Suddenly, Dialogue with North Korea Is in Vogue

On Friday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry announced that North Korea had accepted the South’s invitation to hold a working-level meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom, in the Demilitarized Zone. The talks, scheduled for Thursday, are supposed to prepare the way for high-level discussions between the two Koreas, to be held in either Pyongyang or Seoul.

Belgium Terrorizes Itself

Brussels has been in full lockdown all weekend, and it’s going to remain in full lockdown at least through Monday while the police mount raids against suspected terrorist cells planning Paris-style attacks.

“The threat is imminent, precise,” said Vice Prime Minister Didier Reynders. “We're talking about possible attacks by several individuals, heavily armed, so obviously in parallel we are looking for one and more individuals with weapons, explosives.”

Schools are closed. Universities are closed. The trains haven’t been running all weekend, nor will they be running into the work week. Streets near Grand Place square are closed off. Armored vehicles are out in the streets. Helicopters are flying over the city. The US Embassy is advising American citizens living there to stay home.

The whole place looks and feels not only thoroughly terrorized but also like some kind of a war zone.

It’s a cliché to say the terrorists win when this sort of thing happens, but it’s a cliché because it’s true.

Why put the capital into lockdown for just a couple of days? Unless the police are damn sure they’ll capture the suspected terrorists right away, there’s no point.

And the police can’t be sure they’ll capture the suspects right away. Maybe the authorities think they know where the suspects are and are preparing to capture (or kill) them, but they can’t know in advance that they’ll succeed. Their intelligence could be off. They might hit the wrong house. The suspects could flee.

Any number of things can go wrong and often do.

If a handful terrorists are planning an imminent attack and don’t get rolled up even more imminently, all they have to do is wait until Tuesday when the city is back to “normal” to strike.

The authorities certainly aren’t wrong to raise the alert level, but locking down an entire city is ill-advised. Terrorists get a small victory even if they end up captured or killed before hurting anybody. It teaches distant terrorists who aren’t even in Europe that they can terrorize Belgium in the future any time they want just by putting fake threats into the air. And it could lull everybody who lives there into a false sense of security when the lockdown is inevitably lifted even if no danger has passed.

Look. Terrorists have been killing people in Western cities for decades. They are not going to stop any time soon. The worst attacks always take everyone by surprise. They cannot be forecast like weather. Shutting everything down every time something might happen just hands the bastards more power than they already have.

Stop it.

The Kremlin's Continued Attack on Dissent

The upper house of Russia’s rubber-stamp Parliament will shortly consider a request to extend the list of so-called “undesirable foreign organizations” that supposedly threaten state security and constitutional order and are prohibited from operating in the country. The list, adopted unanimously by the Federation Council in July, currently includes 12 foreign and international NGOs, among them the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House.

Spying on Friends

“Friends don’t spy on one another,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel two years ago, when new NSA leaks revealed that the US signals intelligence agency had snooped on her and other German politicians’ mobile phones. Around the same time it had been revealed that the NSA had targeted leading French politicians, including Presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and François Hollande, as well. 

A Frenchman Comes to Ukraine

Meet one of Ukraine’s most determined pro-Western politicians and Ukrainian patriots. He’s the mayor of Hlukhiv, a small city located northeast of Kyiv, in Sumy Province, just a few miles from the border with Russia.

His name is Michel Terestchenko.

RIP, André Glucksmann

The great French philosopher André Glucksmann died last week in Paris. Before passing on, he asked—charged—the also great Paul Berman to write his obituary.

Most Americans aren’t familiar with Glucksmann. Sartre and Foucault overshadowed him on this side of the Atlantic. But he was a towering figure in France, and he should have been a towering figure in the United States. At the very least, he should be better known here than the competition.

Berman complied with Glucksmann’s charge to write his obituary in Tablet. The whole thing is worth reading even if you’ve never heard of the man.

