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Hezbollah's War Crimes

Hezbollah is guilty of more than just terrorism. Lebanon’s so-called Party of God also commits war crimes, especially nowadays against civilians in Syria.

If you can stomach it, take a look at the latest video evidence. It’s extremely graphic—one of the nastiest incidents I’ve seen on film from the Syrian conflict—so you might want to pass if you’re squeamish.

Paramilitary fighters are shown dragging wounded men out the back of a van and shooting them in the torso and in the head. The video could be a frame job, but Middle East experts across the political spectrum think the men in this footage belong to Hezbollah. They speak Lebanese-accented Arabic, they use specific Hezbollah phrases, and they’re wearing Hezbollah’s yellow arm bands.

Resisting the Zionist Entity is the Party of God’s ostensible raison d'être, so murdering Muslims in Syria might seem a peculiar thing for its fighters to be doing. But killing Jews and Israelis has been from the beginning only one of Hezbollah’s violent pastimes.

Some of the organization’s first victims—let’s not forget—were Americans.

When all the bodies are counted, however, most of Hezbollah’s victims will likely be Muslims. That has been true so far of all Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. Eventually it will be their undoing.

The World's Deadliest Road Trip

I have a moderately high tolerance for dangerous situations, but war correspondent David Axe’s is higher than mine. He just returned from a journey you couldn’t pay me enough to take—a road trip into Syria

“Our little tour of Hell was a lot of fun,” he writes. “Except when it wasn’t.”

Riven with conflict, prowled by kidnappers, seemingly awash in lethal gasses, half-occupied by America’s unhappiest “allies,” for journalists Syria is a difficult place to cover. And many journalists aren’t even willing to try. “I would suggest that anyone thinking of independently covering the conflict in northern Syria, to seriously consider re-evaluating their plans and avoid the area entirely,” said Javier Manzano, a freelance photographer.

The naysayers tried to stop me from going, too. “I know you don’t want to hear this,” one Beirut-based writer told me before detailing some of the terrible things that could happen to me “on the inside”—reporters’ in-vogue euphemism for Syria.

I went anyway.

A Big Thanks to My Biggest Donors

I sent out individual thank-you emails to everybody who pitched in for my Cuba project, but I want to publicly thank my biggest donors right here.

A special thanks goes out to:

Ashish J. Shah

Glenn Reynolds

Chris Hoecke

Josh Mitchell

Grahame Lynch

Joseph Sturkey

Brad Nail

Carlton Wickstrom

Timothy Scott

J.M. Heinrichs

Steve Dye

Carl Geier

William Slattery

Keith Mitchell

Rob Hafernik

Amanda Scott

Joseph Blankier

Dee Grant

James Davis

David Freeman

Bruce Moorhead

David Eiche

Sherman Stacey

Whit Chapman

Paul Bailey

Herbert Jacobi

David Herr

Chuch Herrick

Mike McGinn

Robert J. Hansen

Greg Barnes

Elias Torosion

Gene Mitchell

Asher Abrams

Richard M. Shirley

Signe Johnson

Michael Whittemore

Daniela Dixon

Christopher Frautschi

Kirk Parker

Kevin (last name unknown)

Will Gaston

James King

Terry Josiah

David (last name unknown)

Meir Kohn

Timothy M. Smith

Paul Sullivan

Michael Taylor

Barbara Berman

Victor Patterson

I couldn’t do this without you folks, so many sincere thanks.

Libyan Prime Minister Kidnapped

This can’t be good: Terrorists just kidnapped Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan from the luxury hotel in Tripoli where he and many other government officials live.

Seems they grabbed him to retaliate against an American Special Forces raid greenlit by the Libyan government against suspected Al Qaeda member Abu Anas al-Libi.

If this isn't unprecedented, it's close. I don’t recall ever hearing about a prime minister being kidnapped from any country.

This comes right after the fall of the last Islamist government in North Africa, so I guess the region was due for some bad news. Good news streaks don’t tend to last very long in that part of the world.

Here is a picture of him in captivity (scroll down). I doubt this will end quickly or well, but Libya is a strange and unpredictable place.

UPDATE: Okay, so it did end quickly and well, sort of. I went to bed and Zeidan was kidnapped. I woke up and he was free.

