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Osama at the Top of His Game

On October 27, 2010, Al Jazeera television network broadcasted a new audiotape by Osama bin Laden meant to exploit the Muslim world’s growing anger toward France specifically, and against Europe generally. Defending the recent kidnapping of five French nationals in Niger, bin Laden said the act was an appropriate response to France’s ongoing intervention in the affairs of Muslims in North and West Africa; its persecution of Muslim women in France via its ban on burqa wearing; and the presence of 3,500 French troops in Afghanistan. Bin Laden warned Paris that it is foolish to think France’s anti-Muslim actions would go unanswered by al-Qaeda and other mujahideen. “The equation is very clear and simple,” bin Laden said, stressing, as he always does, the justice of reciprocal treatment in wartime. “[T]he fault lies with the one who initiates [the hostilities]. . . . as you kill, you will be killed; as you abduct, so shall you be abducted; as you ruin our [Muslim] security, so shall we ruin your security.”

Conservatives for Empire

The U.S. government is effectively bankrupt. Angry citizens in the Tea Party movement are bypassing traditional politicians. Republican Party apparatchiks are scrambling to turn popular frustration to their advantage.

The conservative movement also is in flux. Some pundits identified with the Right, such as David Frum and Ross Douthat, have advocated that conservatives become “liberals lite,” abandoning their commitment to limited government and learning to live with the expensive, expansive and intrusive welfare state.

Most traditional conservative leaders have rejected this advice, choosing instead to support the conservative verities of fiscal responsibility and individual liberty. But many of the same people have joined Frum in advocating continuation of America’s essentially imperial foreign policy. They would replace traditional conservative views of foreign policy and executive power with Wilsonian warmongering.

The most recent example of conservatives promoting an essentially liberal foreign policy is the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, and Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Feulner. They wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “It is unrealistic to imagine a return to long-term prosperity if we face instability around the globe because of a hollowed-out U.S. military lacking the size and strength to defend American interests around the world.”

Unintelligent Design

From the issue

THE POST of director of national intelligence (DNI) has had an unhappy five-year history. Until now it has been easier to blame the successive occupants of the position than to acknowledge the fundamental flaws of the office. Much commentary about the recent ouster of Dennis Blair, for example, has focused on his lack of chemistry with the president, his riling of the Israel lobby by attempting to appoint Chas Freeman to head the National Intelligence Council and a deficiency in political street-fighting skills compared to those of CIA Director Leon Panetta. All those no doubt contributed to Blair’s troubles. But one indication that the principal problems are those of the office rather than the occupant is that the job, in such a short time, has now chewed up three able public servants, each of whom excelled in their principal professions (the diplomatic service in the case of the first DNI, John Negroponte, and the military in the cases of Blair and his predecessor, Mike McConnell). More telling still is the difficulty in persuading other able people to take the job. Reportedly, the first to refuse was the future secretary of defense, Robert Gates, one of the most adept officials in Washington at protecting his own reputation; he can certainly recognize a losing hand when he sees one.

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An Israeli Weighs in on the Flotilla

Last month I interviewed Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, and the piece, 6,800 words long, duly appeared in The Tablet, a Jewish-American online magazine. A minuscule part of the interview raised a journalistic firestorm last week in Britain.

Peres said that there was always an anti-Semitic (and anti-Israeli) streak in the British establishment, among both Labourites and Conservatives, and this was given historic expression in Britain’s abstention in the pro-Zionist UN partition vote in November 1947 and in subsequent, periodic anti-Israel arms embargos and in Britain’s treaty alliances with various Arab states. He could also have mentioned Britain’s recent expulsion of the Mossad’s London head of station in retaliation. By the way, Peres said that British MPs are no doubt wary of their millions of Muslim constituents when they make foreign-policy pronouncements.

Some British newspapers summarized the message in their headlines thus: Peres says Britain is anti-Semitic. The exaggeration, not to say misrepresentation, of Peres’s point was in part a reaction to Israeli anger last week over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public description of the Gaza Strip today as “a prison camp “ and of his condemnation of Israel for its raid on the Turkish “humanitarian “ flotilla heading for Gaza.

Don't Rush START

 Senator John Kerry is absolutely right that “even in these polarized times,” responsible statesmen “should know that the security of the United States is too important to treat it as fodder for political posturing.” Yet, while accusing his Republican opponents, and particularly Governor Mitt Romney, of playing politics with the New START treaty, Senator Kerry is doing exactly the same himself. There is no security justification for Senator Kerry’s attempt to rush ratification without serious consideration of the important issues raised by Senator Jon Kyl and his Republican colleagues. And when Mr. Kerry claims that every day without “treaties” ensuring verification is a day without a clear view of Russia’s nuclear arsenals, he grossly overstates the pitfalls of giving the Senate more time to evaluate how the agreement affects the United States.

The New START treaty is an important agreement with an important country on an important issue with important consequences. Having a sense of responsibility suggests avoiding exaggerated claims of both the advantages and the dangers the treaty may produce. The Cold War is no more; arms-control agreements with Russia are not about avoiding nuclear holocaust. There are other issues of cooperation between Moscow and Washington at stake, including Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear problem, and trade and investment. At least some of these have greater significance to both nations than arms-control treaties reminiscent of a past nuclear rivalry. Maybe all of them do.