André Glucksmann was a great man, and he played a great role in history. I think that, in the world of ideas, no one in modern times has played a larger and more effective role in marshalling the arguments against totalitarianisms of every sort—no one outside of the dissident circles of the old Soviet bloc, that is. Even within those circles, Glucksmann and his arguments played a mighty role. Adam Michnik has told us that, during the bad old days in communist Poland, the dissidents used to pass around Glucksmann’s writings. In communist Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel was his friend. I have seen with my own eyes that, in Ukraine and in the Republic of Georgia, Glucksmann has continued to be revered into our own moment, and the list of countries could go on. It is also true that he has always had detractors. Glucksmann was America’s most vigorous defender among the modern French intellectuals, and I think that not more than one or two university departments in the United States ever invited him to deliver a lecture. In the American universities, no one has bothered to translate his major writings. The fashion for French philosophers in the American universities has always been a fashion for the wrong philosophers. Then again, the universities in America may not be as central to the intellectual world as they imagine themselves to be.

On the New Yorker website just now, Adam Gopnik recalls whiling away afternoons with Glucksmann in Paris during his time as a magazine correspondent there, and the description makes me reflect that, if the intellectual world does have a center, Glucksmann’s apartment ought to count as one of its locales. I recognize Gopnik’s details: Glucksmann’s purposeful conversation, the combination of a sweet demeanor and a moral firmness, the habit of referring everything to the classics of literature. I can attest that conversation in that apartment could make a powerful impression. My own first knock on the door took place in 1984 because the American political philosopher Dick Howard, who had played a part in the French student revolution of 1968, had talked me into reading Glucksmann. Just then Glucksmann had scandalized the French public and the enormous French left by coming out in favor of Ronald Reagan’s anti-Soviet missiles in Europe, which seemed to me unimaginable. And I talked Mother Jones into sending me to Paris to produce an article, in which I intended to reveal Glucksmann as a deplorable case. I do not have the heart to look at that article today, but I think I did try to suggest that Glucksmann was a fool. Only, by the time the article was in print I had begun to doubt my own evaluation.

The New Yorker writer Jonathan Schell had written a plea for nuclear disarmament titled The Fate of the Earth, in which he made disarmament seem like common sense. And Glucksmann had written a response called The Force of Vertigo, which—though it took me a while to recognize my own response—impressed me. Glucksmann worried about dreamy visions of world peace. Dreamy visions seemed to him a ticket to war. He had a lot to say about the Soviet Union and its own weapons. He argued that, in the face of the Soviet Union, nuclear deterrence and common sense were one and the same. Pessimism was wisdom, in his eyes. He wanted to rally support in the West for the dissidents of the East, which was not the same as staging mass demonstrations against Ronald Reagan. His book was a tour de force of mockery, erudition, spleen, and energy, together with a habit of banging on big philosophical drums from time to time. Reading it made me bug-eyed in wonder.

Read the whole thing in Tablet.

France’s “Merciless” Response to ISIS is Anything But

After last week’s coordinated string of terrorist attacks in Paris that killed more than 100 and wounded more than 300, ISIS says France will remain on “the top of the list” of targets, that this is just “the first of the storm” against “the capital of prostitution and obscenity” and “the carrier of the banner of the Cross in Europe.”

France is promising a “merciless” response, but what we’ve seen so far has been anything but.

With American help, the French air force launched just a handful of air strikes against the ISIS “capital” Raqqa in eastern Syria.

Activists on the ground say there were no civilian casualties. That’s certainly good. It’s what distinguishes Western armies from terrorist armies and gangster regimes like Bashar al-Assad’s. Western armies do their imperfect best to minimize civilian casualties, whereas murdering civilians in places like restaurants, newspaper offices and concert venues is all ISIS does.

The problem with the French response isn’t that the air strikes apparently killed no civilians. They apparently didn’t kill any ISIS members either. 

“Anybody who attacks the Republic,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said, “the Republic will fight back. It is not they who will destroy the Republic. The Republic will destroy them.”

Not with a handful of mostly theatrical pin pricks.

Destroying ISIS will take a hell of a lot more effort than that.

ISIS, of course, can’t destroy the French Republic or any other Western nation no matter how much effort it exerts short of somehow acquiring nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. ISIS can’t even destroy all of Syria or Iraq—not that they haven’t given it their best shot so far.

But ISIS doesn’t need to destroy the French Republic or any other state to inflict an extraordinary amount of damage. Just look at what one guy— Seifeddine Rezgui—did in Tunisia five months ago.

