Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fighting Just ISIS May Not Be Enough. By Husain Haqqani.

Fighting ISIS May Not Be Enough. By Husain Haqqani. The American Interest, November 17, 2015.


The West needs to combat Islamist ideology too.

President Obama’s professed desire to contain the Islamic State is unlikely to succeed without a serious effort by the West and its Muslim allies to question the ideology and steady stream of conspiracy theories that feeds Islamist terrorism. Given the global nature and regenerative capacity of Islamist movements, limited action against one group will only result in the birth of another.

The Islamic State emerged out of al-Qaeda’s ashes just as the Obama Administration was celebrating its successful efforts to locate and kill Osama bin Laden. Military action against IS, though necessary, will likely result in a new mutation, just as al-Qaeda evolved as a violent strain of political Islam preached by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The West, led by the United States, won the Cold War because it confronted Communist beliefs in addition to restraining Soviet expansionism. But Western leaders—including all candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2016—are reluctant to acknowledge that the West might be at war with radical Islam, out of concern for the prospect of unleashing a wave of bigotry against all Muslims.

But the falsified history and simplified explanations for Muslim decline that pass for discourse among Muslims has to be debunked if the West is to deny Islamists their raison d’être. The most practical way of denying further recruits to extremist Islamist groups is to systematically question and marginalize the outmoded theology of Islamic dominance at the heart of Islamist radicalism. A campaign to reject the dogma of Islamic supremacism would find many supporters among Muslims tired of the zealotry and self-righteousness of the Islamists.

An ideological struggle against radical Islam does not mean treating 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide as the West’s enemy. This huge population will not quit Islam by listening to television pundits in Europe and North America; nor will a ban on immigration prevent Western converts to radical Islamism from swelling the ranks of ISIS. Rather, it requires Muslims to examine the Islamists’ core belief that they must somehow be forcibly united, and that they have a God-given right to lead the world.

Soon after the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda ideologue Sayf al-din al-Ansari explained that the attacks were necessary to challenge the ascendancy of Western civilization. According to him, the Islamic community “cannot move in an orbit set by another.”

The Islamic State’s statement claiming responsibility for last Friday’s attacks in Paris declared that the attackers sought to “cast terror into the hearts” of the West. The attacks in France, patterned on the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, India, came within 48 hours of attacks in Beirut and Baghdad, reflecting the jihadis’ global reach.

Islamists target other Muslims to eliminate pluralism within Islam; causing fear and panic in Western society is part of the jihadis’ strategy to weaken and defeat Western civilization. The origins of al-Qaeda, IS, and other similar groups lie in recent Muslim history and ideology, not Western foreign policy.

Unlike Europe and North America, Muslim territories did not reach their contemporary status gradually. The British and the French in the Arabic-speaking lands, the Russians in Central Asia, the Dutch in Indonesia, and the British in India and Malaya brought new ideas and technology to Muslim lands as occupiers or colonizers.

Some Muslim leaders, especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries, opted to learn from and imitate the West. Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, told a peasant who asked him what Westernization meant: “It means being a better human being.” Others, however, recommended “revivalism,” or a search for lost glory through rejection of new ways and ideas.

Contemporary jihadis use modern means, including the internet and state-of-the-art weapons, to impose medieval beliefs in an effort to reclaim Islam’s global pre-eminence. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian founder, Hassan al-Banna, called upon Muslims “to regain their honor and superiority” in addition to recovering “their lost lands, their usurped regions and their occupied territories.”

While seeking honor or securing self-determination might be valid political objectives, the belief in the superiority of one’s community of believers only fosters fascism. Muslim countries have nosedived into turmoil, with the rise of those wanting to Islamize the modern world coming at the cost of those hoping to modernize the Muslim world.

There is a huge gap between the Islamist aspiration of dominating the world and the reality of the relatively poor political, economic, and educational status of Muslims in contemporary times. Muslims comprise 22 percent of the world’s population but account for only 7 percent of its economic output.

The number of new book titles published every year in Arabic, the language of 360 million, is the same as those published in Romanian, the mother tongue of only 24 million people. The annual figure for new book titles in Urdu, spoken by some 325 million South Asian Muslims, is comparable to that for Danish, spoken by some 5.6 million.

