Eight Ways to Thrill

My first novel, Taken, is included in a thriller box set for a limited time from Storybundle.

When you buy a box set from Storybundle you pay what you want. You can even choose how much money goes to the authors and how much goes to Storybundle. As long as you pay at least twelve dollars, you get all eight books. That’s a buck and a half apiece. 

Eight thrillers for twelve dollars? That’s a great deal even if you only read a couple of them.

The box set is only available for a couple of weeks. Before November is out it will vanish from the shelves, never to be seen again. So if you want this--and of course you do--snap it up today so you don't forget until it's too late.

Ukraine's Commitment to Values Ensures Its Independence

At the moment, Russia has lots of hard power and very little soft power, while Ukraine has lots of soft power and little hard power. Russia’s determination to exclude soft power will ultimately be suicidal. In contrast, Ukraine’s future is bright, but only if it manages to hold on to its soft power while building up its reserves of hard power.

US Proxies Surrender in Syria

Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front just surrendered to Al Qaeda in Syria.

Most people have never heard of either organization, though they’ve been sort of quietly backed by the US since they oppose the Assad regime, the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, and the Islamic State. Now they may be effectively finished. 

The US waited far too long to back proxies in Syria while the Islamic State and the Nusra Front spent years building up their strength and conquering territory. Throwing support behind anyone but the Kurds at this point is too little too late.

It’s over.

They were bad proxies anyway. The Syrian Revolutionary Front was an Islamist organization. Less deranged than Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, sure, but it was still an Islamist organization. Harakat Hazm is more secular, but it consists of a measly 5,000 fighters while the Islamic State has as many as 100,000.

Syria is gone. The only portions of that former country that may still be salvageable are the Kurdish scraps in the north. The Kurds are good fighters and they may be able to hold on with our help, but there is no chance they will ever destroy the Assad regime or the Islamic State. They don’t have the strength or the numbers.

So unless the United States decides to invade outright with ground forces—and fat chance of that happening any time soon—we’re going to have to accept that the geographic abstraction once known as Syria will be a terrorist factory for the foreseeable future.

Brazil Stays Populist

In a free and well informed election, a slim majority of Brazil’s 142 million eligible voters chose Sunday to reelect President Dilma Rousseff to a second four-year term, during which Latin America’s largest country will continue in the nationalist populist camp. The election was deeply confrontational and nothing in the campaign indicates Rousseff plans to modify her alliance with the Latin America’s leftist regimes, particularly those in Venezuela, Cuba and Argentina. Officials in these countries were jubilant with Sunday’s returns and showered congratulatory messages on Rousseff. President Obama also called Rousseff on Tuesday and, in addition to congratulations, offered an invitation for her to make an official visit to the United States in the near future, her previous visit having been cancelled after revelations that the NSA had recorded her personal communications.

Countering the Threat of North Korean Warheads

On Friday, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of UN and US forces in Korea, told reporters that he believes Pyongyang has developed the “capability” to miniaturize a nuclear device. The regime, he said during a Pentagon press briefing, also has the “technology” to deliver that device by ballistic missile. The general did not claim North Korea had actually mounted a warhead on a missile or that it had in fact tested the combination, but of course it is only a matter of time before it does so.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North likes to call itself, has claimed that its February 2013 atomic test was of a “miniaturized and lighter nuclear device.”

Tunisian Voters Say No to Islamists

Tunisia just held a parliamentary election and Ennahda, the sort-of-moderate-but-not-really Islamist party lost to the ardently secular Nidaa Tounes, which translates into Call of Tunisia.

Ennahda is the Tunisian Branch of the Muslim Brotherhood under another name, and it wears a more moderate face than the Egyptian branch. Tunisia is a genuinely moderate country and Ennahda’s leaders have no choice but to tone down their rhetoric and their platform if they want to seriously compete in elections.

Even so, they still only won 30 percent of the seats.

The previous regime was aggressively secular. Religion wasn’t banned, but it was heavily regulated by the state, as were the religious rights of individual citizens. Headscarves, for instance, were prohibited outright in schools and government buildings. The government wasn’t just secular. It was atheistic and hostile. Ordinary religious people who had no interest in living under an authoritarian or totalitarian theocracy found it offensive, and they voted for Ennahda not because they wanted an Islamic state but because they wanted a government that didn’t screw with them.

Ennahda earned the support of the true believers also, of course, the kind of people who really do pine for what Mohammad Morsi promised for Egypt before the country spit him out. Such people exist in Tunisia. Such people exist everywhere, including in the United States. They just can’t win elections on their preferred platform.