He casually strolled up to a bunch of British tourists on the beach and murdered 38 of them with a Kalashnikov.

The police shot and killed him, of course, and dozens of local Tunisians tried to stop him and even volunteered as human shields, but the damage was already done. Tunisia’s tourist economy went the way of the dinosaurs.

You can book rooms at five-star resorts now for as little as 30 dollars, and the resorts are still mostly empty.

Tourism is one of Tunisia’s largest industries. At least it was before Rezgui had his way with the place.

Tunisia, though, is considerably more fragile than France. It will take a lot more than one man with a gun or a suicide vest to break the French tourism industry. France has been hit a couple of times this year already, and the recent attack was actually a series of coordinated attacks, but because they all took place at the same time, they look and feel like a single large one.

It was the same on 9/11 in the United States. Four separate airplanes were hijacked simultaneously. We had casualties in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. But the four attacks were basically a single event.  

Imagine how much more devastating it would have been if those four hijackings were spread out in time. Imagine if a commercial airliner had been crashed into a different city every week for a month. Or once a month for four months.

And imagine if ISIS decides to attack France that way in the future. Rather than targeting five or six civilian targets simultaneously, they could hit a new one every day for a week. Or a new one every week for a month.

That would cause some serious economic mayhem in France or anywhere else. ISIS might do to France what it did to Tunisia. I certainly don’t intend to give them any ideas by mentioning this in public, but figuring it out on their own is no more difficult than reinventing the wheel.

The current French approach—ramping up the air strikes by an iota or two—will have no effect on ISIS’ terrorist capabilities whatsoever.

Which is not to say that a stronger approach would necessarily do the job either. Not even a full-blown invasion followed by the total destruction of the “caliphate” in both Syria and Iraq would reduce the terrorist threat in France or anywhere else to zero.

But it could certainly make a difference.

The United States spent years fighting ISIS under its previous name in Iraq and suffered no casualties at home from the organization while doing so. ISIS—which was called Al Qaeda in Iraq back then—was far too busy trying to stay alive on its home turf. And it eventually lost in Iraq and existed basically nowhere until the Syrian civil war provided a “safe space” for it to regroup and rebuild.

You want to fight ISIS? Don’t permit it to have a safe space anywhere on this planet.

South Korea's Dual Agendas Undermine Allies' Unity

“It is our stance that freedom of navigation and freedom of flight should be ensured in this area, and that any conflicts be resolved according to relevant agreements and established international norms,”said South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo, referring to the South China Sea, in a recent news briefing with his American counterpart in Seoul. 

The remark, made on the heels of a trilateral meeting in the South Korean capital among Premier Li Keqiang of China, President Park Geun-hye of South Korea, and President Shinzo Abe of Japan, was tentative. According to an account in the Wall Street Journal, “South Korean officials appeared eager to avoid the topic.”

China Militarizes the South China Sea

Photographs posted on Chinese websites late last month suggest the People’s Liberation Army is now basing its J-11 fighters on Woody Island, the largest of the Paracels, a chain of islands near Vietnam and China in the middle portion of the South China Sea.

The PLA might not keep the advanced fighters there long—the salty air degrades sophisticated planes quickly—but the introduction of J-11s on that island will surely cause alarm in the contested region for many reasons. 

Promising Structural Change Begins to Show in Ukraine

The seemingly unchanging nature of Ukraine’s dysfunctional politics can easily mask the reality: Ukraine itself is changing. Three sets of data illustrate the point.

The Ukrainian Week recently published numbers on the changes in Ukraine’s ethnic composition brought about by general demographic trends and, above all, Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and occupation of one third of the Donbas. According to the magazine’s demographic extrapolations from the 2001 census, the number of ethnic Russians in Ukraine has fallen from 8.34 million to 4.58 million—a 45 percent decrease. Ethnic Russians used to constitute 21.1 percent of Ukraine’s total population; now, they constitute 11.8 percent. In contrast, the ethnic Ukrainian share of the total population has grown from 72.7 percent in 1989 to 83.8 percent today. 

