Thursday, December 31, 2015

Rebels with every cause

The revelations keep coming from Belgium on the investigations into Islamist terrorist groups and there's a strand now linking the groups to a biker gang called the Kamikaze Riders (via the Belgian news outlet La Derniere Heure). This would be very much consistent with the Olivier Roy analysis of European-based Islamist extremism and -- yet again!  -- suggests that focusing too much on the "Islamic" angle is a mistake. The extremism is constructed around political and religious grievances, but drawing heavily also on other non-Islamic attributes of alienation.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Woman in Saudi mosque non-outrage

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine on a tour of the Prophet Mohammed's Mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia. It is very rare to see female spouses in the especially segregated sphere of the holy sites, and the mere positioning of a scarf can normally be enough to set off media paroxysms. So one has to assume that the Turks insisted the first lady would be joining the tour. One more reason, albeit small, why creating an overly large class of "Radical Islam" that includes political Islam along the lines of the AKP is not very helpful.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

You won't believe how long this listicle is

RTE's coverage of 1985 Cabinet papers released under the 30 year rule, headlined 30 things we have learned. Is there anything in the source material not included?

UPDATE: The original (December 30) article has since been split into two 15 item lists.

Pond Synergy

The Christmas Eve Wall Street Journal brings some across the water local colour essential for Anglophile credibility to its readers --

When it comes to sports, Christmas time in Britain means two things: a lot of soccer, and a lot of darts ... “It’s the working man’s golf,” said Barry Hearn, the sports impresario who bought control of the Professional Darts Corp. in 2002 and turned it into what it is today—a pro tour with $15 million in prize money. “There is something special about Christmas because Christmas is all about the darts,” Hearn said. 

That would be Sun (prop. R Murdoch) columnist Barry Hearn giving quotes to a Wall Street Journal (prop. R Murdoch) article about what a great job he's done promoting darts, with the same article also having a later reference to darts coverage on Sky (prop. R Murdoch). As they say at Private Eye, trebles all round!

ISIS Job Creators

Today the US Department of Defense announced that 10 ISIS leaders had been killed recently by targeted airstrikes, including two linked to the 13 November Paris attacks. Among those killed --

Syria-based Bangladeshi Siful Haque Sujan was killed Dec. 10 near Raqqah, Syria. Sujan was an external operations planner and a United Kingdom-educated computer systems engineer, Warren said, adding Sujan supported ISIL hacking efforts, anti-surveillance technology and weapons development. “Now that he's dead, ISIL has lost a key link between networks,” he said.

This appears to be the same person as Mohammed Siful Haque Sujan, given the almost identical bio. He lost a UK immigration tribunal appeal in 2013 to remain in the UK on an entrepreneur visa, which would have followed his previous stints on student visas. Lest there be scoffing at the notion that he was an entrepreneur, here's what the Tribunal found (while rejecting his appeal) --

This case involves an individual of considerable ability who has pioneered an on-line ordering system which may be of considerable benefit to business within the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

The question remains as to whether the government was unwilling to grant him an exception under this visa because they had intelligence that he was already radicalized, or if the radicalization followed his failed appeal.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Ozzy Osborne's See You On The Other Side which as he said an interview this evening, he wanted played at Lemmy's funeral, not least in view of the fact that Lemmy wrote most of the lyrics.

Northern Pumphouse

Uk Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne launching his National Infrastructure Commission on October 30, 2015. Lots of talk of rail and power investments and lots of razzle dazzle financing from combining county council investment budgets into wealth funds and raising money by asset sales, but not a word about flood defence.

Note: the launch event was in the National Railway Museum in, er, York.

Photo via York Press.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The wedding bell curve

Tyler Cowen's Sunday New York Times article about income inequality arising from (ostensibly) meritocratic marriages is getting a lot of attention. This is the phenomenon of positive assortative mating, which was written about extensively by Gary Becker.

But leave aside the fact that it's difficult to pin down specific evidence on the effect, or indeed to come up with ideas that address it, as opposed to general action to mitigate inequality (such as taxation).

Note for example that the what might seem the most obvious solution -- creating more entry points to the meritocracy via testing -- tends to be resisted when East Asian families are seen as the beneficiaries.