This incident is all but certain to change things in Libya. In which direction, though, is anyone's guess. It could mark the beginning of the end of the militias, or the beginning of their takeover of the civilian government. Kidnapping the prime minister is not going to just be a blip that everybody forgets ever happened.

My Latest Wall Street Journal Book Review

My latest book review for the Wall Street Journal is up. This one is about Matthew Levitt’s Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon’s Party of God.

Until 9/11, no terrorist organization had killed more Americans than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group: From the 1983 Beirut barracks bombing, which killed 241 Marines, to the 1996 detonation of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. airmen, Hezbollah's anti-American curriculum vitae was long and bloody. Today it remains an efficient global terror operation, having executed bombings on four continents, built a presence on six and even branched out to drug trafficking.

Despite this record, Hezbollah (the "Party of God" in Arabic) is still viewed in some quarters as little more than a parochial Lebanese political party with an armed wing charged solely with resisting an Israeli occupation that ended 13 years ago, on May 25, 2000. It's this myth that Matthew Levitt explodes in "Hezbollah: The Global Footprint of Lebanon's Party of God." The author, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former FBI counterterrorism analyst, narrates the full history of the organization in absorbing detail with an emphasis on its 30-year history of terrorism. While scholarly in tone and approach, Mr. Levitt's book delivers suspenseful and even terrifying blow-by-blow accounts of the most infamous of Hezbollah's attacks. He can't dramatize all of them, though, because there are too many—far more than most people realize, because until now no one had bothered to document them in one place.

Hezbollah traces its origins to Iran's 1979 revolution. The mullahs knew that unless they aggressively exported their theocratic ideology after the revolution, Iran risked becoming, in the words of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, just "an ordinary country." So the regime created Hezbollah as the overseas branch of its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—the tip of an Iranian imperial spear.

The group first coalesced in 1982 in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, as a loose confederation of Shia Islamist cells under various names. By the mid-1980s it had become a more formal organization. Lebanon, with its large Shia population, was the perfect place for Tehran to export its revolution, and the early 1980s, in the midst of civil war and Israeli occupation, was the perfect time.

Hezbollah cut its teeth in Beirut, first by destroying the U.S. Embassy in 1983, then by deploying suicide truck bombers simultaneously against American Marines and French soldiers on peacekeeping missions in October of the same year. "The Marine barracks bombing," Mr. Levitt writes, "was not only the deadliest terrorist attack then to have targeted Americans, it was also the single-largest non-nuclear explosion on earth since World War II."

Read the rest in the Wall Street Journal.

Cuba is Funded

My Kickstarter campaign to send me to Cuba has successfully funded. Here is a public thank you to everyone backing this project. I'll send personal emails to everyone shortly.

Cheers!

Final Kickstarter Push

Fewer than 24 hours remain in my Kickstarter campaign to send me to Cuba.

I've reached my minimum threshold, but this trip is going to cost a bit more than I expected, and money is always tight for me anyway, so if you can pitch in a few dollars I'll sure appreciated it.

Besides, if you want a full-color dispatch pack e-book from Cuba, backing my Kickstarter project is the only way to get one. It won't be available anywhere else at any other time, so it's now or never.

Many thanks to everyone who has pitched in so far!

The Fall of Tunisia's Islamists

Ennahda, the Tunisian Islamist party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, has been forced from power by an overwhelming secular opposition.

I didn’t know this was going to happen, but I had a pretty strong sense that it would. Tunisia is a modern, pluralistic, civilized place. It’s striking liberal compared with most Arab countries. A person couldn’t possibly show up in Tunis from Cairo and think the two are remotely alike. Egypt is at one extreme of the Arab world’s political spectrum, and Tunisia is at the other.

The Islamists won less than half the vote two years ago, and the only reason they did even that well is because Ennahda ran on an extremely moderate platform. They sold themselves to voters as Tunisia’s version of Germany’s Christian Democrats.

It was a lie, of course, and once Tunisians figured that out, support for Ennahda cratered.

The assassination of leftist politician Mohamed Brahmi this summer pushed the country over the edge. Ennahda didn’t kill the guy. A Salafist terrorist cell did the deed. But Ennahda has been playing footsie with the Salafist fringe while the rest of the country recoils in horror, so Ennahda is getting blamed too.