Muslim leaders and intellectuals have created a narrative of victimhood to explain Muslim debility, which in turn enables extremist groups to offer extreme strategies to change the circumstances. “We are weak and poor because we were colonized by the West” is a common refrain, whereas in reality colonization became possible because Muslim empires had already been weakened by failing to adopt new technologies and modes of production.

The jihadi plan for regaining Muslim pride is to challenge Western dominance by striking fear and terror in the hearts of Westerners. They are aided in their endeavor by the absence of discussion among Muslims of why all major ideas that define the contemporary world—from the joint stock company, banking, and insurance to freedom of speech—emerged in the West, or how these ideas, not just conspiracies and superior military technology, made the West ascendant in the past several centuries.

While the jihadis want a clash of civilizations, most ordinary Muslims are hesitant to examine their history or analyze their community’s prospects. Universities in most of the Muslim world focus on producing doctors, engineers, and people proficient in technical disciplines. As a result, even highly educated professionals embrace conspiracy theories about al-Qaeda and ISIS being Western puppets bent on dividing Muslims. Some who do not support the extremists still see value in their ability to at least challenge the arrogant West.

Military defeat alone will not rid the Muslim world of this intellectual malaise. Islamist movements use the humiliation of fellow believers as an opportunity for the mobilization and recruitment of dedicated followers. The resort to asymmetric warfare—the idea that a suicide bomber is a poor man’s F-16—has followed recent Muslim military defeats.

Yasser Arafat and his al-Fatah captured the imagination of young Palestinians only after the Arab defeat and loss of the West Bank in 1967. Islamic militancy in Kashmir can be traced to India’s military victory over Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh War. Revenge, rather than willingness to compromise or submit to the victors, is the traditional response of Islamists to the defeat of their armies.

Islamists represent a strain of revivalist thought that perceives a battle without a specific frontline and not limited in span to a few years or even decades. They think in terms of conflict spread over generations. A call for jihad against British rule in India, for example, resulted in an underground movement that began in 1830 and lasted until the 1870s, with remnants periodically surfacing well into the 20th century.

Western nations, together with Muslim allies, need a winning strategy for that generational conflict. They could encourage Muslims to recognize that success in the 21st century will not come from seeking restoration of the medieval order.

Jihadists are incubated in the anti-Western and anti-Semitic conversations and conspiracy theories that pervade the Muslim world. Islamists murder secularists and force many of them to leave their countries because they fear the seductive power of liberal ideas. In the first half of the 20th century, secular nationalism served as the antidote to Islamism.

But nationalist autocrats bred conspiracy theories themselves while strangulating freedom of thought. Instead of ushering in a Muslim enlightenment, authoritarian secularism only strengthened anti-Semitism and the search for the hidden hand manipulating Muslim nations and depriving them of their manifest destiny. Western nations and their Muslim allies embraced Islamists, who were rather weak at the time, in the context of their efforts to contain communism.

Now may be the time to reignite debate in Muslim countries about the real causes of Muslim debility. Western governments and even private organizations and individuals could help with wider circulation in native languages of material produced by Muslims who question the narrative that aids the Islamists.

Books and movies could be produced reflecting the ways that Muslim decline is caused not by Westernization but by poverty and ignorance, which cannot be over-turned by recreating the 7th century or sporadic attacks on Western cities. Support could be given to anti-Islamist political parties, just as non-communist groups were helped in several vulnerable countries during the Cold War. An international network of Muslim critics of radical Islam could reiterate and refine their message.

Some Muslim governments, notably the United Arab Emirates, have initiated efforts to debate and dispute the radical Islamist worldview. That effort needs to expand to include Western countries with substantial Muslim populations, as well as Muslim countries, which tend to produce disproportionately larger number of Jihadi recruits.

In countries like Pakistan (deemed a Western ally) the Jihadi narrative is sustained by the government and media to help groups that advance regional strategic objectives. But it inadvertently also advances the cause of jihadis that are out of the state’s control.

By refusing to identify radical Islam (not all Muslims) as the problem, Western leaders end up reinforcing the Islamist view that they are succeeding in rattling or confusing the West. A concerted ideological campaign, like the one that discredited and contained communism, run by Muslim allies would be the Islamists’ worst nightmare. It would augment military action and counter-terrorist operations against jihadi safe havens and would prevent the breeding of future jihadis.