But to be less contentious, there's another issue. The obsession with meritocratic-based marriages is itself a preoccupation of the type of people who aspire to be in such marriages, and indeed to read about them in the New York Times! David Brooks (the sociological, funny, Bobo-era one) got this spot on nearly 20 years ago, writing in the City Journal. The occupations might have changed slightly since his analysis (somewhat less lawyering and more consulting). And the class in question found a book -- the Piketty one -- to explain that the real concentration of wealth is happening due to those other r exceeding g people!

UPDATE: The apparent empirical evidence that positive assortative mating contributes to inequality is only apparent (via Matt O'Brien). 

Recaptured for whom?

The celebrations among foreign policy elites at the Iraqi army conquest of Ramadi at the expense of ISIS might want to consider what's left behind for anyone to live in. Above, a scene from the centre of the city, via the Iraqi newspaper Al Mada.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Unjust war and consequences

Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon And Katrina Lantos Swett in the Philadelphia Inquirer, demanding that the US State Department declare that a genocide is under way against Iraqi Christians --

More than a decade ago, more than one million Christians lived in Iraq alone. Thanks in part to ISIS, fewer than 300,000 remain. If ISIS's goal is eradicating their presence, it is well on its way to success.

There's a lot buried in that "thanks in part to ISIS." Because the real calamity for Iraq's Christians was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Here's the same Robert George writing in 2002 (Wall Street Journal)  in support of that war under Catholic "just war" doctrine --

There is no absolute moral principle forbidding the use of force to dismantle a tyrannical regime. The question requires prudential judgment. If a regime's aggression cannot be prevented without removing the regime, then force may licitly be used to remove it.

The prudential judgment at the time would have and should have included the impact of the war on Iraq's religious minorities, not least given Saddam's favourable disposition towards Iraq's Christian population. It's a bit late now to be calling for a bureaucratic declaration to mitigate the damage of a reckless piece of statecraft.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Vlad cleans up Bashar's bad bet

Critical element of the biography of Zahran Alloush, leader of the Syrian rebel group Jaish al-Islam, killed by a Russian airstrike on his (non-ISIS) headquarters in the same Damascus suburb which was gassed by Bashar al-Assad (Reuters) --

Alloush, who was released by the Syrian authorities at the start of the conflict in 2011 when it let scores of Islamist detainees go free, had been criticized for a crackdown on dissidents in the areas he controlled.

Note: a future Islamist militant was put back on the street by Bashar al-Assad in 2011. It's almost as if he wanted an Islamist insurgency, or at least one that, as in Iraq, he could control!

You'll never beat the Irish

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is in New Hampshire, yelling at prospective Republican primary voters about what a straight talker he is. But back home in New Jersey, his lawyers (and note, Christie is a lawyer) are giving his former aide Bridget Kelly, one of the people he blamed for the Fort Lee "Bridgegate" shutdown, the runaround (Philadelphia Inquirer) --

[Kelly's lawyer] also criticized Christie's office for sending PDF files, some totaling 10,000 to 20,000 pages each, that he said were unsearchable and made up of documents from different sources that were "arbitrarily interspersed." An 800-page index that contains more than 24,000 separate entries "is useless," Critchley wrote. 

If a terrorism suspect needs a lawyer who can bog things down indefinitely, they know where to look!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Film note

One of several similarities between Casino Royale and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation concerns the female lead. In each case she's an English character portrayed by an actress who in terms of residence and upbringing is not English: Vesper Lynd as played by Eva Green (French) and Ilsa Faust as played by Rebecca Ferguson (Swedish). And if you ask why we even bothered to look this up, it's that for both films, besides the plot resemblances, those characters have English accents that one tends not to hear in England. Is this what Hollywood has set as the new standard for such things? 

Because Russia has such a great record reading the situation in Afghanistan

Reuters --

Russia's interests in Afghanistan "objectively coincide" with those of the Taliban movement in the fight against Islamic State, Interfax news agency on Wednesday quoted a senior Russian diplomat as saying. Russia has established communication channels to exchange information with the Taliban, Zamir Kabulov, a department chief at Russia's Foreign Ministry and President Vladimir Putin's special envoy on Afghanistan, told Interfax.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Found in translation

Kremlin statement on Netanyahu-Putin phone call --

Agreement was reached to maintain active dialogue at various levels, in particular to further coordinate anti-terrorist actions.

To further coordinate, implying some coordination is already going on? There is the question as to whether the brazen attack which killed Samir Kantar was OK'd with the Russians beforehand.