Tunisian politics might be more coherent if a viable mainstream conservative party were to compete with a more-brazen Ennahda and split the votes of religious moderates and religious extremists, but Ennahda certainly won’t split itself. The Islamists would have even fewer seats in the parliament if that were to happen. Ennahda can’t even win an election with its ostensibly moderate platform.

Much hay is being made of the fact that a large percentage of Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq hail from Tunisia. We can speculate about the reasons for that, but I can tell you with absolute confidence that it’s not because Tunisia has a broader base of support for totalitarian political Islam than other Muslim countries.

On the contrary, Tunisia is the most liberal Arab country in the world. I’ve known that for a decade. In such marked contrast to Egypt, Libya, and Syria, it has emerged from the upheavals of the Arab Spring as a more-or-less properly functioning democracy. On January 26, 2014, Tunisia ratified the most liberal constitution in the entire Arab world.

There is no chance of establishing an ISIS-like “caliphate” on that soil unless an army invades and conquers it from the outside. The ideology can appear there, but it cannot grow there. Anyone interested in seriously pursuing it has little choice but to go somewhere else. So they’ve run off to Syria and Iraq where they will kill and where they will die. Think of it like brain drain, only the people being drained aren’t the smart ones.

Leave Putin His Scraps

Would territorial retreats whet Vladimir Putin’s imperialist appetite?

I’d be rich if I had a hryvnia for every time I’ve heard that question answered in the affirmative. Accordingly, if one concedes an inch to Putin, he’ll take a mile. And, naturally, that mile will only be the prelude to many more miles. In sum, you can’t concede an inch—or else.

Critics of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s “peace plan” for the Donbas enclave controlled by Russia and its terrorist proxies generally make this argument. Providing the enclave with a special status and effectively conceding Russian control of the territory isn’t just a “capitulation.” It’s an invitation to further Russian aggression.

Let’s unpack the arguments for inches becoming miles.

Only Tariffs Will Stop China's Cyber Attacks

On Monday, GreatFire.org, an Internet monitoring group, charged that China launched “a malicious attack on Apple in an effort to gain access to usernames and passwords and consequently all data stored on iCloud.”

The “man-in-the-middle” attack, which deceived users into logging onto a Chinese government-controlled website instead of Apple’s, was directly traceable to China’s central government. “We know that the attack point is the Chinese Internet backbone and that it is nationwide, which would lead us to be 100 percent sure that this is again the work of the Chinese authorities,” said Charlie Smith, GreatFire co-founder, to the South China Morning Post. Only the Chinese government and Chinese Internet service providers “have access to the backbone.”

The Twisted Appeal of ISIS

A poll released last week by the Washington Institute suggestss that the Islamic State may be more popular in Europe than in the Middle East. Lee Smith tries to make sense of it.

Europe’s got great health care, welfare, and lots of attractive young men and attractive women who, unlike the vast majority of women in the Middle East outside of Israel, are sexually available. So, why given a choice between a comfortable, if somewhat boring, life as a pharmacist in Hamburg, or fighting and dying in the desert, are thousands of Western Muslims opting for the latter?

Because, for all the awesome social services and consumer goods it can offer, Europe has become incapable of endowing the lives of its citizens, Muslim or not, with meaning. A generation of young European Muslims are giving up their relatively easy lives in Malmö, Marseilles, and Manchester for the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, because Europe is devoid of values worth living—or dying—for. They are leaving for the same reason that Europe’s Jews are moving to Israel: Strength and a sense of purpose can be found elsewhere, whether it’s ISIS, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khameni, or the IDF.

Human beings are wired for struggle and strife. There will always be those who get bored with the tranquil and easy lives most of us have in advanced Western nations. I can relate to this a little bit myself. I had a dull office job before I ran off to places like Beirut and Baghdad. I certainly didn’t go there to fight or to kill anyone, but the sense of adventure was a massive antidote to feelings of ennui. 

A French anarchist brilliantly articulated the most extreme version of this sentiment with a can of spray paint in Paris in 1968: “In a society that has abolished all adventure, the only adventure left is to abolish that society.”

Then there's Anthony Loyd who moved from Britain to Bosnia during the Yugoslav war to resolve his emotional and substance abuse problems. "I had come to Bosnia partially as an adventure," he wrote in his book My War Gone By, I Miss it So. "But after a while I got into the infinite death trip. I was not unhappy. Quite the opposite. I was delighted with most of what the war had offered me: chicks, kicks, cash and chaos; teenage punk dreams turned real and wreathed in gunsmoke."

Don't discount this sort of impulse. You may not be able to relate to it at all, but it's real. War is hell--that's for damn sure--but it's also an incredible antitode to alienation and boredom.