The Left Has an Islam Problem. By Sean Illing.


ISIS doesn’t represent true Islam. But denying there’s a problem within Islam only makes the left look feckless.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to talk honestly about Islam. For liberals in particular, it’s a kind of heresy to suggest that Islam, at this particular moment in history, has a problem. This is unfortunate, and it has to end.

All religions are not the same. All faith traditions are not equally wise or equally tolerant or equally peaceful. A fundamentalist Jain is not the same as a fundamentalist Christian. A devout Quaker and a committed Wahhabist have very different ideas about justice and equality and morality. And to the extent that Quakers and Wahhabists live by the light of these ideas, the differences between them are vast and consequential.

All of this should be obvious to anyone paying attention, and yet it isn’t.

What happened in Paris last weekend was both tragic and banal. And like mass shooting incidents in America, the response to it was as depressing as it was familiar. The bigots on the Right, many of whom are Christian fascists, were quick to condemn Islam as such. These people hate Muslims already, and they hate them precisely because they’re Muslim. The religious right is animated by tribalism and hatred, and so anything they say or do as it relates to Islam is irremediably tainted.

Commentators on the Left, reacting against the bigotry and historical amnesia of the Right, focused on our own complicity and on the need to counter “Islamophobia.” Unlike the commentary on the Right, however, this serves a purpose. It’s essential to note that America has radicalized this region with decades of plunder and interventionism.  It’s essential to note that there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and that the overwhelming majority of these people are peaceful and tolerant. It’s essential to note that it’s unjust to blame all Muslims for the acts of ISIS, whose vision of Islam is not shared by the rest of the Muslim world. And it’s essential to note that Christianity is also replete with Iron Age dogmas, many of which are as regressive and toxic as anything you’ll find in the Quran.

All of this is true, and the point can’t be made enough.

But there’s a broader and more nuanced conversation to be had about Islamic extremism, one free of religious tribalism and ideological bias. And that conversation is about specific ideas, ideas that are operative in groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.

This isn’t a war against a religion or a people or a culture – although the purveyors of hate want to make it such. When liberals attack the illiberal values of Islamic extremists, who turn women into cattle and children into martyrs, this isn’t a defense of white liberals or even Western culture; above all it’s a defense of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who continue to suffer under the yoke of theocracy and repression.

We’re defending the gay Muslims being hurled off of rooftops; we’re defending the young girls being pelted with battery acid for the crime of receiving an education; we’re defending the freethinkers and the secularists and the advocates for equality and free speech in the Muslim world, who are, in almost every way, braver and more important than their Western counterparts.

There’s a persistent taboo on the Left which demands that every incident of terror be attributed to American foreign policy. Terrorism is a hydra-headed problem, and it’s not reducible to a single cause – religion and politics and economics and foreign policy and institutional corruption are critical variables. Does America’s history of looting and corruption in the Middle East matter? Absolutely. Is the world and the region currently paying the price for the West’s self-interested partitioning of the Middle East after World War I? Without question. But Islamists aren’t killing cartoonists because the U.S. invaded Iraq. And ISIS isn’t exterminating the Yazidis because of America’s sordid relationship with Saudi Arabia.

We can and should acknowledge our hypocrisies and our injustices and our complicity in creating the menace that is Islamic extremism. But if you think ISIS is merely a reaction against U.S. foreign policy, you’re dangerously misguided. ISIS’s concerns aren’t primarily political. They are committed to a prophetic theology of seventh-century Islam, and everything they do and say confirms their desire to incite an apocalyptic confrontation with the modern world.

Their hatred of infidels and their belief in martyrdom and armed Jihad have a scriptural basis, and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. And their brand of Islam isn’t radically different from the Wahhabism practiced in Saudi Arabia. Most Muslims aren’t Wahhabists and don’t share this vision of life, just as most Christians aren’t stoning adulterers, even though there are biblical injunctions to do so. But it’s disingenuous to say ISIS has no connection to Islamic tradition.