Photo: Reuters Jamal Saidi.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

It sounds so genteel

Assad regime mouthpiece Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) --

Jaramana, Damascus Countryside- Samir Kuntar, the Dean of liberated detainees from Israeli prisons, has been killed last night in the city of Jaramana, Damascus countryside.

Only in the current Syrian context would a reference to the "Zionist-Takfiri project" have some logic, as is being currently referenced on SANA's Arabic site. For a more dispassionate account, here the Reuters story on the Dean's demise. The US Treasury won't have to worry about his financial dealings anymore. 


Niall Ferguson in the (UK) Sunday Times (subs. req'd) --

As even the Queen knows, the "new Keynesian" macroeconomic models that are the foundation of modern monetary policy failed to predict the crisis and failed to foresee its duration. The reason for their failure is now clear: to achieve mathematical elegance, their creators had left out things hat turned out to be crucial -- some of them financial (such as the size and structure of bank balance sheets), some of them social (such as changing dependency ratios) and some of them political (the unexpected end of the Cold War; the delusion of European Monetary Union).

Missing from his list is fiscal policy, on which he and Paul Krugman (unmentioned in the article) have feuded repeatedly

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Russian Blackwater

Excellent Wall Street Journal story about what looks like a hand-in-glove Russian government link to security contractors operating in Ukraine and Syria. Reading it one is reminded that Sam Huntington's famous quote about Islam having bloody borders needs an accompanying observation about the proximity of Russia to those borders.

Virtual and real ambiguities

The botched New York Times story about San Bernadino shooter Tashfeen Malik's "social media" postings seems to be obscuring what should be a more troubling lack of certainty about when and for how long she was in Saudi Arabia during her life. The NYT covers some new information coming from Republican House member Robert Goodlatte --

She entered Saudi Arabia on “approximately” June 4, 2013, according to a Judiciary Committee news release, and he entered on Oct. 1, 2013, and left on “approximately” Oct. 20, 2013. But Ms. Malik’s passport does not have any legible stamp showing when she left Saudi Arabia, the committee said. The only other evidence in the file, Mr. Goodlatte said, was a statement by the couple that they had been together in Saudi Arabia.

Your pseudonymous blogger has direct experience of the Saudi Arabia visa and travel procedures, and there's no such thing as "approximately." Everyone who's not from the Gulf needs a visa and there are physical stamps and photo/biometrics on the way in and out. And the uncertainty about her time in Saudi Arabia extends not just to that visit, but a large proportion of her life. Something doesn't add up. One possibility is that she was entering and leaving on a second passport, perhaps as a dependent of her father and/or linked to whoever (the kafeel) was sponsoring his presence in Saudi Arabia.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Cash doesn't flow up the Tigris

Writing in Commentary, Michael Rubin provides a tour through a self-serving and somewhat selective op-ed in the New York Times by Kurdish politician Kemal Kirkuki, But on one issue, the NYT piece is correct. Here's what Rubin says --

Kirkuki writes: “While Baghdad has been happy to take the money from selling our oil, it has been less enthusiastic about passing it on to us.” He ignores the fact that the Kurds received 17 percent of Iraq’s oil revenue. He also ignores that Iraq continues to pay the pipeline fees for Kurdistan’s exports to Ceyhan, Turkey, to the tune of $270 million over the past year. As for Kurdistan’s inability to pay salaries, Kirkuki might ask why Baghdad has been able to pay salaries to its employees, but Kurdistan hasn’t chosen to use the billions of dollars it has received from Baghdad to pay Kurdish workers.

In fact, while Kurdistan has a constitutional entitlement to 17 percent of oil revenues, the actual share was always smaller, and from early 2014, the share was around ... zero. Reuters explains the cash crisis and how the government coped with it.

Putin didn't just praise Trump

One part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's extended diatribe against Turkey --

However, today, the Turkish authorities are taking quite a lot of heat – not directly, though – for islamising their country. I am not saying if it is bad or good, but I admit that the current Turkish leaders have decided to let the Americans and Europeans know – yes, we are islamising our country, but we are modern and civilised Islamists. Remember, what President Reagan said about Somoza in his time: “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.” Just keep it in mind, we are Islamists, but we are on your side, we are your Islamists.

