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.”

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.


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