Unlike in Egypt, the Islamists weren’t thrown out by force. Tunisia doesn’t have an Egyptian-style military that’s big and powerful and ideological enough to occupy the country and rule it through a junta. Also unlike in Egypt, Tunisia has a critical mass of secular citizens who won’t put up with even a whiff of theocracy.

The other reason Ennahda’s partial victory was possible two years ago is because they had an organizational advantage after the dictator Ben Ali fell. They had the mosques while the secular parties had nothing. And since the Islamists were smart enough to pretend to be moderates, they managed to get moderate people to vote for them.

That’s over now. In the meantime, the liberal and leftist parties have had a lot more time to get organized and merge into larger entities so they can avoid the vote splitting that hurt them so much last time. When a single religious party squares off against dozens of secular parties, it doesn’t take a political or mathematical genius to figure out which will get the most votes.

Tunisia is the one and only Arab Spring country that I’ve been cautiously optimistic about. Libya is too much of a mess, Egypt was a lost cause begin with, and Syria is in worse shape than Bosnia in the mid-1990s. Tunisia, though, is doing as well as could be expected.

And get this: now that Ennahda is out, not a single post-Arab Spring country is ruled by Islamists. All of them are secular now.

Postscript: Only a few days left in my Kickstarter campaign. If you'd like an e-book version of my dispatches from Cuba, pitch in and you shall have it. My first dispatch pack from a communist country will never be available anywhere else.

On the Radio

I was on the John Batchelor Show again today to discuss everyone’s favorite problem right now: Syria.

Scroll down to the very bottom of the page and you can stream the interview. I come in at 10:50.

Beware Persian Leaders with Masks

Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke on the phone for a couple of minutes on Friday, and NBC News breathlessly reported that this was “the first time leaders from the U.S. and Iran have directly communicated since the 1979 Iranian revolution.”

That’s not exactly true. Hassan Rouhani is not Iran’s leader.

Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s leader. He is the head of state—the dictator—and the one who makes all sovereign decisions. And of course Rouhani is loyal and does what he’s told. Khamenei and his hand-picked Guardian Council vetted him thoroughly. Otherwise he wouldn’t be president.

Iranian expat Sohrab Ahmari summed it up bluntly, and aptly, in The Wall Street Journal after Rouhani won the presidential show election in August. “This is what democracy looks like in a theocratic dictatorship. Iran's presidential campaign season kicked off last month when an unelected body of 12 Islamic jurists disqualified more than 600 candidates. Women were automatically out; so were Iranian Christians, Jews and even Sunni Muslims. The rest, including a former president, were purged for possessing insufficient revolutionary zeal. Eight regime loyalists made it onto the ballots. One emerged victorious on Saturday.”

It is still historic than Obama spoke on the phone to a second-tier regime official, but it’s not like Richard Nixon going to China and meeting with Mao Zedong. Nor is this the beginning of the kind of détente Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev established near the end of the Cold War.

For that, the President of the United States would need to meet with the Supreme Guide of Iran. And the Supreme Guide of Iran would need to be reasonable. He would need to pull the kind of reversal of Iranian policy that Anwar Sadat did in Egypt after the Yom Kippur War. None of those things are happening. I wish they were, but they’re not.

So let’s not get carried away.

Seriously, getting excited about Rouhani is a like foreign heads of state swooning when the United States gets a new Senate Majority Leader.

Plenty of Middle Easterners, Arab and Israeli alike, are alarmed at Washington’s naiveté here. I can understand where the naiveté comes from. Most Americans severely underestimate how ruthless and cunning Middle Eastern leaders have to be to survive. We have a hard time imagining it because our own political experience here at home is so much milder. Kevin Spacey’s ruthless and cunning fictional member of Congress Francis Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards isn’t even a bat boy in the league the Middle East plays in.

Look, I’d like to see friendly and normal relations between the United States and Iran as much as everyone else. It’s bound to happen sooner or later. The Iranian people are much less hostile to the United States and the West than the regime is, and all dictatorships eventually fall. Often they’re replaced with new dictatorships, but that seems much less likely in Iran than in, say, Egypt. Iranian culture is much more advanced.