Although he somewhat misattributes the slippery "Our SOB" quote (it was more likely from a previous generation of US Presidents and Somoza), his scepticism that there's any benign form of Islamism and the associated risk of being taken in by what could be called radical Islam is entirely aligned with mainstream US conservative perspectives on Islamic political movements.

Cause and effect

Wall Street Journal --

Niger’s president said Thursday that his government had foiled a coup attempt, three months before elections in his country, a U.S. ally against terrorism in the Sahara.

Why do the phrases "coup attempt" and "ally against terrorism" seem to go together?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Never moved on

From Tuesday's Republican Presidential debate on CNN --

Chris Christie: But I will tell you this, when I stand across from King Hussein of Jordan and I say to him, "You have a friend again sir, who will stand with you to fight this fight," he'll change his mind.

Christie is thus the 2nd prominent Republican recently to refer to King Abdullah of Jordan by his father's name, Hussein. It's as if the Reagan fixation comes with a quantum lock regarding the entire cohort of Middle East leaders from that era.

Christie was also not challenged on who paid for one of his trips to Jordan; the very King whose name he can't remember!

Photo: Reagan and King Hussein in 1981,

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fearing history's verdict

Interesting Financial Times analysis of the implications of the Paris climate agreement (subs. maybe req'd) --

Brian Ricketts, secretary-general of Euracoal, a trade body representing the EU coal industry, says: “That 1.5C might be a target, but it means NGOs will be striving for the complete phase-out of fossil fuels very quickly, which means we will be hated and vilified in the same way slave traders were.”

There is a bit of a historical irony there since the forerunner of the EU (the ECSC) was founded to consolidate the coal and steel industries, so an orderly shrinking of coal is in the DNA of the EU. But anyway, it's probably climate change "sceptics" who should worry most about what their statements will look like 10 years from now. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It affects everyone

There's rightly lots of scrutiny of the various key words and phrases in the Paris climate change agreement. One interesting clause in the preamble to the legally binding part of the agreement (page 21) --

Also recognizing that sustainable lifestyles and sustainable patterns of consumption and production, with developed country Parties taking the lead, play an important role in addressing climate change,

Directing attention to rich country lifestyles in the agreement is a major achievement, albeit of course getting it into areas which will pose the most domestic political difficulties. Especially in the USA, where Republicans, to the extent they engage with the agreement at all, will see yet another line of attack on it.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Where it's at

Yesterday many of the Syrian rebel factions held an attempted unity meeting in Riyadh, although bringing so many groups together against a solid Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis was never going to be easy. King Salman met the delegations afterwards and among his remarks, via Saudi Press Agency --

The King said that we wish that the Arabs will close ranks, in all their countries, and that may Allah accept our prayers. I repeated, the King stated, that this country is yours and its people are your brethren. Praise to Allah, the King indicated, that we don't stand, in need, for anything, but to close the Arab ranks, to have a sole Arab nation stance. I reiterate and repeat, that we pay respect to all faith, the King said, pointing out that the Noble Quran has been revealed here, in an Arab country to an Arab Prophet, in Arabic, which is a grace from Allah, the Al-Mighty, but from the time of the Prophet and the Caliphs up to the time being, all religions are respected and every one's faith is between him and his lord, however serving our religion, our Pan-Arabism and the Arab Peninsula, are inalienable, a fact that I repeat to stress, in addition I say, too, that we expect, God grace, goodness and success to best serve our Syrian brethren and thank you, the King concluded.

There's an understandable tendency to talk about Wahabbism as the distinctive contribution of Saudi Arabia, as a political entity, to Islam. But the King's remarks also show the intrinsic link between Islam, the Arabic language, and the Arabian peninsula (of course Mecca and Medina in particular). Which implies that any discussion of the challenges associated with Islamist terrorism is going to have to operate in that rhetorical space as well. Simply proclaiming that the debate can be conducted in abstractions and assertions that ISIS is a deviation from Islam is not going to work.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Hopefully goal celebrations are Shariah compliant

From the Doha News --

“Therefore it is prohibited on all nurseries to celebrate with non-Islamic rituals as it violates the constitution of Qatar and violates the rules of the …law no. 1 of the year 2014.”

That's the conclusion of a letter from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to nurseries in the country providing guidance on the holding of children's Christmas parties.