Morality, Pragmatism, and Orwell in Rhetoric and Policy

We’ve all gotten very familiar with Vladimir Putin’s Orwellian logic, according to which peace is war, intervention is non-intervention, democracy is fascism, and fascism is democracy. His latest comments at the Valdai discussion club just reinforced, if any reinforcing were still necessary, the point that the man is a master of mendacity.

We generally don’t expect equally bizarre ethical or logical standards from Western commentators. And yet they do occur, especially with regard to Putin, Russia, and their war in Ukraine.

On October 20th, Professor Mark Galeotti of New York University argued that the “West has lost the right to lecture Putin.” According to Galeotti:

Why the War in Kurdistan Matters

John Robert Gallagher voluntarily moved from Calgary, Alberta, to Syrian Kurdistan to fight against ISIS alongside the People’s Protection Units.

A suicide bomber killed him last week.

On May 6 of this year he wrote an essay on his Facebook page explaining why he went over there. Canada’s National Post republished it last week with a disclaimer that some may find it objectionable, and I’m republishing also. His mother wants as many people to read it as possible.

Why the War in Kurdistan Matters

by John Robert Gallagher

First, let me get the obvious out of the way: I do not expect anyone to agree that it is a wise course of action to volunteer to fight against ISIS. Would-be terrorists from all over the world, including Canada, (including some I probably went to school with,) are flooding into the Middle East by the thousands. They’ve got the numbers and the weapons to win this war, so to go stand on the other side of the battlefield is objectively insane.

I also respect the viewpoint that the last thing any westerners ought to do is get involved in another Middle Eastern conflict. We’ve already done tremendous damage to the region; the rise of ISIS is a direct result of foreign policy blunders by the last two Presidents (at least!). If you think that for the good of the region we should all sit this one out, I can understand that. But I can’t agree.

The cause of a free and independent Kurdistan is important enough to be worth fighting for all on its own. The Kurdish people are the largest ethnicity in the world without a country of their own, and have suffered enormously under the boot-heel of regional powers. Now they are under threat from another genocidal foe, yet they have not given themselves over to the joint manias of religious fanaticism and suicide murder. This should be enough reason for the West to give them whatever support they need in such a time of crisis. But there is an even better reason.

For decades now, we have been at war. This war has been unacknowledged by our leaders, but enthusiastically proclaimed by our enemies. This war has produced casualties on every continent, in nearly every nation on earth. It has had periods of intense fighting, followed by long stretches of rearming and regrouping, but it has never ended. It is not even close to being won. Someday historians will look back and marvel at how much effort we put into deceiving ourselves about the nature of this conflict, and wonder how we convinced ourselves that it was not even taking place. This war may have started in 1979, or earlier; 2001 increased the intensity of the conflict; the withdrawal from Iraq kicked off the latest phase. Like the American Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, this war is about ideas as much as it is about armies. Slavery, fascism, and communism were all bad ideas which required costly sacrifice before they were finally destroyed. In our time, we have a new bad idea: Theocracy.

We live in a society that’s grown around a very basic philosophical principle: That the world around us can be understood using our senses and our minds. From this simple insight comes the moral revelation that all human beings are equal in this capacity, and therefore equal in dignity. This radical idea was the turning point in human history, before which all civilizations had been dominated by the idea that class hierarchies and racism were perfectly justified according to the revealed wisdom of ancient texts, and sanctified by holy men with a special relationship to some ‘divine’ power. We began to see justice as something which could be measured by its effects on living people, not as superstition.

This idea has been under threat ever since its inception, because it’s the most powerful force for human emancipation that has ever been, and so it is a deadly threat to the privileged. It is also a threat to those who fear a world where human beings must be the judges of our own actions. Some prefer to subordinate their own morality to a doctrine they know they can never fully understand; this is more agreeable than facing the thought that we are alone in this world. This terror at our own freedom, and hatred for the mind that makes its realization inescapable, has given birth to movements that promise to give us back our comforting delusions. Communism and fascism were both answers to the problem of human freedom. These ideas were defeated. But always in the background the germ of these ideas was aggressively breeding. Theocracy isn’t just as dangerous as fascism; it’s the model of fascism, and all totalitarianisms. Communism said ‘instead of god, the Party.’ Fascism said, ‘instead of god, the Nation!’ Theocracy simply says ‘God.’