Either way, Iran’s next revolution will almost certainly be anti-Islamist since the Islamists have ruled over and ruined everything for the last 34 years. There is no one to rebel against except the Islamists. Iranian writer Reza Zarabi put it this way a few years before the failed Green Revolution broke out. “The name Iran, which used to be equated with such things as luxury, fine wine, and the arts, has become synonymous with terrorism. When the Islamic Republic government of Iran finally meets its demise, they will have many symbols and slogans as testaments of their rule, yet the most profound will be their genocide of Islam, the black stain that they have put on this faith for many generations to come.”

There is another possibility that would also be welcome. The regime might partially reform itself after Khamenei dies, and Khamenei is an old man. Even the most ideologically deranged regimes are capable of reform when leaders pass on. China changed drastically after Mao. Vietnam changed as much after Ho Chi Minh. Burma (Myanmar) may be in the process that sort of change now.

But Iran isn’t there yet. Khamenei is still alive and unwavering. He is still the biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world, and he's still perfectly willing to murder Americans. Just a few weeks ago Iran’s Revolutionary Guards plotted terrorist attacks against the American Embassy in Baghdad—and that was after Rouhani was elected. The regime still has no respect whatsoever for civilized norms of international politics and still, more than thirty years after the hostage crisis, views diplomats and their support staff as military targets.

The only thing that has changed in Tehran is the mask.

Hassan Rouhani, Holocaust Revisionist

I hate to rain on everybody's good time, but Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani is getting a lot more credit than he deserves for supposedly condemning the Holocaust.

First of all, Middle Eastern politics are in awfully bad shape if uttering something so basic and obvious will earn a man plaudits all over the world.

Second, he may not have said what everyone thinks he said.

Here is the full text of Christian Amanpour's interview with Rouhani at CNN.

Here is some criticism from Fars News agency, an official propaganda organ of the Iranian government, which insists CNN got the translation wrong and that Rouhani didn't actually say what Western media are reporting.

And here's a third piece in the Wall Street Journal:

Our independent translation of Mr. Rouhani's comments," the Journal writes, "confirms that Fars, not CNN, got the Farsi right.

So what did Mr. Rouhani really say? After offering a vague indictment of "the crime committed by the Nazis both against the Jews and the non-Jews," he insisted that "I am not a history scholar," and that "the aspects that you talk about, clarification of these aspects is a duty of the historians and researchers."

I don't speak or write Farsi, so I'm not going to weigh in on which translation is best.

For a second, though, let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that CNN's more benign translation of Rouhani's remarks is the most accurate, that Fars is trying to take back what the president said.

Even according to CNN, Rouhani said this: "I have said before that I am not a historian personally and that when it comes to speaking of the dimensions of the Holocaust as such, it is the historians that should reflect on it."

Holocaust revisionists have been peddling this line for years. They acknowledge that a few Jews were killed by the Nazis while arguing that the "dimensions" of 6 million dead is an exagerration or lie.

I'm not a historian either, but I've known about the Holocaust since 7th grade. Denying it happened is a crime in Germany, the country actually responsible for the Holocaust. Suggesting that maybe it happened and maybe it didn't, that maybe it was big but perhaps it was small, may not be denial, per se, but it smells like denial and, either way, shouldn't earn anyone any points, not even when grading on a curve for the Middle East.

But Washington will continue pretending Rouhani is Mr. Reasonable anyway like it used to do with Bashar al-Assad. The truth doesn't matter.

Al Shabab Strikes Back

Al Shabab, Somalia’s franchise of Al Qaeda, killed at least 68 people and wounded more than 175 when it seized control of the Westgate Premier Shopping Mall and took hostages in Nairobi this weekend.

The Westgate looks like a mall anywhere in the West. It could be in Los Angeles or Cincinnati or Poughkeepsie.

President Uhuru Kenyatta says one of his nephews and his fiancée are among the 68 dead. Canadian diplomat Annemarie Desloges was also killed

The attackers went to the mall to murder non-Muslims, so Muslims were allowed to go free. Non-Muslims who tried to escape were ordered to name the mother of the Prophet Mohammad. Those who did not know the answer were killed.

Mohammad’s mother, by the way, was named Aminah bint Wahb.