The problem isn’t Islam so much as Jihadism. Islam is a rich and complicated religion, with countless sects and denominations and readings. Almost all of these manifestations of Islam are peaceful and perfectly compatible with a free and pluralistic society. But Jihadists and certain Islamists want to impose their interpretation of Islam on the rest of society, including the West. This is a real problem, and it’s not reducible entirely to Eurocentrism or Western imperialism or neoconservative aggression or illegal and murderous drone strikes – although these things are real and matter a great deal. And it’s not “Islamophobic” to admit this.

The fact is, most Muslims are our allies in this fight, and that fact gets obscured when only Christian theocrats are critiquing Islamic extremists. Liberals and progressives and humanists ought to be able to say that there’s a problem within Islam, not unlike problems within Christianity and other religions at various periods in history, without being accused of bigotry. And we have to a draw a distinction between doctrines and people, ideas and communities.

ISIS doesn’t represent true Islam, just as the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t speak for Christianity. But both are religious problems, and one is clearly more dangerous and ascendant than the other. Insofar as Jihadists believe in specific ideas about apostasy and prophecy and martyrdom and blasphemy and religious freedom, we have to take them seriously, and we have to criticize those ideas.

These critiques are not of all or even most Muslims, but only of the tiny minority who hold and act on these ideas. The fundamentalists on the Right won’t acknowledge this distinction, which is exactly why the Left has to make it.

ISIS and the Logic of Anarchy. By Robert D. Kaplan

ISIS and the Logic of Anarchy. By Robert D. Kaplan. The National Interest, November 17, 2015.


ISIS’ success, and the key to defeating it, lies in “out-administering” whoever came before.

The terrorist attacks in Paris, beyond their obvious horror, recalled to me the words of the late Bernard Fall, a French-American historian and war correspondent in Vietnam. In 1965, Fall wrote: “When a country is being subverted it is not being outfought; it is being out-administered. Subversion is literally administration with a minus sign in front.” ISIS has subverted western Iraq and eastern Syria because it is out-administering the Baghdad and Damascus regimes there. That is, ISIS has erected a competent bureaucratic authority covering everything from schools to waste removal which, combined as it is with repression, is secure and stable. And with that territorial security, ISIS has apparently created a central dispatch point for planning terrorist attacks abroad. Eventually, the end of ISIS can only come about when some other force out-administers it.

ISIS is the upshot of anarchy, in other words: a situation which obtains when a populated territory is without administration, so that warrior bands prevent anyone from feeling secure. The toppling of a secular Baathist regime in Iraq in 2003 and a revolt against another secular Baathist regime in Syria in 2011 reduced those countries to dust and chaos. Baathist totalitarianism, followed by such chaos, meant that only a movement equally extreme in its own right could take root and flourish in the vacuum. Thus, whatever strategy we follow against ISIS must have as its endgame a plan to out-administer it, or else anarchy will simply return and ISIS along with it.

Should we put boots on the ground?

Of course, this would create an alternative administration to ISIS. But that means nation-building and there is no public appetite in the United States, France, or elsewhere in the West for that. I would distrust the public mood at the current moment, since rage deceives itself regarding its long-term willingness to sacrifice. A realistic war plan must be cognizant of what the public mood will be after many more news cycles; it will be very different from this one. The Bush administration’s critical mistake was to plan an anti-terror strategy—from interrogating enemy combatants to invading countries—based essentially on the public mood in the first days and weeks after 9/11.

Should there be an international coalition?

Surely that will exist, as it did for the invasion of Afghanistan, but not like for the invasion of Iraq. And that will help. An international coalition does buy you time: if many consequential countries are involved, the home front in each of them will tend to be more patient and understanding when setbacks inevitably occur. Still, the idea that an army of largely Christian soldiers from America and Europe is going to permanently pacify toughened outlaw cities, brimming with Islamic religiosity, is inherently problematic.

Should we cooperate with the Assad regime and Iran?

Assad’s tyranny is why the Syrian civil war is going on in the first place. As for Iran, its occupation, direct or indirect, over eastern Syria and western Iraq would create a more powerful regional hegemon, hostile to the West. Augmenting Iranian power would be a high price to pay for subduing ISIS. On the other hand, Iranian-backed Shia groups are not presently committing terrorist acts in the West, even as Assad represents, with Russian help, the most powerful and secular force in Syria at the moment. Given that foreign policy is a hierarchy of needs, perhaps utilizing Assad and the mullahs (and the Russians, too) against ISIS is demonstrably in the West's interests. The point is to out-administer ISIS in eastern Syria and western Iraq through some kind of occupation force that will not use its newly established sovereignty to plan terror attacks on the West.