This again illustrates a point that was also evident in our Kuwait post the other day. The overlap of the state with Islamic law in some Muslim countries means that the comfortable Tom Friedman-enabled narrative that is widely held among Very Serious People -- that the issues are only with a small number of extremists or with one country -- is just not true. The frame of reference is different, and that impedes conversation.

Galway cray-cray

Go with Weather Channel style naming of winter storms, get Weather Channel style yelling into a storm. Teresa Mannion of RTE. Further developments via the Irish Times.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Al Qaeda was better in its grunge phase

There are somewhat odd convolutions and contortions going on over whether the San Bernandino spree killing represents a new strand of ISIS in its illustration of how it can outsource terrorism as opposed to carrying it out itself.

Leave aside numerous examples over the years -- several listed by President Obama in his speech on Sunday night -- of apparent self-radicalization and other examples from Canada and Australia.

Is there anything actually new within the sphere of violent Islamist groups about looking to inspire attacks overseas? To the left, the summer 2010 edition of the magazine of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which is entitled, er, Inspire.

These groups are a package of issues, grievances, and methods. To pull one thing out and focus on its alleged novelty is a recipe for confusion.

UPDATE 18 DECEMBER: The San Bernadino killers read Inspire!

Image via Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Writing to live

The Guardian is reporting on an interesting stash of papers which is portrayed as the ISIS governing strategy for their caliphate. Certainly the functional and administration orientation of the papers points to plausible authorship from within the group, consistent with the Egyptian nom-de-plume that is used. But a possibility not apparently considered by the Guardian is that sections of the papers are written by hostages. The documents translate quite well into English, which might be a sign that they were written in English in the first place. As a result, overly literal interpretations of what's in the documents might not be warranted. 

Sunday, December 06, 2015

It depends what you mean by dialogue

From the official transcript of Bashar al-Assad's interview with the Sunday Times -- right after he denied the existence of barrel bombs --

Since the very beginning, we built our policy around two pillars, engaging in dialogue with everyone, and fighting terrorism everywhere in Syria.

Beware stray Shakespeare analogies

New York Times reporting on how the US was apparently embarrassed and surprised when China was able to enlist the UK to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) --

For China, British membership in the bank was a defining moment. Back in Beijing, Mr. Jin [AIIB sponsor] reached for his copy of Shakespeare’s drama “Cymbeline.” The play takes place in Roman-occupied Britain and part of the action revolves around the British refusal to pay tribute. Mr. Jin read two lines by the character Cloten, who tells the Roman ambassador: “Britain’s a world by itself. We will nothing pay for wearing our own noses.” Mr. Jin realized that just as ancient Britain had refused to pay Rome in an earlier age, contemporary Britain had defied the United States and joined the Chinese bank.

If George Osborne is then Cloten, that may be apt, but not in the way Mr Jin intends. Cloten is a duplicitous but incompetent and ultimately dead character in Cymbeline, and the play ends as follows:

CYMBELINE Well My peace we will begin. And, Caius Lucius, Although the victor, we submit to Caesar, And to the Roman empire; promising To pay our wonted tribute, from the which We were dissuaded by our wicked queen; Whom heavens, in justice, both on her and hers, Have laid most heavy hand.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

At least the visa bureaucracy was streamlined

From statement 3 months ago after UN summit, championed by the White House, on countering violent extremism --

[Participants] reaffirmed the importance of initiatives to develop good practices such as the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s Good Practices for a More Effective Response to the Foreign Terrorist Fighter Phenomenon. Participants also noted the announcement of the GCTF Cross-Working Group Initiative to Address the Full Life-Cycle of Radicalization to Violence, which will reinforce many of the key elements of Coalition efforts and the CVE Summit Action Agenda that emerged from February’s White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism and was adopted in Rome ... Participants underscored that the February 2015 White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism catalyzed a global movement to embrace a proactive, positive approach to the urgent challenge of violent extremism in all of its forms and manifestations, that involves contributions from national and local governments, civil society, local communities, the private sector, and multilateral bodies.

Thoughts and prayers may not be much help against assault weapons. Neither is national securocrat sherpa jargon.

Photo: Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Steve Emerson was right!

Wall Street Journal --

Western officials believe the terror network behind last month’s massacre in Paris has links to people in the U.K., fueling concerns about the threat faced in Europe. Several people suspected of having connections to Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the Islamic State operative and alleged ringleader of the Nov. 13 attacks, are based in the U.K., according to two Western officials. The officials said those people, including some of Moroccan heritage, are based in the Birmingham area, about 120 miles northeast of London.

