Yet another Islamic terrorist attack


The nature of Islamic terrorism is one of cowardly beastly animals that don’t deserve the title of humanity. How long will the world wait before crafting a legitimate strategy to destroy ISIS and Boko Haram? How long will America fail to lead and organize the nations and isolate ourselves out of a mistaken sense that the macabre descent into chaos across the Middle East that is the disease causing this symptom is out of our hands?  Collectively, civilized nations and people have the resources and manpower to destroy these forces of evil, starting with taking their territory and killing them wherever they can be found and thus removing a main source of their draw to new recruits while promoting safe havens and sources of refuge for people who just want to live peaceable lives within places such as  Iraq and Syria. Sadly, we lack the resolve until ever more of these inevitable events force us into action.


Misogyny – the reason refugees may not be able to have nice things

The shattered windows of a book shop are boarded over the day after populist right-wing riots in Leipzig, Germany. Photo: Getty Images

Typically, I have supported much more open forms of immigration and of harboring as many refugees as are willing and able to come, with the need to factor in safety and security given the volatile and chaotic situation stemming from Syria and the broader Middle East (previous thoughts on this outlined here). My argument has traditionally been that immigration is largely beneficial across the economic, cultural, and moral spectrums. I have also sympathized previously with the position of Angela Merkel in her unique role within Europe of welcoming millions of refugees with open arms into Germany. My sympathy arises out of the pure charity of the act, even if I had a harder time sympathizing with the prudence of the direction. It is in the very least an act of leadership without equivocation, which is more than the rudderless policies of many of her European counterparts, whose lack of decision in any direction is at least equally problematic.

However, the recent events categorized by hundreds of police reports filed across multiple German cities of grotesque sexual assaults perpetrated by, as many police reports and video footage attests, men from Middle Eastern and North African origin indicates the great pitfalls of such an open arms policy. As much as the idealist in me wants to believe that moral clarity, charity, and human brotherhood will prevail, the realist in me has to reason that millions of people unaccustomed (and in many ways inimical) to Western culture and values can’t possible be absorbed in such a large volume without deleterious consequences. The great negative consequences of such an action are not only the awful attacks on women, but the unfortunate right and left-wing populism that it will drive people across the globe to embrace. A lack of prudence in refugee acceptance will inevitably lead to harmful overreactions that will do lasting harm. The component in these events most at odds with Western society is an apparent culture that openly avows and practices misogynistic views and life practices, which surfaces in a complete lack of regard for over 50% of the world population and relegating them to mere chattel status. Such events on this scale (one report indicates over 600 allegations have been made by women) could not have possibly occurred spontaneously, pointing to a premeditated and coordinated plan to do evil and harm. There must be more to this than an outlier event of drunken men misbehaving. Indeed, as Bret Stephens reports in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, a recent World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report presents with remarkable clarity the lack of esteem men from Muslim majority nations hold for women. As quoted in the article, “..the report ranks the status of women in 142 countries. Bottom of the list: Yemen, Pakistan, Chad, Syria, Mali and Iran, all Muslim-majority countries. A 2013 Pew survey of Muslim views on women’s rights found that only 22% of Egyptians and 14% of Iraqis thought that women should have a right to divorce their husbands, while fully 92% of Moroccans and 87% of Palestinians thought a wife must always obey her husband.”

These are astounding revelations and statistics, and they can’t possibly align with Western culture and values. The question then becomes, how could we reconcile our moral obligations that happen to benefit our society economically and culturally as it relates to refugees? How about taking up the Stephens’ recommendation to allow women, children, and the elderly in with open arms as the immediate first step? I would add to the Stephens formula that we could still focus on family unification (male entry), but prioritizing those that are clearly being persecuted and which we can clearly get a sense that the man of the house is not a misogynist, which could be made manifest by a spouse that is well educated, works outside of the home, daughters that are educated, etc, and professions from the man that they value women in society.

This is an intractable situation with no easy answers, so would love to get others’ thoughts on the matter.

Quote of the Week – Dealing with Populism


Taken from this week’s edition of The Economist – Playing with fear. 