Ukraine Should Abandon the Donbas Enclave

Ukraine has two nonnegotiable priorities in its ongoing war with Russia: survival and reform. Ukraine must survive as a sovereign democratic state in the short term if it is to reform, and it must reform itself in the medium term in order to survive and become a prosperous and secure sovereign democratic state in the long term. Both goals can be best advanced if Ukraine washes its hands of the enclave of the Donbas region that Russia and its proxies now control.

Europe’s foremost priority is inextricably connected to Ukraine’s. Europe’s two key pillars—the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—must survive as effective institutions, but they can do so only if Ukraine survives and reforms. If Ukraine, a geopolitically pivotal country in the heart of Europe, falls to Russia or becomes a European Zimbabwe, Europe will be hard-pressed to remain functional, prosperous, and stable.

Ukraine Must Reform to Save Itself

Will NATO Save Ukraine from Russia? I’m surprised by how many people, especially in Ukraine, believe the answer is yes. And I’m no less surprised by how many Western analysts and Russian policymakers claim that that’s exactly what NATO hopes to do—and, by implication, will do. Naturally, Russians describe NATO’s presumed intentions as offensive and not defensive.

It’s time to wake up and smell the espresso in Brussels.

First, NATO has no army. As an institution, as a bureaucracy located in two complexes in and near the capital of Belgium, the alliance does not have troops. It can cajole, persuade, bluster, and the like, but the troop-sending is done—if it is done at all—by NATO member states on behalf of NATO member states or, more problematically, in out-of-area missions. Second, most Europeans have slashed their defense budgets way below the limits they have publicly agreed to sustain. The United States is the only significant exception to this general rule. To put it mildly, Europe has passed the military buck to America, while insisting on the right to kvetch about Washington’s occasionally unwise use of armed force.

Turkey Bombs the Kurds

Turkey finally decided to use military force after watching the Islamic State in Syria advance on the Kurdish city of Kobani—and did so by bombing the Kurds.

The Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) deserves plenty of blame here. Its fighters reportedly fired on Turkish positions near the Iraqi border. But no one who has paid the slightest attention to what Turkey has been up to for the last several decades has any right to be shocked by Turkish willingness to bomb the Kurds but not the IS.

There was never much chance that Turkey would help defeat the IS in Syria or Iraq. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is primarily opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the PKK. Our interests are not in alignment.

He's quite right that Assad needs to go too, and the PKK is bad news--for real--but he, along with just about every other Turk in Turkey, is so freaked out by Kurdish independence anywhere in the world that he'd rather sit on his ass and let everyone die than do anything useful to resist the Islamic State. If he does feel like doing something useful he'll do it according to his interests, which means bombing the Kurds.

When he looks at the map he sees dominoes. Kurdish independence in Iraq could lead to Kurdish independence in Syria which could lead to Kurdish independence in Iran which could lead to Kurdish independence in Turkey. Every time a new independent Kurdish entity pops up in the Middle East, the liklihood that Turkey will lose an enormous swath of its territory increases.

His analysis is correct.

So he'll bomb the Kurds but not the Islamic State. He'd be against Kurdish independence in Syria even if the PKK didn't exist.

Turkish animosity against Kurds is hardly a secret, so I'm not sure why so many in Washington can't understand this guy. Maybe it's because he lets girls go to school and doesn't stone anybody to death.

Indian Economy to Overtake China’s

We are headed to “a world-turned-upside-down moment,” which could come as early as 2016. “That’s when,” Businessweek tells us, “India, always the laggard, may pull ahead of China and become the fastest-growing of Asia’s giants.”

Analysts used to ask, “Can India Catch Up with China?” Now, it looks almost inevitable.

There’s no mystery for the change in narrative. In a five-week-long election ending in May, 541 million voters went to the polls, and most of them demanded fundamental change. They rejected the ruling Congress Party of the Gandhi family, which had dominated national politics since independence in 1947, and gave a newcomer, the charismatic Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament.

The Inter-American Defense Charade

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made a trip to South America this week that engaged the United States in the murky security problems that destabilize this conflicted region. Some political forces now in power favor cooperation with the United States, such as Colombia and Mexico, but other sectors, led by Venezuela, and backed by Cuba, are openly antagonistic toward US leadership in the region. Hagel’s trip will test the waters and perhaps breathe new life into the Obama administration’s pallid policy toward Latin America.

The Rehabilitation of Felix Dzerzhinsky

We forget everything.

— Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Volume 1

The failure to memorialize the victims of Communist terror has contributed to the moral corrosion of Russian society.

— David Satter, It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past

In September President Vladimir Putin restored the title “Dzerzhinsky Division” to an elite Moscow police unit. So what, you say? Well, that’s the point. As the novelist Martin Amis put it in Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million, “Everybody knows of Himmler and Eichmann. Nobody knows of Yezhov and Dzerzhinsky.”


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