[title explanation]

This one sentence about Islamist terrorism will blow your mind

Couldn't resist the Vox-style clickbait; anyway --

It is not the radicalization of Islam, but the Islamization of radicalism. 

That's Olivier Roy writing in Le Monde with an explanation of where the current wave of European terrorism is coming from.

$500 million here and $500 million there

And pretty soon you're talking about real money. Bloomberg News --

MTN Group Ltd. had its record fine in Nigeria increased $500 million to $3.9 billion after the country’s telecommunications regulator said it wrote the incorrect penalty in an earlier letter to Africa’s largest phone company. “There was a typo,” Nigerian Communication Commission spokesman Tony Ojobo said by phone on Friday, referring to a letter dated Dec. 2 that reduced the original $5.2 billion penalty to $3.4 billion. “The reduction should have been 25 percent. We saw the mistake and had to fix it.”

Cultural Gulf

This picture from the Kuwait Times shows what one might think is an Islamic-compliant fashion show which took place at Kuwait Basic Education College. However an ultra conservative MP is claiming it violated education law because the attendance is mixed. This imbroglio has nothing to do with terrorism, but it's worth bearing in mind the different starting points of socially acceptable behaviour among different groups before making blithe assertions about Islamic extremists being a tiny minority of all Muslims.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Crossed wires

Reuters yesterday --

The Iraqi government is fully briefed on U.S. plans to deploy American special forces to Iraq and the two governments will consult closely on where they will go and what they will do, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

Iraq Prime Minister today [Google translate/ alt. English version] --

Prime Minister and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Dr. Haider Abadi renewed emphasis on the lack of need for Iraq to foreign ground troops, and that the Iraqi government is committed not to allow the presence of any ground force on the land of Iraq, and did not ask any party, whether regional or international coalition to send ground troops to Iraq  ...the American side, that are not taken to do any activity without the approval of the Iraqi government and under full Iraqi sovereignty.

Someone is not presenting the full picture on what has been agreed.

As long as it makes them sound more evil

Apparently Ben Carson hurt his presidential prospects by mispronouncing Hamas as hummus. Then there's the person who said:

And there's suspicions that the instability created by the Hezbollian attacks will cause some in Lebanon to invite Syria back in,

That would be President George W. Bush in July 2006.

al Dawla Al Islamiya fil Iraq wal Sham

Given the importance of the underlying issues, an oddly large amount of last night's House of Commons debate to authorize UK air strikes in Syria was taken up with a posed fury that the BBC will not refer to ISIS/ISL as Daesh. As this blog has argued before, the use of Daesh by non-Arabic speakers is a ridiculous affectation akin to the cricket bat in Spinal Tap, and a logic if applied retrospectively which would require a lot of reworking to references to the IRA.

But anyway, here's an actual Arab journalist, Roula Khalaf, who writes for a non-state media outlet, the Financial Times, explaining why the preferred term should be ISIS

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Transnational elites

Rupert Murdoch in his Hudson Institute Global Leadership Award lecture, partially reprinted by the Wall Street Journal (prop. R. Murdoch) --

I was born in Australia, and am proud of my Australian provenance, but I am now an American. Like so many naturalized citizens, I felt that I was an American before I formally became one.

Fact: Rupert Murdoch became a US citizen in 1985 so that he could buy US TV stations, a move which would form the basis of his Fox empire. But it's certainly interesting that even before he formally became a US citizen, his feeling of being American didn't prevent the brazen and rabid support of his UK operations for Maggie Thatcher in the early 1980s. Of course the anomaly of an apparently committed US citizen having inordinate influence on British politics continues to this day.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The complexity of Lebanon's pain

From a fascinating Reuters article covering the latest machinations regarding selecting a President of Lebanon --

[Suleiman] Franjieh's ties to the Assad family date to his childhood when his grandfather, the late President Suleiman Franjieh, took him on trips to Damascus to visit his friend, the late President Hafez al-Assad. Franjieh used to hunt with Bashar al-Assad's older brother, Basil, who died in a 1994 car crash. He was orphaned in 1978 when a Christian militia attacked his family home in northern Lebanon, killing his father, mother and sister. [Samir] Geagea has been accused of responsibility for that civil war time attack, though he has denied participating. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Putin's Hannibal Directive

Reuters --

Officials at the Russian defense ministry could not immediately be reached for comment. Syrians in rebel-held areas of northwestern Syria near the Turkish frontier have reported intensified air strikes in the days since Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the border. 