“Part of the answer is to draw on the power of liberal ideals. New technology, prosperity and commerce will do more than xenophobia to banish people’s insecurities. The way to overcome resentment is economic growth—not to put up walls. The way to defeat Islamist terrorism is to enlist the help of Muslims—not to treat them as hostile. The main parties need to make that case loudly and convincingly.”

“The Cost of Fighting ISIS Compared to Iraq and Afghanistan”


This is an interesting graph from Statista just to grasp the budgetary enormity of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the drastic (I would argue way too premature) of drawdown in the focus and expenditures in Iraq that began in earnest in 2008, resulting in the power vacuum that led to the rise of ISIS. This is to say nothing of the lack of wisdom involved in the original Iraq invasion, but one should not double down on foolishness and compound mistakes. The budget and focus on ISIS will necessarily grow in the near future, and the fight and focus on radical jihadist terror, be it directed against ISIS or whatever group takes their mantle, will be decades in coming.

“Breaking up to Stay Together – Iraq in Pieces”

Courtesy of Washington Post

A recent Foreign Affairs article by  poses a tremendously thought provoking question of whether Iraq should break apart based upon sectarian lines – Sunni, Kurdish, and Shia. The article provides a great amount of helpful historical context as well as great insights into how poisoned the relationships between Shia, Sunni, Kurds, secularists, and assorted minorities (mostly decimated by this point) have become.

Mr. Khedery quotes the first monarch of Iraq, King Faisal, in what seems to be a prescient observation,

With my heart filled with sadness, I have to say that it is my belief that there is no Iraqi people inside Iraq. There are only diverse groups with no national sentiments. They are filled with superstitious and false religious traditions with no common grounds between them. They easily accept rumors and are prone to chaos, prepared always to revolt against any government.

I have to believe that such a formal partition would be quite chaotic and bloody, with renewed and fueled hatreds as the groups try to stake out new boundaries and access to oil resources. In addition, protection of the rule of law and the safety of minorities during such a chaotic transition stage would be very difficult. Still, such a partition seems inevitable in time. If Iraq is to remain a national polity, it seems it will do so under a federalist shell with tremendous political power devolved to de facto autonomous regions.

Give me your huddled masses, but…

Fleeing Terror, Finding Refuge – National Geographic

I believe in general that America needs a more open form of immigration laws that allow for more immigrants, spanning from refugees seeking asylum and low-skilled workers through employment visa programs that allow more cross-border commerce and freedom of movement as well as more economic based paths to lawful work and citizenship granted through programs such as the H1B visa. This presents an opportunity to both tackle economic as well as moral benefits. As it relates to refugees, finding ways to alleviate suffering and finding ways to grant asylum is the moral obligation of a free and prosperous society, and if those of us on the right side of the ideological spectrum want to claim our nation is founded upon Judeo-Christian values, then we should be able to put our money where our mouths are and facilitate goodwill, charity, and the safety of persecuted populations in any form as they seek asylum on our shores.

That being said, in the face of the Paris attacks, where it is known that at least one attacker used Syrian refugee status to slip into France, it is in fact appropriate to pause and urge restraint while we collectively create sound and comprehensive strategies that allow us to vet and prioritize refugees while starting to deal with the root problems that create the mess in the first place. After all, one of the chief raison d’etre of government should be to protect and ensure the safety of its citizens. This should be one of its chief aims. The recent swath of governors rushing to close off their states may be a bit hasty and rash in my opinion, but it reflects the genuine and well-founded concerns of U.S. citizens. I believe that American citizens at large and those in the middle ranging from center-left to center-right can serve as the basis of a persuadable coalition to support refugees in this time of global crisis. However, the moralizing hectoring of President Obama to take on refugees that is completely decoupled from sound strategies to ensure America’s safety or to address the actual root of the problem and chaos in the Middle East will naturally leave much of the nation’s citizenry skeptical that this same President will implement sound strategies to vet incoming refugees and keep American citizens safe. With Obama’s moralizing, I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite novels,  Augustus by John Williams, in which one of Augustus’s key advisors, Gaius Maecenas, admonishes one of his friends that, “It seems to me that the moralist is the most useless and contemptible of creatures. He is useless in that he would expend his energies upon making judgments rather than upon gaining knowledge, for the reason that judgment is easy and knowledge is difficult. He is contemptible in that his judgments reflect a vision of himself which in his ignorance and pride he would impose upon the world. I implore you, do not become a moralist; you will destroy your art and your mind.”

