A New Vision for Middle East Peace?

The prize could be great: a stable, prosperous Middle East with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel at the heart of it.

—British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in advance of his first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority

After Jerusalem on Wednesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron will travel to Bethlehem on Thursday to meet with Palestinian leaders including PA President Mahmoud Abbas. He will, of course, express Britain’s long-standing support for the establishment of a Palestinian state. But he is also expected to take the opportunity to unveil a plan to aid the development of Palestinian businesses. Britain’s close relations to the Gulf and Cameron’s own repeated trips there mean the prime minister is well placed to help the Palestinians realize the promise of future prosperity.

The Iran Deal's Ten Fatal Flaws

When people wonder why we have been so loud against this agreement with Iran it is because for us it is not academic or theoretical, it is existential. Here is a regime that has been loud, not about a dispute with Israel, but rather about its wish and commitment to the destruction of Israel.

—Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid

Yes, it is interim; and yes, we must now direct all our energies to the struggle to shape the endgame deal. Still, before we do, and so we know how tough that struggle will be, we should also register just how bad the deal struck in Geneva really is.

First, it legitimized the Iranian regime’s claim to a right to enrich (in the face of six UN Security Council resolutions demanding that enrichment stop).

Horror in North Korea

Do the maths: three million dead in the war Kim Il Sung started; add three million dead from the famine under Kim Jong Il; add one million dead in the Gulag and other fatal consequences of political and economic oppression and that equals: seven million people.

—John Sweeney, North Korea Undercover, 2013

Published in 1999, The Black Book of Communism was a melancholy 858-page compendium of the global tally of, in the words of its subtitle, crimes, terror, and repression produced by the political movement that the historian François Furet famously called an “illusion.” The book is often criticized from the left for overestimating the victims of Communism (“The total approaches 100 million people killed,” insisted the editor Stéphane Courtois), but as it turns out, Pierre Rigoulot, the author of the chapter on North Korea, actually underestimated the death toll, reckoning there to be three million victims of North Korean Stalinism.

The Looming Bad Deal on Iran

The nightmare scenario of a “bad deal with Iran” looms for three reasons.

First, the West is not putting Tehran under enough pressure from sanctions to get it to accept what would be a bad deal for them on their nuclear program. And now the “Rouhani narrative” surrounding Iran’s new president is persuading the EU and the US to go soft on sanctions with the hope that by doing so they will be bolstering moderates.

Russia is Still Burying the Truth about the Katyn Massacre

Last week the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian government had failed to meet its obligations to properly investigate the Katyn massacre.

Is Netanyahu the Last Martian?

In his influential 2003 book, the American foreign policy thinker Robert Kagan declared that “Europe is turning away from power” and “entering a post-historical paradise of peace and relative prosperity” while the United States “remains mired in history.” It was, he wrote, as if Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus, so differently did they view the world, not least the value of projecting force to achieve foreign policy goals.

What if Israel is the only Martian state left? What if the US is now looking longingly at the Venusians and thinking about joining them? What if the international community, always a bit of a fiction, has decided that it is tired, seeks an exit from history, and thinks that it has found the ticket out: to start believing the unbelievable about Iran, Russia, and the United Nations?

If so, the conjuncture would be radically new and dangerous. Israel, mired in history, would be in danger of becoming diplomatically isolated over time, cast aside as the price paid by the aspiring Venusians for their entry ticket to the desired (but non-existent) post-historical paradise? 

The ‘White Widow’ and the Allure of Radicalism

Interpol has issued a “red notice” warrant for 29-year-old Samantha Lewthwaite, the so-called “White Widow” of Jermaine Lindsay, one of the four suicide bombers who launched the 7/7 suicide attacks on London in 2005 in which 52 people were killed and hundreds more injured. The warrant noted “the danger posed by this woman, not just across the region, but also worldwide” but stopped short of directly linking her to the al-Shabab massacre in Nairobi. The Kenyan authorities have issued contradictory claims regarding her involvement in that attack; she may or may not have led the assault or facilitated it.

Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941–2013)

Dear Alan, a very quick notice—longer message to follow—to alert you to the fact that I will be in the UK in October “if the good Lord is willin’ and the creek don’t rise,” as they used to say in rural parts where I grew up. It would be wonderful if I could connect with you ... I am giving a lecture at the LSE.

So began a September 2007 e-mail to me from Jean Bethke Elshtain, the political theorist, ethicist, and Lutheran who died last month aged 72. It was typical in its combination of fidelity to her home, her friendships, her God, and to the life of the mind she lived with such verve and distinction. She never lost touch with her “very hard working, down to earth, religious, Lutheran family background” but rather allowed that formation to inflect her mode of political thinking in the most fruitful of ways, making her—for me, at least—an indispensable guide. To be honest, hers was one of the most penetrating political minds I have ever encountered.