Why can’t the Iraqi government administer these places?

If the Iraqi government had the capacity for adequate administration, it would not have lost places like Fallujah and Ramadi in the first place. Remember, ISIS emerged in all its horror when it out-administered the Baghdad regime in Mosul.

What about the Kurds?

They are a partial solution. But owing to the mountainous geography of the ethnic Kurdish homeland, Kurdistan does not sufficiently overlap with the sprawling ISIS terrain in the desert.

What about utilizing certain elements of all of the above? That is, what could likely emerge is an international coalition with very modest numbers of boots on the ground; continued military support for the Kurds; and back-channel political deal with Damascus, Baghdad, Tehran and Moscow. The point is, all of this will be hard, truly hard.

There is also the Rumsfeld-Cheney approach—what the two men actually wanted to do in Iraq, as opposed to what they ended up doing: topple Saddam and leave quickly, period. The corollary to that might now be: bomb, bomb, bomb ISIS territory, with a dramatic upsurge of drone strikes and intelligence operations to make a place such as Raqqa unlivable even for ISIS itself. But you shouldn’t occupy any territory in this game plan. That way, you don’t have to out-administer anyone. I just don’t see how such a strategy ends, though, since somebody will eventually have to fill the void. Thus, like their Iraq plan, it offers no solution.

Ultimately, a new order must emerge in the Levant from the anarchy unleashed by the collapse of Baathist regimes, in which all intermediary layers of civil society, between the dictator on top and the tribe and extended family at the bottom, were eviscerated. The West has decreed that such a new order cannot constitute the warriors of ISIS. So who and what will out-administer it?

Time to Level Raqqa: Kill Ten Thousand, Save a Million. By Ralph Peters.

Obama’s “patience” merely gave ISIS time to grow. By Ralph Peters. New York Post, November 16, 2015.


The Obama administration has tried to spin its timidity and ineptitude in the face of Islamist terrorism as a clever policy of “strategic patience.” With eyes closed and fingers crossed, the president hoped that, miraculously, the mortal threat from ISIS would wither away.

You might as well hope that malignant tumors will cure themselves.

President Obama’s approach of delayed and diluted action — ever doing the minimum demanded by domestic politics — has allowed ISIS not only to survive but to expand its appeal, its numbers, its territory and its global impact. Starbucks took 30 years to reach five continents. ISIS did it in two.

In his press conference in Turkey on Monday, Obama continued to insist that there was no need to change his Syria policy, that success merely “will take time.” Yet it’s precisely because of our unwillingness to take the threat seriously and then to respond forcefully that ISIS now has a deep bench of seasoned “middle managers” ready to replace the leaders we kill; it has tens of thousands of combat-veteran jihadis; it’s made the caliphate real in the city of Raqqa; and it’s had the leisure to learn how to cope with our weapons (human shields work every time).

With a free assist from Edward Snowden, it’s even learned how to circumvent our intelligence efforts. Ask the French.

Obama wouldn’t go to Raqqa. So the jihadis went to Paris.

Friday’s thoroughly planned and boldly executed attacks not only brought darkness to the City of Light, but scored an enormous propaganda victory for ISIS. With almost 500 Western casualties, a quarter of them dead, the carnage will prove electrifying to potential jihadi recruits around the world.

Just as important, our dithering also gave ISIS time to refine its techniques and strategies. Less than a year ago in Paris, a struggling al Qaeda staged a shocking, if crude, attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine. That incident now seems bush league compared to the latest attack, with its near-simultaneous strikes on six symbolic “lifestyle” targets packed with infidel victims.

The first attack was savage. Friday’s attack was savage and sophisticated.

Last week’s attack was planned in Syria. Three strike teams then infiltrated back into France or were activated in place. A support network supplied them with weapons and cars.

Limiting their communications to the bare minimum (and encrypting them), they relied largely on the techniques terrorists used a century ago: small cells, minimal contact, low profiles and deep planning (real strategic patience).