A more responsible strategy would in fact be to couple refugee resettlement plans with clarity in how we are going to join and lead a global coalition of the willing to eradicate (not contain) ISIS, promote the reform of Islam at large, and promote the peace and stability of Syria and Iraq. Plans to deal with refugees and support of refugee areas in countries closer to Iraq and Syria such as Jordan and Turkey should also be part of this strategy. We should also be willing to prioritize refugee status for communities that suffer the most at the hands of ISIS and the Assad regime, including Yazidis, Christians, moderate Sunnis that have fought on the side of moderate forces, and secularists. The ability to vet inbound refugees with whatever means we have at our disposal, admittedly a difficult task, coupled with enhanced intelligence capabilities with monitoring of metadata that Obama has done much to gut, should also be part of the mix.

So by all means, bring in the huddled masses. Accepting the battered refugee is an action that lives up to America’s finest ideals and follows a precedent of accepting refugees during the Bosnian conflict and the Iraq War, not to mention European refugees that came in large numbers during both World Wars. In times where America was at our worst were times of not accepting enough of those in need, such as Jews fleeing the depravations of the Holocaust and broad European pogroms perpetrated on them in the early 20th century. I would also argue refugees do much to add to the unique fabric and narrative of American diversity and the American story. Grateful refugees and their descendants make some of the finest citizens this country has ever known. However, given the safety imperative is the highest responsibility of any government, let’s craft the refugee plan alongside comprehensive strategy that includes in the long-run eliminating the source of the cancer itself rather than simply addressing its symptoms as well as a plan for vetting incoming refugees and ways to prioritize them. Once that plan is laid out to the American people, then fears can be allayed and the support of the majority of American citizens will follow.


The Problem from Hell Requires a Comprehensive and Strategic Coordinated Global Response


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When Dante is wavering on his commitment to descend into hell as a necessary step to reach paradise, his guide, the trapped in purgatory poet Virgil admonishes him with the statement that,

“Thy soul attainted is with cowardice,

Which many times a man encumbered so,

It turns him back from honored enterprise,

As false sight doth a beast, when he is shy.”


Perhaps many of our world leaders could use a similar visit and encouragement from Virgil so as to boldly descend into the veritable inferno that will be a requirement to purge the world of the stain of jihadism. The attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The ongoing charnel house in Syria and Iraq. The takedown of a Russian aircraft en-route from the Sinai to St. Petersburg.  The recent sensational and coordinated attacks in Paris that revealed the growth in ISIS capabilities in just eleven short months between the Charlie Hebdo attacks in the same city. The lesser publicized but just as horrific attacks in Beirut. The growing cancer that is ISIS has taken credit for all of these and is also metastasizing into Turkey, Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, among others. All of these factors increasingly indicate that such a crucible of descent is a requirement.

One such world leader, President Obama, has made recent statements that ISIS is being contained. This on top of a justly pilloried statement he made months ago that ISIS was the “jayvee” team. Unfortunately, ISIS is neither a jayvee team (if they ever were, they quickly graduated to varsity) and as the recent events in Paris and Beirut reveal, they are far from being contained.  Also of note is that ISIS is not our only problem, as Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Boko Haram are just a few examples of equally evil groups that terrorize in the name of religion. These problems from hell are the war of our time in much the same way communism and fascism were the wars of our forbearers, and they can’t be ignored or wished away in the vain hope that the Atlantic Ocean will keep us safe from harm. In this war, there are no borders or safe havens. The horrific ISIS message no doubt reaches and resonates with thousands of Americans through savvy digital marketing and messaging. The hundreds of thousands of Syrian migrants fleeing and flooding into Europe is not just their problem, but it will soon become the U.S. problem as well as migrants began to hit our shores. In a globally connected world, the U.S. does in fact have strategic interests in a relatively peaceful Middle East. The turning of Turkey to authoritarianism, the growth of Russian and Iranian influence, and the failure of Syria and Iraq as states are hardly good outcomes from the U.S. strategic perspective and for the good of global order and peace. These disruptions are all attributable to the depravations of radical jihad and as such it must not only be contained, but eradicated.