There is nothing uniquely Islamic about this trend, except that it just so happens that the most violent proponents of theocracy today happen to be Muslim. In the 1500’s, it was the Christians. By hard fighting and a brave defense of our principles, the forces of secularism managed to wrestle control of European society away from the theocrats, and we have been fighting the regressive movements that have tried to take their place ever since. The Muslim world has been dominated by theocratic politics for decades now, and that war has overflowed to engulf the rest of the world.

We are all on the front lines of this conflict, whether we know it or not. We can measure the causalities not only in the body counts of deadly terror attacks, ‘mass demonstrations,’ embassy assaults and assassinated artists; we can also measure it in the terror produced among cartoonists, satirists, publishers and booksellers, news media and educators who are being prevented from doing their necessary work of maintaining the machinery of the enlightenment. Not only have we all been threatened; in many ways we are all already casualties of this war.

The stance of pacifists and the appeasement left on this issue is not tolerance, but ironically, what it claims to oppose: fearmongering, and even ‘Islamophobia,’ since it betrays their utter terror of offending the sensibilities of immigrant communities and the so-called ‘community leaders’ who are presumed to give them their marching orders. Their pre-emptive apologism for barbarity betrays a deep contempt for the character of immigrant Muslims, since it presumes that they enjoy their mental oppression and prefer the moral stagnation of sharia law and the hadith to the pleasures of an open, cosmopolitan, secular society.

I have met plenty of self-described Muslims who have never even read the Qur’an, don’t care what it has to say about the role of women or the punishment for blasphemy, who don’t know or care how Muhammad treated prisoners of war, or how he dealt with dissenting poets in Mecca. That’s fine. I personally wish they would learn a bit about those last points and take more responsibility for the company they keep, but the point is that they are not an active part of the problem. Yet elements of our government are perfectly willing to accept that thuggishness is something we must automatically and un-judgmentally expect from Muslims, that it is US who must accommodate ourselves to THEM. What we need here is more historical education, not cultural sensitivity.

The war that is ongoing in the Middle East is a war against theocracy. In many ways it is a civil war, and I believe more depends on its outcome than anyone in power is prepared to face. But it is also a distant front in a civil war within Western society, since we are sending troops to fight on both sides. And here the stakes may be even greater. Our war is not just about theocracy; it is between those who still believe in the enlightenment, that self-determination is the most basic and most crucial of all human rights, that the first duty of every man in society is to defend the mechanisms by which we make ourselves free; and those who ultimately lack the capacity to believe in anything. These people have been corrupted by the masochistic fables circulated by leftists and identity politicians that tell us Western society is inherently racist, inherently sexist, and inherently imperialist, when it is Western society which pioneered the ideas that racism, sexism, and imperialism might be a problem in the first place.

Because of our beliefs, we live in the most racially inclusive, sexually liberated, and anti-imperialist society which has ever existed in human history, and to teach young people anything different is a criminal act of intellectual violence. And the crisis we face today is the direct result of this ‘progressive’ thinking: we are now under threat by those who take advantage of the masochism and apathy fostered by the left to recruit people who will take a violently affirmative ideology over nihilistic pessimism, even or especially if that means committing atrocities that would make the average ‘imperialist’ vomit. Those who contribute to this environment of moral decay and vulnerability are the useful idiots of jihad and fellow travelers of theocracy, and it is the duty of thinking persons to oppose their influence by every means at our disposal.

I was raised in a fundamentalist religious environment. If today I have any intellectual or spiritual existence worth fighting for, it is because it was impossible for the religious forces in my life to have their way and shield me from the assaults of reason and conscience. They could teach me that evolution was a lie, but they couldn’t prevent me from reading about it or prohibit the public schools from teaching it. They could tell me blasphemy was a sin, but they couldn’t prevent me from sneaking Monty Python and South Park. The mechanisms of society, in other words, gave me the tools by which I could make myself free. They saved my life. Who safeguards the social machinery now? Only an overbred political elite and intelligentsia who burble about the urgent need to never give offense. This is not only a disgraceful failure; it is a national emergency.