The result? A handful of men with small arms and home-brew explosives stunned the world.

Technically, the Paris attacks were the result of intelligence failure. But that label’s just too easy. The French are quite good at surveillance. But they’re restricted by law (as are we) in what they can do domestically; they’re overwhelmed by the number of potential threats; and they face an adaptive, elusive enemy.

The ugly truth is that ISIS and its affiliates have been allowed to put down such deep roots that more attacks are inevitable. Here, too.

What can be done? The answer is easy to mouth — and unwelcome to those who conduct foreign policy by platitudes (such as “there’s no military solution”). The base line is that you can’t win by playing defense. You must take the war to the enemy — without restraint. If you’re not determined to win at any cost, you’ll lose.

Our military has the resources to shatter ISIS, but political correctness has penetrated so deep into the Pentagon that, even should a president issue the one-word order, “Win!,” our initial actions would be cautious and halting. We’ve bred a generation of military leaders afraid of being prosecuted by their own government for the kind of errors inevitable in wartime. Instead of “leaning forward in the foxhole,” our leaders lean on lawyers.

If lawyers had had to approve our World War II target lists, we couldn’t have won. War is never clean or easy, and the strictures imposed on our military today just protect our enemies. Collateral damage and civilian casualties are part of combat and always will be. The most humane approach is to pile on fast and win decisively — which results in far less suffering than the sort of protracted agony we see in Syria.

The generals who won World War II would start by leveling Raqqa, the ISIS caliphate’s capital. Civilians would die, but those remaining in Raqqa have embraced ISIS, as Germans did Hitler. The jihadis must be crushed. Start with their “Berlin.”

Kill ten thousand, save a million.

Unthinkable? Fine. We lose.

And the jihadis? They’ll always have Paris.

The Islamist Tantrum. By Bret Stephens.

The Islamist Tantrum. By Bret Stephens. Wall Street Journal, November 16, 2015.


People are dead in Paris because Europe decided to make a fetish of its tolerance for intolerance.

We live in the age of the sanctified tantrum—the political and religious furies we dare not name or shame, much less confront.

Students bully college administrators with contrived political demands. The administrators plead they can do better, then capitulate. Incompetent writers pen trite racial screeds aimed at the very society that lifts them above their ability. They are hailed as geniuses.  Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination epitomizes the politics of the tantrum. He’s angry as hell, and so is his base. We’re supposed to respect this.

And then there is the tantrum of Islam, another eruption of rage that feeds off our astonishing willingness to indulge it.

Before Friday’s carnage in the City of Light, the world was treated to the hideous spectacle of Palestinians knifing Jews in Israel. The supposed motive of these stabbings was a rumor among Palestinians—fanned by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—that the Israeli government intended to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

This was a story the Israeli government adamantly denied and every serious person knew was false. Yet no senior Western leader dared call out Mr. Abbas to correct the record. Palestinian tantrums are sanctified tantrums. The violence they breed might be condemned, but the narrative on which they rest has the status of holy writ. It is no more to be questioned than the Quran is to be burned.

“To counteract the radicalization [in Europe],” Swedish Foreign Minister  Margot Wallström said in a televised interview only hours after the Paris attacks, “we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East in which . . . the Palestinians see that there is no future; we must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence.”

Here was the sanctified tantrum par excellence: People murder and maim because they have been put (by Israel) to a bleak choice. Rage is not to be condemned but understood, mitigated and mollified.

Later that day, at the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and the two noncontenders for the Democratic presidential nomination each refused to use the term “radical Islam” in referring to the ideological force behind the Paris killings. The furthest Mrs. Clinton would go to naming the enemy was to say “you can talk about Islamists who also are clearly jihadists.”

Apparently, however, you cannot mention Islamists who are not yet “clearly jihadists,” lest some other invisible line be transgressed. To do so might set off another tantrum among people who tend toward violence whenever they are accused of violent tendencies.

Nowhere are Islamist tantrums so richly indulged as in Europe.

