Editor’s Introduction

For those who needed it, the orchestrated attacks late last year on the American consulate in Benghazi, and the more recent apparent freelance beheading of an off-duty British serviceman on a London street and the homemade bomb attacks on the marathon runners and spectators in Boston, have provided a reminder that Islamic terror is still very much with us. Joel Brinkley gives a sense of the extent to which these outrages have become the white noise of international life in “Islamic Terror: Decentralized, Franchised, Global.” In this insightful essay, the former New York Times correspondent chronicles jihadist wars being waged not just throughout the Middle East, and in London and Boston, but in fact across the globe, by “people who violently oppose any religion but Islam, not to mention democratic elections, equality for women, and so many features of the modern world.” These terror groups are increasingly independent, decentralized, impromptu, and unpredictable. Along with their more organized and militarily more capable counterparts in Hezbollah (“the most technically capable terrorist group in the world”), they are now able to strike almost anywhere on earth, including throughout the Americas, where thousands of supporters and hundreds of terrorist operatives stand ready to be mobilized on short notice.

Many of these terror groups are empowered by a hostile regime in Iran and its Hezbollah clients and enabled by our erstwhile allies in Pakistan. And, as Robin Simcox and Emily Dyer note in an essay that surveys data on the developing domestic terror threat in the UK and US, the task of tracking and anticipating attacks will grow only more difficult as terror networks are increasingly dispersed, diverse, and decentralized and the era of the lone-wolf terrorist, freelancing and alienated, evolves.

But however much the terror threat is growing on the streets of major Western cities, it remains framed by the violence in the Middle East. After spending a couple of months there, journalist Michael Totten examines the ongoing sectarian “fight to the death” in Syria, which last year “could have been a bloody but short Libyan-style revolution to oust the tyrant Bashar al-Assad but has now metastasized into a grotesque sectarian war between the Sunni Muslim majority and the ruling Alawite minority.” In a sweeping assessment of an ever more desperate and chaotic situation, Totten offers an essay dense with information and insight on the region’s shifting fortunes and opinions as well as the hesitancy and ineffectuality of US policy. While mindful of the costs of the slaughter of Syria’s innocents, Totten is not altogether pessimistic in his analysis of what may lie ahead at the conclusion of the current “red-on-red” face-off between Assad’s army and the main “rebel” force he’s fighting—not the Free Syria Army, but Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda look-alike that emerged from the vacuum created by the absence of Western resolve.

Related Essay

The Illusion of Cuban Reform

The “reforms” Raúl Castro announced after taking over from his brother Fidel are as comical as they are tragic—a mixed bag of dumb ideas, self-dealing, and more of the same old repression.

We also look closer to home in this issue—to Cuba, where the last days of the aging Castro family dictatorship seem to drag on endlessly. After Raúl Castro assumed the dictatorship from his brother Fidel five years ago, some media and political observers saw a possible opening in the totalitarian monotony in which the country had been trapped for nearly three generations. Then, when Raúl announced his reform agenda with great fanfare, some observers said Havana had begun to dig out of the economic rubble caused by the Castros’ hand-me-down militarized communism. So we asked José Azel, a senior scholar at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuba and Cuban-American Studies, to take a closer look. Despite the sound and fury, Azel shows, the reform package signified little and did nothing in terms of genuine reform, although it did open a window onto the Kafka-meets-Bozo absurdity of the aging and self-enriching elite’s economic principles—and its determined strategy to position itself to be the primary beneficiary in any future post-totalitarian privatization of the country’s resources.

In a complementary essay, Antonio Rodiles, one of Cuba’s leading intellectual dissidents, agrees that Raúl’s political and economic reforms flopped. Because it has run out of alternatives, the regime will face increased pressures to convince the US to end sanctions. Rodiles believes the post-Castro government will exhibit a certain “schizophrenia” as it tries to navigate a course that will “create a narrow opening to the US while also making sure that any change in the upper echelons is only cosmetic.” He adds that whatever the “political chess game now taking place behind closed doors in Havana,” the true commitment to reform should be measured, inside and outside the country, only by the regime’s willingness to grant its citizens the fundamental rights set out in the UN covenants to which Cuba is already a signatory.

Spinning the globe to its other side, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Mary Kissel looks ahead to Australia’s September 14th national election and writes about her one-on-one in Canberra with the charming, brash, and apparently convincing Tony Abbott, whose energetic and momentum-gathering campaign has shaken up both the ruling Labor–Green Party coalition government and Abbott’s partisans in the Liberal National Party coalition. This former Jesuit seminarian’s uncanny ability to “articulate the virtues of smaller government, lower taxes, immigration reform, and a strong defense” has made it clear that “traditional conservatism [is] far from dead Down Under.” Kissel thinks that security-minded Americans will be pleased with Abbott’s pro-American stance given Australia’s central role in the US “pivot to Asia,” which Abbott welcomes, though he’s skeptical that the stationing of a single US Marine brigade in Australia will “change the strategic balance in this part of the world.”

Meanwhile, former Time correspondent Roland Flamini explains how Britain’s political establishment, specifically David Cameron’s Tories, is also hearing thunder on the right. The UK Independence Party, which was founded at the London School of Economics in 1993 as an anti-EU initiative, has now broadened its appeal, campaigning “against government plans to develop wind turbines, legalize same-sex marriage, and ban smoking in pubs, and in favor of a significant increase in spending on defense.” The party’s charismatic, irreverent, and seasoned political leader, a British member of the European Parliament named Nigel Farage, believes that the British have not only diminished the country’s defenses to dangerous levels, but have ceded far too much authority to Brussels. Now, as the economic outlook dims and the Euroskeptics rise in the UK, the prospects that UKIP will help persuade voters to demand a renegotiated EU membership deal have greatly increased, creating waves that will lap on shores well beyond those of this island nation.

This issue also contains reports about the perdurability of the totalitarian impulse, by two writers who know the subject well. One, Robert Park, a member of the Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, gives a horrifying picture of the Kim dynasty’s brutality inside the hermit kingdom and the mass atrocities that it uses to maintain its hold over its prison state. Park argues that the international community’s years of fruitless negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles have unwisely ignored the regime’s state-sponsored starvation program—now at epic proportions—that has fueled the country’s first-world militarization program. Vladimir Kara-Murza, a member of the Coordinating Council of the Russian Opposition, reveals how some of the most rabid anti-American authoritarians inside the Kremlin tend to favor US education for their children and US vacations and luxury property for themselves. Vladimir argues that Russian criminals who plunder Russia’s resources and abuse its citizens should be denied the opportunity to travel to, or hide their loot in, the democratic West.

There’s more. Canadian Jordan Michael Smith writes about his country’s growing global role as a major—and politically stable—energy supplier, as well as the obstacles Canada must overcome to become the “energy superpower” it aspires to be. Shehzad Qazi reports on Pakistan’s long and complex journey to nuclear weapons, which were “developed in secrecy and tested in defiance.” And, as nuclear and missile technology and weapons proliferate, increasing the likelihood one will be launched, Richard Weitz offers thoughts on how US missile defense can better defend against a future attack, wherever its origin.

As always, let us know what you think.

James S. Denton

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