to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Kerry and Obama, then in the Senate, described Bush’s actions as “going it alone.”
Russia has reacted to Obama’s speech, with a warning, according to the BBC.
Russia has warned that US air strikes against militants in Syria would be a “gross violation” of international law.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said any such action, without the backing of the UN, would be “an act of aggression”.
“The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against Isil (IS) positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government,” ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was quoted as saying.
“This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”
Syria also repeated its warning that the US had to co-ordinate with the Syrian government before launching air strikes on its territory.
“Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government would be an attack on Syria,” National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said on Thursday.
If anyone knows about acts of aggression and violations of international law, it would be Russia.
Russia’s announced position all but forecloses any UN Security Council action on ISIS, as Russia holds a permanent seat and veto power. Russia is one of Syrian dictator Assad’s few allies.
China has yet to weigh in one way or the other.
Kerry is working on plans to train the Free Syrian Army rebels on Saudi soil, despite the fact that the FSA is working with ISIS.
Transcript of the audio above…
[October 2000] We are getting word just now that Osama Bin Laden, the Muslim terrorist leader who declared war on the United States two years ago, has been killed by U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan. President Bill Clinton reportedly gave the order to take out bin Laden after viewing a live CIA video feed from a Predator drone. While some of his friends on the Left had urged Clinton’s Justice Department to indict bin Laden, and bring him to trial, the president said today, “This evil man declared war on us, had a track record of slaughter, billions of dollars in funding and a global network of slavishly-devoted suicidal soldiers. You don’t send lawyers after a man like that — you send Seals, Marines and Green Berets.”
[May 1991] President George H.W. Bush, in a triumphant speech from downtown Baghdad, Iraq, today announced the unconditional surrender of Saddam Hussein’s government and his Baathist Army. The president said that nothing short of total surrender can save Iraq. Bush added that the coalition that conquered Saddam, would stay on the job until Iraqis build a constitutional republic, under the rule of law.