Al Shabab was part of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union until it lost a war against the Somali and Ethiopian governments in 2006. The diehards broke off to form their own organization so they could resume battle. They’ve spent the last couple of years kidnapping and murdering aid workers because that’s how they roll, and they even managed to run parts of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu for a while until ANISOM—the African Union Mission in Somalia—dislodged them in 2011 with help from the Kenyans.

That’s what this attack in Nairobi was ostensibly for: revenge for Kenya’s defeat of Al Shabab in next-door Somalia.

The group posted several messages on Twitter while all this was happening. The account has been suspended, but someone saved the Tweets and posted them on Wikipedia.

“The attacks are just retribution for the lives of innocent Muslims shelled by Kenyan jets in Lower Jubba and in refugee camps”

“What Kenyans are witnessing at #Westgate is retributive justice for crimes committed by their military, albeit largely miniscule in nature”

“Since our last contact, the Mujahideen inside the mall confirmed to @HSM_Press that they killed over 100 Kenyan kuffar & battle is ongoing”

“For long we have waged war against the Kenyans in our land, now it’s time to shift the battleground and take the war to their land”

“The attack at #WestgateMall is just a very tiny fraction of what Muslims in Somalia experience at the hands of Kenyan invaders”

“The Kenyan government, however, turned a deaf ear to our repeated warnings and continued to massacre innocent Muslims in Somalia”

“Kenyan government shall be held responsible for any loss of life as a result of such an imprudent move. The call is yours!”

“Kenyan forces who’ve just attempted a roof landing must know that they are jeopardising the lives of hostages.”

The army did manage to free most of the hostages. At least that’s what it claims. Fortunately the soldiers didn’t go in there and kill most of the captives like the Russian and Algerian armies did at various times during the last couple of years when similar groups captured innocents and held them at gunpoint. I’m hardly an expert on Kenya—I’ve never even been there—but I did not expect an Algerian-style ending.

One of my journalism colleagues traveled to South Sudan shortly after it declared independence from Khartoum. The place is an epic disaster, the worst he’s ever seen, and he ran into people from all over Africa who were there to help out. The Kenyans he met seemed to him “incredibly competent” compared with others from East Africa. Kenya is, after all, the regional power on that part of the continent.

International war correspondent and Washington Post African bureau chief Sudarsan Raghavan has seen all kinds of mayhem all over the world, but he never thought he’d encounter Syria- and Iraq-style horrors in Nairobi.

I never expected to see two bullet-riddled corpses at the steps by the entrance I frequently passed through to visit an ATM or enjoy a cappuccino. I never expected to see cars pocked with bullet holes, their doors wide open, along a street I drove on several times a week. I never expected to call my wife while I was in Nairobi to tell her I was safe, or feel my eyes burning from tear gas when police tried to disperse onlookers. Or to consider donning my flak jacket and helmet at a place where I often wore nothing more than shorts, a T-shirt and sandals.

This happens in Afghanistan or Iraq or Somalia — not near my house.

But it did happen near his house. My old street in West Beirut was likewise turned into a war zone shortly after I moved away. It can happen almost anywhere in the world these days, and that’s not going to change. 

A Bipartisan Autopsy Report

America’s Middle East policy died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the feet. Scholars Tom Nichols John Schindler co-wrote the bipartisan autopsy report for The National Interest.

We write as two scholars and former national-security practitioners who agree on almost nothing else regarding Syria: one is a traditional realistwho opposed military action against Assad, and the other is a recent arrival in the camp of the post-Cold War liberal internationalistswho supported striking the Syrian regime. We come not only from diverging views but also from different academic disciplines (history and political science), and while both of us have served in positions relevant to American foreign and security policy, we speak on our own behalf, especially since we ourselves are otherwise so deeply divided about U.S. intervention overseas.