Take the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, which turns out to have been home to at least one mastermind of Friday’s attacks. “In Molenbeek, the newspaper Het Volk published a study of the local Muslim population,” I noted in this column in August 2006. “The editor, Gunther Vanpraet, described the commune as a ‘breeding ground for thousands of Jihad candidates.’ ”

For many years the mayor of Molenbeek was a man named Philippe Moureaux, a Socialist best known as the author of the 1981 Law Against Racism and Xenophobia. In 2004 he helped pass a law allowing noncitizens to vote in municipal elections. Roughly a quarter of Molenbeek’s 96,000 residents are not Belgian citizens.

Mr. Moureaux was also instrumental in engineering the political marriage of his Socialist Party with Muslim arrivals from Turkey and North Africa—a Europe-wide phenomenon that accounts for left-wing sympathies for Islamists whose views on subjects such as gay rights or the equality of women are less than progressive.

It was under Mr. Moureaux’s indulgent eye that Molenbeek became what it is. For years, a group called Sharia4Belgium—no prizes for guessing its goals—was active in the neighborhood until a Belgian judge shut it down in February. The Muslim fanatic who last year opened fire on the Jewish museum in Brussels, killing four, also once lived in Molenbeek, as had the man who tried to open fire on a high-speed train in August. “I notice that each time [there is a jihadist attack] there is a link with Molenbeek,” Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, admitted Sunday. Nice of him to connect the dots.

I lived near Molenbeek for two years when I worked for this newspaper’s European edition and used to jog along the canal that cuts through the neighborhood. It took no special insight to see what was likely to come out of the place.

Now 129 people are dead in Paris because Europe decided to make a fetish of its tolerance for intolerance and allow the religious distempers of its Islamist communities to fester over many years. That’s what happens when you sanctify political tantrums, explain and appease them, refuse to name them, try to look away.

President Obama’s Cynical Refugee Ploy. By Walter Russell Mead.

President Obama’s Cynical Refugee Ploy. By Walter Russell Mead. The American Interest, November 17, 2015.


The debate we are having over the acceptance of Syrian refugees is not the conversation the country needs.

The governors of 26 U.S. states signaled yesterday that they will not be willing to take in any Syrian refugees, following the lead of Michigan and Alabama, which announced similar objections this past Sunday. Governor Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire became the first Democrat to voice opposition to President Obama’s plan to accept 10,000 refugees from the war in Syria in the next year. Governors of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Connecticut, on the other hand, came out in explicit support of the initiative.

Goodhearted liberals have reacted with handwringing to the avalanche of dissenting governors. Some have earnestly quoted relevant Bible verses about taking in the poor and the afflicted, while the usual righteous tut-tutters have engaged in their usual righteous tut-tutting. “Everybody who disagrees with my proposal is a bitter-clinging xenophobe, not to mention a racist,” is the clear implication of the President’s supporters.

That there are racist xenophobes in this country is clear to anybody who has ever perused the comments section of an internet news site, or has spent too much time on Facebook and Twitter. And many of these people are spewing ugly hate about Syrian refugees in ways that appall—or should appall—anybody with an open mind and a humane spirit. That said, the refugee issue is not, despite President Obama’s rhetoric, a simple morality play featuring Wise Liberals and Racist Jacksonians. It is something more complicated and, at least as far as President Obama’s own role in the debate, a bit uglier.

To see the full cynicism of the Obama approach to the refugee issue, one has only to ask President Obama’s least favorite question: Why is there a Syrian refugee crisis in the first place?

Obama’s own policy decisions—allowing Assad to convert peaceful demonstrations into an increasingly ugly civil war, refusing to declare safe havens and no fly zones—were instrumental in creating the Syrian refugee crisis. This crisis is in large part the direct consequence of President Obama’s decision to stand aside and watch Syria burn. For him to try and use a derisory and symbolic program to allow 10,000 refugees into the United States in order to posture as more caring than those evil Jacksonian rednecks out in the benighted sticks is one of the most cynical, cold-blooded, and nastily divisive moves an American President has made in a long time.

Moreover, many of those “benighted” people were willing to sign up for the U.S. military and go to fight ISIS in Syria to protect the refugees. Many Americans who now oppose the President’s ill-considered refugee program have long supported the use of American power to create “safe zones” in Syria so the refugees could be sheltered and fed in their own country. If President Obama seriously cared about the fate of Syria’s millions of displaced people, he would have started to organize those safe havens years ago. And if he understood the nature of America’s role in Europe, he would have known that working with the Europeans to prevent a mass refugee and humanitarian disaster was something that had to be done.