Like theocracy today, fascism used to be an international movement, with fascist parties in every western country. Then World War II happened. Nazi Germany became the standard-bearer of fascism, and when it was crushed, the movement wasn’t just destroyed, it was discredited for all time. Ironically, the rise of ISIS gives us the same chance now. We have the ability to eradicate jihadism in our lifetime. The terrorists’ own playbook sees the taking and holding of territory as a necessary step to discredit Western democracy and prove that the Caliphate is a real political possibility in the 21st century. We have to prove that it is not. And like we did with Nazi Germany, we must crush it with overwhelming, unrelenting force. We have to take it while the mass graves are still fresh, while there are still survivors to give testimony to the atrocities they’ve witnessed, while the murderers are still around to be put on trial. Only by destroying ISIS without mercy can we discredit the idea, and force the would-be jihadis and fellow-travelers to give up their insane dreams of a new Mecca and join the modern world.

I’m prepared to give my life in the cause of averting the disaster we are stumbling towards as a civilization. A free Kurdistan would be good enough cause for any internationalist, but we are fortunate enough to be able to risk our necks for something more important and more righteous than anything we’ve faced in generations. With some fortitude and guts, we can purge the sickness that’s poisoning our society, and come together to defeat this ultimate evil. I’ve been fighting this battle in one way or another for my entire life. I hope for success. The rest is in the hands of the gods.

European Solidarity Under Stress

On a recent day this month, a total of eight asylum-seekers arrived in Hungary. On other days, too, the figure has remained at 10 or lower. That’s a dramatic drop for a country that received nearly 33,000 asylum applications during the second quarter of this year, and in September sometimes received 10,000 asylum-seekers per day.

What has changed? A fence has been built.

Burma Election: Democracy by Exclusion and Discipline

Burma will hold nationwide parliamentary elections on November 8th. As is often the case with countries in transition, enormous hopes are trained on the election to usher in a new era of freedom. The National League for Democracy, under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, is expected to do very well. Whatever happens on Sunday, however, Burma’s struggle for democracy will not be over.

Iran’s Bogus Posturing on Police Brutality

The Iranian government invited twenty American writers and activists to a conference against police brutality and racism last week. Keynote speaker Ahmad Salek vowed that Israel would be destroyed within 25 years and compared American police officers to ISIS.

The Iranian government hunts down gay people and hangs them from cranes. It sends the Basij militia into the streets to attack peaceful protesters with clubs, chains, knives and axes. It routinely and as a matter of policy tortures liberal activists and intellectuals in Evin Prison.

These people think black lives matter? Really?

And that American police officers are like ISIS? Really?

And the keynote speaker at a supposed anti-racism conference vows to destroy the world’s only Jewish state within a generation. Really?

This doesn’t even rise to the level of hypocrisy.

It’s the same kind of ludicrous nonsense that the Soviet Union pulled when it pretended to support the American civil rights movement in the 1960s.

It wasn’t easy for a totalitarian regime to promote itself as a defender of human rights. Moscow ruled a continent-spanning slave empire that murdered tens of millions of people. But that didn’t stop it from trying. The Kremlin wasn’t even remotely embarrassed by its own record—deliberately starving millions of Ukrainians to death, for example, or ethnically cleansing every single last Tatar from Crimea and deporting them to Uzbekistan. And let’s not forget the millions who perished in slave labor camps in Kolyma and Siberia.

A regime that brutal didn’t give a flying fork about segregated lunch counters and schools in Alabama. It couldn’t possibly. The whole thing was just a cynical ploy to appear on the right side of history in the eyes of people who had no idea what was going on in the world. 

Any kind of civil rights movement in the Soviet Union would have been ruthlessly smashed. Obviously. There would have been nothing left of it in no time at all. Most people would never even hear about it.

Here we are in 2015 and Iran is doing the exact same thing.

Partly the regime is hoping to sucker enough activists and writers in America to change public opinion here so Tehran has even more of a free hand internationally than it already has.

But most of its objectives are local. The government trotted these American activists out in front of school children and on television to tell Iranians how horrendous things supposedly are back home.

The activists meant well, I’m sure. They had no idea they were being used as tools in a propaganda scheme by a repressive and violent regime in precisely the same way North Korea recently exploited Dennis Rodman a few years ago.

Someone really ought to sit down and explain it to them.


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