Resetting Democracy

 In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s White House meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev—and the bizarre spy scandal that followed—inside-the-beltway commentators have renewed questions about the Obama administration’s “reset” policy toward Russia. Some of these questions are entirely justified. But not all.

Questions about the Obama administration’s policy toward Russia fall into two general categories: “can the reset produce the results the United States needs and wants (or should want)?”, and “is the reset being executed effectively?”.

One recent example of the former is Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt’s column suggesting that “the engagement reset gives Russia’s dictators time, space and resources to further consolidate their power.” Concern over Russia’s lack of democracy is entirely appropriate, though it is not quite so clear whether Russia’s leaders are “dictators” or—as many argue—actually rather weakly authoritarian. (Despite Hiatt’s use of the term “dictators,” the second half of his quote suggests that he himself is not quite so sure about this either.)

Nevertheless, Hiatt’s central question, expressed in the title of his piece, “Can reset push Russia toward democracy?”, is flawed. Nothing the United States is realistically prepared to do can “push Russia toward democracy.” Even at the point of its greatest leverage over Moscow, under the Clinton administration, America failed at this task. The only people who can push Russia toward democracy are Russians.

The Gaza Disaster

Israel’s ill-fated commando attack on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, the sixth boat in a self-styled “freedom flotilla” which set sail on Sunday, in international waters near the Gaza Strip brings to mind the French diplomat Talleyrand’s famous remark: “It was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.” In no conceivable way can this operation, which resulted in numerous deaths, be justified as being in Israel’s national interest. Instead, it has harmed Israel in four obvious ways.

First, Israel has always prided itself on carrying out swift and flawless commando operations. Its reputation for precise, surgical strikes, however, is fast eroding. It seems clear that among the peace activists were some hardened fighters, as the Israeli government is asserting. But why is it that the commandos were unprepared for what the Washington Post editorial page is deeming the “dozens of militants who swarmed around them with knives and iron bars”? Purely as a military operation, this raid was a bungled one. It looks as though Israel was caught napping. This isn’t the Israel of Entebbe. Instead, it recklessly endangered the lives of the Israel Defense Forces.

The Threat at Home

Would-be terrorist Faisal Shahzad’s attempted Times Square bombing doesn’t surprise Bruce Hoffman. For the last four years, give or take, he has wondered whether our war-on-terror gameplan is effectively deterring al-Qaeda and the group’s offspring. Hoffman argues that gaps in our post-9/11 national-security structure are being exploited by ever-diversifying terrorists. Time and again, from the arrest of aspirant-suicide-bomber Najibullah Zazi to the rampage of Major Nidal Hasan, his argument is, at times horrifically, reinforced. Terrorists have “discovered our Achilles’ heel”: Washington doesn’t have a strategy to counter extremists that fly under the radar, defy demographic profiles, rapidly radicalize and, in some cases, live right down the street.

Shahzad is just the latest in a long line of terrorist threats that Washington should have seen coming according to Hoffman, a TNI contributing editor and Georgetown professor. He spoke Friday at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, where he is a public policy scholar, updating his piece in the May/June issue of The National Interest, “American Jihad,” in light of Saturday’s plot.

However comforting it is to think that Shahzad was acting alone, that he was an incompetent amateur, evidence is quickly mounting that he was connected to the Pakistani Taliban, which, in turn, has links to al-Qaeda. These days, said Hoffman, al-Qaeda doesn’t directly control all of the operations. It is a transnational organization that is incredibly active behind the scenes, enhancing the visibility of organizations like al-Shabab on the Internet and teaming up with groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba in Pakistan to train recruits.

American Jihad

From the issue

 LAST CHRISTMAS Day, the United States was just three minutes away from another tragedy of unmitigated horror. Once again, terrorists breached our security and nearly succeeded in turning yet one more passenger aircraft into an instrument of death and destruction. Had it not been for the malfunctioning of a cleverly disguised and detonated explosive device concealed in the bomber's underwear, and the alert passengers and flight crew who subdued him, America would have fallen victim to the worst terrorist attack since September 11, 2001.

The bomber, a twenty-three-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had recently graduated from University College London-one of the UK's most prestigious schools. He defied the conventional wisdom about the stereotypical suicide terrorist being poor, uneducated and provincial. Not only did he hold a degree, he was cosmopolitan-having lived abroad, Abdulmutallab was at ease traversing the globe without arousing suspicion-and he was the son of a wealthy banker and former Nigerian government official. Abdulmutallab was radicalized, recruited, trained and deployed in remarkably quick succession-a rapidity that was also unexpected and thus surprised counterterrorism experts.

How and why he joined al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains a mystery. However, suspicions have continually focused on the role played by an American-born Muslim cleric named Anwar al-Awlaki who fled to Yemen some years ago.

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On War and Choice

From the issue

 WARS ARE now commonly divided into types: those of necessity and those of choice. The former are unavoidable, fought because of a threat to our basic way of life. The latter are discretionary. There is no strategic imperative. These are the wars of regime change and humanitarian intervention. The distinction implies an underlying shift in international affairs, away from basic threats to our security and toward more complex challenges. If our rivals are less likely to pick a fight with us, does that give us more latitude to pick fights with others?

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April 20, 2014