The Cost of Britain’s Syria Vote

“Last week the Commons voted clearly and I have said that I have respected the outcome out of that vote and I won’t be bringing back plans for British participation in military action.” With these words British Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed that while the US yet has the chance to restore its standing in the region with a decisive and impressive blow against the Assad regime, Britain does not. “Perfidious Albion hands murderous Assad a spectacular victory,” commented Times of Israel editor David Horovitz.

Time for the Big Stick in Syria

There are times when President Obama seems intent on reversing the terms of Theodore Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly, and carry a big stick” when it comes to foreign policy.  By combining tough talk about “red lines” with inaction on Syria, he is eroding the deterrent power of the United States. And that is no small thing in this new world disorder of ours.

This week the president called a chemical weapons attack that took place outside of Damascus … “troublesome.” For the leader of the free world, the man who owns the biggest bully pulpit in the world, the commander of the armed forces of what remains the indispensable nation, to call a terrible atrocity of this kind “troublesome” is so weak as to be a virtual provocation to President Assad to escalate. Indeed it is possible that Assad ordered this attack—and the accumulating experience in Syria tells us that actions of this kind are indeed sanctioned from above—precisely because he knew he would not pay any price.

Less Radical, Still Religious

We swear by almighty Allah, we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone.

Michael Adebolajo, 28, from Romford, London, and suspect in the Woolwich killing

Tony Blair’s all-powerful press secretary Alistair Campbell famously said, “We don’t do God.” But to counter radicalization we must “do” both God and Country. I discovered this when working with the Home Office from 2008 to 2010 interviewing young British Muslims who had taken journeys in and out of extremism.

First, I found that young Muslims often escaped extremism by telling themselves a new and redemptive story about being Muslim and being British and being themselves, all at once. When they saw through Michael Adebolajo’s counterposition of “you” and “us” it was much easier to leave their sect.

William Hague’s Trip to Israel

Ann Widdecombe described William Hague’s much-praised biography of the 18th-century British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger as a study of “a witty, youthful, and ambitious politician by a witty, youthful, and ambitious politician.” There are certainly similarities between Pitt, the youngest ever prime minister, at 24, and Hague, the youngest ever leader of the Conservative Party, at 36, in 1997. In each we see a precocious teenage orator who becomes a consummate Commons performer, masterly at the dispatch box, and the occupant of the highest offices of state.

Pitt was known as the Cicero of his day, but no one gets to be that in modern politics. While carrying the aura of those older bigger politicians of an earlier age, Hague’s style is thoroughly modern, combining wry wit and good grace, the self-depreciatory and the statesmanlike cheek by jowl. He lacks Pitt’s monomaniacal zeal, preferring to cultivate a hinterland that sustains him as an author, not just a politician (a fine study of William Wilberforce followed the biography of Pitt).

'Allahu Akbar!' Terror in London Street

Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started, they can fight on in defeat. Herd men cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars.

—John Steinbeck

Today, in the city I live in, two men shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is great) butchered a serving British soldier in the street, just 200 yards from the Royal Artillery Barracks at Woolwich, in southeast London. The soldier, reported as having been in his 20s, was wearing the t-shirt of “Help for Heroes,” a charity that raises money for the rehabilitation of wounded British soldiers.

Senior Whitehall sources have told the BBC that the attackers tried to film their attack while shouting “Allahu akbar,” said BBC political editor Nick Robinson. Video taken at the scene of one of the terrorists seems to suggest he is a Londoner not a foreign Jihadi.

Fighting Homegrown Jihad

Dear Mr. President,

Last week I wrote about how to combat radicalization after Boston through nongovernmental actors—families, community organizers, and those intellectuals able to fight the battle of ideas. Let’s look, in my next few posts, at the role of government. The specifics can wait. Let me make this all-important point first: to counter radicalization—I’ll use some jargon here, but I will explain it—disaggregate the threats in order to differentiate the modes of action you need to deploy against them.

Let me explain what I mean.

There are three distinct modes of action involved in countering radicalization and violent extremism: security, community development, and the battle of ideas (let’s call that last one

Obama Is Right on Radicalization

President Barack Obama says a national security review following the Boston Marathon bombings will look at whether there is more the government can do to stop people within the United States who might become radicalized and plan terror attacks.

One of the dangers the US faces now, Obama said, is people who might decide to attack because of “whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have.”

 — Associated Press, April 30, 2013

If I were advising the president on counter-radicalization policy after Boston, I’d say this.

Mr. President, drawing on my experience of researching radicalization and deradicalization among young British Muslims for the UK government, I’d make two initial points: governments matter, but other actors matter more; and you are right, it really is “the ideas, stupid.”


Subscribe to RSS - Alan Johnson's blog