Not even President Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq has been as destructive for Europe or as damaging to the Transatlantic alliance as President Obama’s hard-hearted and short-sighted Syria policy. The flood of refugees is shaking the European Union to its core, and Obama’s policy has cemented perceptions among many around the world that the United States is no longer the kind of useful ally that it once was. France didn’t even bother to invoke NATO’s Article 5 after the Paris attacks; nobody really thinks of President Obama as the man you want at your side when the chips are down.

The collapse of President Obama’s Syria policy is hardly a partisan issue. He has repeatedly overruled his own national security officials, top diplomats, and advisors, many of whom have been horrified by the President’s passivity in the face of onrushing disaster. His abrupt policy switch on airstrikes left many senior Democrats who had supported his apparent determination to enforce his “red line” against Assad twisting in the wind.

To think that conspicuous moral posturing and holy posing over a symbolic refugee quota could turn President Obama from the goat to the hero of the Syrian crisis is absurd. Wringing your hands while Syria turns into a hell on earth, and then taking a token number of refugees, can be called many things, but decent and wise are not among them. You don’t have to be a xenophobe or a racist or even a Republican to reject this President’s leadership on Syria policy. All you need for that is common sense and a moral compass.

And it’s worse. The Obama Administration’s extreme caution about engagement in Syria led it to insist on such a thorough process of vetting potential Syrian allies that years of effort and tens of millions of dollars resulted in only a paltry handful of people being found acceptable to receive American weapons and training. The refugee vetting process won’t be nearly this thorough; it’s almost certain that the President’s program will result in settling people in the United States who could not be certified to fight for the United States in Syria. Given our gun laws, uncertified Syrians living in the United States will soon have the opportunity to get weapons that the United States government would refuse to give them in Syria. To millions of Americans, this is a double standard they can neither understand nor accept. To call people troubled by these concerns racists and xenophobes is to divide and polarize this country in ways that will cost us all dearly down the road. We have enough hate, enough radicalism, enough mutual misunderstanding and distrust between left and right in America as it is. The President is adding to that distrust, and doing it in a particularly ugly and damaging way.

If President Obama really had the superior moral insight and wisdom that he believes makes him so much more humane and far-seeing than the ignorant rednecks who keep on opposing him, he would have approached the refugee issue with less arrogance and more self-awareness. It is not given to the sons (or even to the daughters) of mortals to be right about everything all the time; Presidents make mistakes, even in the Middle East. A little humility, a little acknowledgement of responsibility, a little self-reflection could go a long way.

For no one, other than the Butcher Assad and the unspeakable al-Baghdadi, is as responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as is President Obama. No one has committed more sins of omission, no one has so ruthlessly sacrificed the well-being of Syria’s people for his own ends, as the man in the White House. In all the world, only President Obama had the ability to do anything significant to prevent this catastrophe; in all the world no one turned his back so coldly and resolutely on the suffering Syrians as the man who sits in the White House today—a man who is now lecturing his fellow citizens on what he insists is their moral inferiority before his own high self-esteem.

From the standpoint of American interests and of the well being of the Syrians, the primary responsibility that the United States has toward the people of Syria is not to offer asylum to something like 0.25 percent of its refugee population. The primary duty of this country was to prevent such a disaster from happening and, failing that, to support in-country safe havens and relief operations. No doubt President Obama and the unthinking press zealots who applaud his every move prefer a conversation about why ordinary Americans are racist xenophobes to one about why President Obama’s Syria policy has created an immense and still expanding disaster.

The “why are Jacksonians such xenophobes?” conversation, given the way so much of the country’s media works, is the conversation we are having. It is not the conversation the country, or even the President, needs. The Syria war has not finished creating refugees, undermining regional and even global security, putting WMD in terrorist hands, or spreading the poisons of radicalism and sectarian war across the Middle East and among vulnerable Muslims in Europe and beyond. Things can and will get worse as long as American policy continues to flounder; instead of arguing about how to shelter a few thousand refugees we need to look hard at how we are failing to address the disaster that has created millions, and that continues to grow.