What becomes increasingly clear is that our policy of limited engagement and pullback from Iraq and our lack of ability to lead and support moderate forces in Syria is one that we should deem a failure. We should reverse course and become a forceful leader in a global effort that would have goals ranging from the immediate and tactical defeat of jihad to the long-range reform needed within Middle Eastern and North African countries. On the former, France’s President Francois Hollande is bravely paving a bold path to attacking and destroying ISIS in the places in which they find harbor. Hollande seems to have found the courage and clarity in purpose that Obama lacks when he bluntly indicated that, “It’s an act of war, committed by a terrorist army Daesh (ISIS), an army of Jihadists, against France.” Furthermore, he stated that, “We will lead the fight and we will be ruthless, and we had to be here among the people who were subject to these atrocities because when the terrorists are capable of doing such acts they must know that they will face a France very determined — a France united.”  The fact that bombing raids against ISIS began the next day seems to back Hollande’s statements as more than just bluster and is in marked contrast to Obama’s red line in Syria. However, France can’t and should not have to do this alone.  Admittedly, the United States has been conducting raids in Iraq and has been supporting Kurdish and Iraqi forces, as evidenced by the recent recapture of Sinjar, a place notable as an important supply line for ISIS between Mosul and Syria as well as for the homeland of the Yazidis, a monotheist faith that predates Islam and which was brutally persecuted by ISIS during the fifteen month occupation.

“We will lead the fight and we will be ruthless, and we had to be here among the people who were subject to these atrocities because when the terrorists are capable of doing such acts they must know that they will face a France very determined — a France united.”

But these token support measures are far from enough. The U.S. must be prepared to lead and participate in a long global war to eradicate these malign forces. We must scrap the pusillanimous notion of, “leading from behind.” This leadership does not have to be 150,000 troop deployments reminiscent of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The most effective and durable approach needs to center around Sunni ground forces. Given the Sunni nature of ISIS, relying more heavily on Shia or foreign/western ground forces will feed into the religious war against the West and martyrdom narrative that ISIS wants to proffer. Thus, Western forces on the ground should be relegated to special forces that guide and direct and help coordinate close air support and artillery for their Middle East forces in which they are embedded. The Allied forces (and I use this term to cover what should be a coalition of the willing that I suspect would include, but not be limited to: U.S., French, British, Canadian, Australian, Dutch, Israeli, Jordanian, Saudi, and Egyptian forces) would have a critical role to play in providing the needed modern warfare sophistication necessary on and off the battlefield, including intelligence, command and control centers, artillery fire, close air support, bombing raids, hostage extraction, and perhaps even most importantly – waging an all-out counter-propaganda war that begins to highlight the battlefield losses of ISIS and the nihilism of their aims. Making ISIS appear to be losers and inevitably doomed will slowly start to impact their recruiting base. To quote the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, following the successful killing of ISIS terrorist Mohammed Emwazi (known as Jihadi John and infamous for his horrific staged executions), “Britain and her allies will not rest until we have defeated this evil terrorist death cult, and the poisonous ideology on which it feeds.” This should serve as the mission of the united Allied forces. It is time to start treating this as a war of eradication, not of containment. In the short-term, this also requires creating the safe-havens within Syria supported by no-fly zones that are needed with which to provide relief from Arab and Kurdish fighting forces while also promoting moderate forms of government within the zones. It also means the acceleration of the recapturing of Mosul.

This war will not be won overnight, so strategic focus on supporting moderate reformers within Islam will be key to ensuring that as ISIS and Al Qaeda are defeated that other hydra heads do not simply grow in its lost place. This will include a nuanced threading of the needle strategy of supporting allies such as Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia while advocating and supporting democratic and human rights reform within those countries. It also includes supporting and advocating reform of Islam itself, as laid out effectively by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in many of her recent writings. With a tactical approach to destroying jihadist forces on the ground coupled with a long-range strategy to reform the societies and faiths that create the conditions for the hate-filled and nihilistic societies to arise in the first place, perhaps we can look forward to the day when these jihadist rampages, much like fascism, Nazism, and communism, are a distant memory of temporary evils that were ultimately overwhelmed by forces of progress, healing, and good.