We share, however, a background in the study of Russia, and it is here that we find the outcome of the Syrian crisis to be so disastrous. For nearly seven decades, American efforts in the Middle East have been based on a bipartisan consensus—one of the few to be found in U.S. foreign policy—aimed at limiting Moscow’s influence in that region. This is a core interest of American foreign policy: it reflects the strategic importance of the region to us and to our allies, as well as the historical reality Russia has continually sought clients there who would oppose both Western interests and ideals. In less than a week, an unguarded utterance by a U.S. Secretary of State has undone those efforts. Not only is Moscow now Washington’s peer in the Middle East, but the United States has effectively outsourced any further management of security problems in the region to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

We both deplore the hyperpartisanship that has required too many Republicans and Democrats to support or oppose this new agreement based on domestic political calculations. We recognize, however, that more sincere defenders of the September 9 deal see great virtue in it. They argue, for example, that it will avert the need for military force (a threat most Americans did not want carried out anyway), that it will strip Assad of his chemical arms without fighting, and that it will force Putin to take ownership of the WMD question in Syria and thus obligate Russia to live up to better standards of global citizenship.

We find these to be optimistic and hopelessly naïve interpretations. It will be nearly impossible to move chemical weapons anywhere in the midst of a pitched civil war; moreover, the idea that the Putin regime cares anything for international norms or global citizenship beyond its own crudely defined interests is laughable on its face. By gaining American certification of the most important role Moscow has ever played in the Middle East, Putin has achieved in a week what no Soviet or Russian leader managed to do in a century. There should be little wonder that Putin pressed his advantage with a shameless lecture to America in the pages of The New York Times in one of the most appalling and hypocritical public relations stunts by a Kremlin boss since the Soviet era.

Mission Impossible in Syria

I live near an enormous former stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. It isn’t walking distance from my house, but I can drive there between breakfast and lunch without exceeding the speed limit.

From 1962 to 2011, the US Army stored nearly four thousand tons of VX, Sarin, and HD blister agent (commonly known as mustard gas) at the Umatilla Chemical Depot along the Columbia River two and a half hours east of Portland, Oregon.

In 1993 the US signed a treaty forbidding the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons, and eleven years later, in 2004, the Army was finally ready to begin destroying Oregon’s stockpile.

They did it by incinerating the chemical agents in a 2,700 degree furnace. And they did it in a thinly populated part of the peaceful Pacific Northwest under the complete control of the United States Army.

It still took them eight years. Toxic munitions must be destroyed very slowly and very carefully. A single drop of this stuff will kill you, and the facility is located right on the Columbia River which runs through Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington. And though Umatilla County is fairly remote, the Los Angeles Times reported that “disaster scenarios suggested that a major earthquake at the facility, followed by fire, could send a plume of poisonous residue as far as Portland, Seattle or Spokane.”

If you live in the Midwest, you may be used to hearing the blaring sound of air raid sirens when the local authorities test the tornado warning systems. We have a similar setup on the Oregon coast to warn residents and tourists of an incoming tsunami if a Hawaiian volcano falls into the Pacific or if the Cascadian Subduction Zone ruptures. And in three counties in Eastern Oregon, yet another one of those systems was set up in case something at the Umatilla death trap exploded.

So people who live in that area felt a sense of relief when the Army finally finished destroying the stockpiles on October 25, 2011.

The Chemical Weapons Convention was drafted in New York and Paris. The United States signed it in 1993.

Syria agreed to sign it three days ago. A plan is now being put together to rid Syria of its chemical weapons

Considering all of the above, which I’ve been all too familiar with for many years now, you can color me more than a little bit skeptical.

The whole thing was Vladimir Putin’s idea. Not because he cares a whit about chemical weapons or how many people are horribly killed by them, but because he needs to stick up for his one Arab ally and he needs to stick his thumb in America’s eye. 

Barack Obama likes the idea, though, because it means he doesn’t have to do anything about Syria even though Bashar al-Assad crossed the “red line” and used poison gas against humans. Assad likewise likes the idea because, now that the international pressure is off, he can kill another 100,000 humans with conventional weapons and the only people who will say boo about it are human rights organizations and journalists.

Disposing of VX and mustard gas was slow and dangerous work in Oregon. I can only imagine how much more difficult the job will be in a Middle Eastern country that’s ripping its own guts out while Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are loose and running wild.

For those reasons alone, I imagine it is impossible. As Jeffrey Goldberg added, “Assad is a lying, murdering terrorist, and lying, murdering terrorists aren’t, generally speaking, reliable partners, except for other lying, murdering terrorists.”

