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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
“counter-framing”).

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.”

Skilled Recruiters Likely Shaped Boston's Terrorists

The suspects’ uncle Ruslan Tsarni, who lives in Maryland, said in an interview on Sunday that he had first noticed a change in the older brother in 2009. Mr. Tsarni sought advice from a family friend, who told him that Tamerlan’s radicalization had begun after he met a recent convert to Islam in the Boston area.

New York Times, April 21, 2013

From 2008 to 2010 I worked with the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the UK, interviewing around 25 young British Muslims who had been radicalized and undertaken journeys in and out of extremism. For hour upon hour I sat with these young people—in mosques, in their homes, in cafes, around pool tables—and I took down their life stories and the fine detail of their “Islamist detour.” My findings are contained in a 150,000-word report that sits in the Home Office.

Europe's Counter-Jihad Extremists

A valuable new report (pdf) from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London lays bare a new form of extremism—something it identifies as the “European Counter-Jihad Movement” (ECJM).

Based on fieldwork and interviews with participants, the report sets out four distinguishing characteristics of the ECJM, each of which sets it apart from traditional far-right and fascist organizations and makes it difficult to categorize.

First, the ECJM is focused on a single issue—what it sees as the existential threat to European culture posed by Islam and Muslim immigration. It raises the alarm about a conspiracy to “Islamize” Europe by terror and by stealth, a plot by Muslims centuries in the making, at once radically new yet also reassuringly old. The Islamic wave defeated at the Gates of Vienna in 1683 must now be defeated again, and the ECJM calls us to the ramparts.

Lincoln Revived

Come down off the cross. We can use the wood.

— Tom Waits

“There are moments,” wrote the critic Edmund Wilson in Patriotic Gore, his 1962 book of studies in the literature of the American Civil War, “when one is tempted to feel that the cruelest thing that has happened to Lincoln since he was shot by Booth has been to fall into the hands of Carl Sandburg.” Wilson’s complaint was that Sandburg’s gushing biography of the “backwoods Saint” had “vulgarized Lincoln” and opened the floodgates to a torrent of mush about the log-cabin birth, the rail-splitting, the “folksy and jocular countryman swapping stories at the village store,” and, most misleading of all, the father-figure who, “with a tear in his eye, presided over the tragedy of the Civil War.”

One of the kindest things that has happened to the 16th president since that night in Ford’s Theatre has been to fall into the hands of Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner. Lincoln “uses the wood,” so to speak, to give us back the man. Whatever its merits as a piece of filmmaking, it is a rare study in the peculiar nobility of the craft of the democratic politician.

We Need to Talk (Differently) about Settlements

“It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas explained. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”

Newsweek, April 24, 2011

Late in 2009, a frustrated President Obama, having supported a moratorium on Israeli settlement building, asked his senior staff, “What’s the strategy here? I see you want the moratorium, but how does it get us where we want to be?”

The short answer: it didn’t, it doesn’t, and it almost certainly won’t. A report issued this week makes clear why.

How to Fix a Fanatic

How do we get one group of people to “count” to another group of people? Not, thought the philosopher Richard Rorty, by relying upon Kant and telling them they are being “irrational.” He thought solidarity was rather “an inclination of the heart,” grounded in nothing but contingent emotional identification. Solidarity can be embedded, or not, in the contingent cultural practices of a society but can’t be proven “right” or “true.” He thought a human-rights culture “no more needs a philosophical foundation than does a recommendation to take an aspirin if you think you’re coming down with a migraine.” Rather, it needs culturally shaped intuitions and practices, for it is from these that we get our sense of shared moral identity, not the philosophers.

Whither Israel's Likud?

By Alan Johnson and Richard Pater

Last week Israel’s ruling Likud party held internal elections to choose its list of parliamentary candidates for the upcoming national elections on January 22nd. Likud’s list will be combined with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu roster to create a single list for the elections.

To the disappointment of some, the liberal wing of the party took a battering, as prominent ministers Dan Meridor, Micky Eitan, Avi Dichter, and even Benny Begin failed to make the list. This is blow to liberal nationalists that saw the party move away from the traditions of its founders. Likud’s first prime minister, Menachem Begin, and his ideological mentor, Zeev Jabotinsky, believed that, along with a staunch security policy, it was imperative that Israeli society upheld the rights of minorities and fiercely guarded democratic values like the independence of the judiciary. 

So what going on? Has Likud now buried its founding values? The picture is more complicated than that.

A Principled Bid in the Upcoming Israeli Election

“A woman’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” With those words, Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, made her return to politics this week. She stands at the head of a new party—Hatnuah be’rashut Tzipi Livni, or the Movement headed by Tzipi Livni—promising to fight for “democratic Israel.” Livni has been looking on aghast at a world turned upside down and she wants to right it: “The government enters dialogue with those who support terror, and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states.”

Can there be a Prime Minister Livni in January? Probably not. The first poll taken after she got in the race shows the center-right bloc led by Netanyahu winning 69 seats to the center-left’s 51. And in Israel, when it comes to turning electoral performance into political power, “It’s the blocs stupid.”

So what is Livni’s bid about? “Ego,” says Yair Lapid, the TV anchor who created a political party and placed himself at its head. No, it’s not. At the risk of being accused of naïveté, I think it is all about principle.

Israel's Goals, Hamas' Choices, and Egypt in the Middle

After six days of airstrikes against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, Israel faces a decision: to negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas or mount a ground operation. Today, I spoke to my BICOM colleague Michael Herzog—a retired brigadier general in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) who served from 2006 to 2009 as chief of staff to Israel’s minister of defense—about the framework within which that decision is being debated in the political and military leaderships.

The fundamental judgement to be made is whether the aims set by Israel for Operation Pillar of Defense have been achieved. These aims are modest in Israeli terms. The aim is not to topple Hamas. It is to restore normalcy for Israeli citizens by reinstating deterrence. To that end the IDF seeks to degrade the capability and motivation of the terrorists and deny Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip access to the long-range weapons that fell near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem last week.  

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