Let’s say, though, just for the sake of discussion, that the process goes just as smoothly in Syria as it did in Oregon, that it will take precisely the same amount of time to destroy Assad’s arsenal, and that they (whoever they are) can get started tomorrow.

They won’t finish until 2021. Because that’s how long it took down the road from my house.

But there’s no chance destroying this stuff will happen as swiftly and smoothly in Syria as it did in Oregon. That wouldn’t be good enough anyway. It would need to happen more swiftly and smoothly. And the only thing that happens more swiftly and smoothly in Syria than in Oregon is the deployment of car bombs.

I suppose Syria’s thousand tons of chemical weapons could be driven to the airport (!) and flown out, but the only country I can think of that would want guardianship of Assad’s weapons of mass destruction is Iran (unless Lebanon’s Hezbollahland counts as a country), and I doubt many would allow flights containing Assad’s arsenal over their air space.

Furthermore, I doubt a single high-level person involved in this international performance will ever even try to make it work. Because it’s damn near impossible and everyone knows it. It doesn’t matter, though, because this is about face-saving status quo maintenance.

Everybody at the top wins. Putin doesn’t want to lose his one Arab ally, and now he doesn’t have to. Obama never did want to bomb Syria, and now he doesn’t have to. Assad does not want to stop bombing Syria, and now he doesn’t have to.

Vladimir Putin's Reset with America

Here are two pieces that should be read together.

First up is Lee Smith in The Weekly Standard on Vladimir Putin’s victory in the Middle East:

Give Vladimir Putin his due. With his proposal to put Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons under international control, he proved he was more than a mere thug who expresses his self-regard by posing bare-chested, dating teenage gymnasts, and wrestling wild game. In showing his subtlety and cunning, Putin reminded us that his professional training as an intelligence officer (not to mention his judo hobby) taught him to zero in on human vulnerabilities and exploit them. Obama is vain. Putin saw that the American president always needs to look good. 

Thus, after years of denigrating the president and his staff, Putin spared Obama a devastating defeat on Capitol Hill by repackaging humiliation as a diplomatic win for a president whose motto is that he came to end wars, not to start them. It mattered little to Putin that the White House claimed credit for the initiative, that administration spokesmen said Obama officials had broached the subject with Moscow over a year ago, that the Obama team pretended it was the president’s threat of force that had prompted the diplomatic breakthrough. Let Obama boast of another beautiful victory: Putin knew that he had exposed an American president too timid to fire a dozen cruise missiles into the Syrian desert as indecisive, unreliable, and weak. To American allies, a president who makes good on neither his promises nor his threats is a liability.

Astonishingly, Putin won with a weak hand. Russia is not China, never mind the Soviet Union. Her economy is run like a criminal enterprise and depends on a monopoly in European energy markets; Russian society is in a demographic tailspin; and the only way for Putin to shore up his domestic legitimacy is through a steady diet of anti-Americanism and posturing meant to signal Russian strength. If the Americans can’t keep Putin in line, our allies are wondering, who else might start punching above their weight, and at us?

Second is Matthew Continetti’s piece in the Washington Free Beacon on America’s long withdrawing roar:

What happens when the sea recedes? The shoreline is exposed. Sand crabs and sea gulls and seaweed appear on the beach: Iranians and Saudis, Russians and Taliban. They come to fill the void left by the vacating American tide. The lower the tide becomes, the more daring the actions of the creatures liberated by its wake.

For several years now Americans have been comfortable in the delusion that the benefits, such as they are, of a global economy and of a world where war is a rarity can be enjoyed without cost. We can look inward, slash defense spending, gut the Navy, pull out from theaters of combat and from strategic bases, ignore the political character of Islamism, and otherwise pretend that at heart all human beings share the same feelings and want the same things, and life will go on as usual. And perhaps life will go on as usual, for most people, in most places in the country. After all: America is huge, protected by two oceans, and at peace with its neighbors.

But inevitably there will come a time when a lack of maintenance causes the international structure that America has built over decades to fall apart; when inwardness and self-preoccupation and “nation building here at home” exacts a cost of its own; when the flotsam and jetsam left behind by the receding tide, the sand crabs and seagulls and seaweed, begin to take over the shore.

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