Since the plane was not shot down by Syrian rebels, there's no direct military rationale to intensify air strikes after the shoot-down. It could of course be revenge, which would be a war crime.

Kevin flicked the kick

Maureen Dowd's New York Times column, handed over to conservative brother Kevin, discusses police shootings --

My dad told me that any job where you can legally carry a gun will occasionally draw the wrong type of person.

Imagine scaling up those odds, via literalist interpretations of 18th century gun laws, to the entire population.

The competitive Islamic State

New York Times today

The Egyptian branch of the Islamic State, deemed second after Libya’s in the scale of its threat, had a long record as a domestic insurgency before pledging its allegiance. The branch appears to have acted on its own initiative to carry out the bombing of the Russian charter jet on Oct. 31, say Western officials familiar with the intelligence reports. But the objective, those officials say, was to impress the group’s central leadership in order to win financial support. The core Islamic State immediately embraced the bombing, which killed 224 people, trumpeting the achievement of its Egyptian “brothers.”

New York Times a couple of weeks ago

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, has for the first time engaged in what appears to be a centrally planned campaign of terrorist attacks aimed at inflicting huge civilian casualties on distant territory, forcing many counterterrorism officials in the United States and in Europe to recalibrate their assessment of the group. “They have crossed some kind of Rubicon,” said William McCants, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and author of “The ISIS Apocalypse.” “They have definitely shifted in their thinking about targeting their enemies.” When the Islamic State’s Egyptian arm claimed responsibility for blowing up a Russian charter plane over Sinai two weeks ago, some analysts wondered if the group’s so-called Sinai Province of the Islamic State had acted on its own and leapt out in front, even at the cost of risking a Russian military backlash on the parent group in Syria and Iraq. But the attacks last week in Paris and Beirut, which the Islamic State also said it carried out, appear to have settled that question and convinced even skeptics that the central leadership was calling the shots.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The circular straight talk express

The photo is US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham sitting in the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. McCain might have sat in the same couch that the head of the Iranian-influenced Badr Organization (who also heads the Hashid Shaabi militia consortium) was sitting in a couple of days before.

McCain has been going to Iraq since 2003; here's a chronicle of visits and associated statements during 2003-2008. It's always saying that the struggle most go on, and more support from the US must be forthcoming. The current crop of Republican presidential candidates will soon be looking to "burnish their foreign policy credentials" with overseas visits. The McCain-Graham broken record on Iraq is a reminder that foreign travel within a VIP bubble and an even more constraining VSP narrative doesn't make for any better policy.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

From invading Iraq to defending it

David Cameron in the House of Commons today spelling out something that got obscured in recent White House statements about ISIS --

The main basis of the global coalition’s actions against ISIL in Syria is the collective self-defence of Iraq. Iraq has a legitimate Government—one that we support and help. There is a solid basis of evidence on which to conclude, first, that there is a direct link between the presence and activities of ISIL in Syria and its ongoing attack on Iraq, and secondly, that the Assad regime is unwilling and/or unable to take action necessary to prevent ISIL’s continuing attack on Iraq, or indeed attacks on us.

He does go on to present an ancillary self-defence rationale, but that's limited by proportionality -- a small number of plots against European countries don't justify a large scale assault. Responsibility to Protect has ended up being seen as a dodgy doctrine, because the outcomes have been so meagre, but is a more traditional legal doctrine based on defending a weak and perhaps failing state from external non-state attack leading to any better decisions?

Bobo dans La Maison Blanche

Peter Baker (New York Times) and Dana Milbank (Washington Post) have good analyses of the strange tone struck by President Obama's recent remarks on terrorism. Here's a section from his joint remarks with President Hollande, a president once ridiculed for being unable to control his women but now seeming like the epitome of resolution --

Since the attacks, Americans have recalled their own visits to Paris -- visiting the Eiffel Tower, or walking along the Seine. We know these places. They’re part of our memories, woven into the fabric of our lives and our culture.

His assumption that Americans relate to the Paris attacks because they've been there themselves may resonate with a lot of people, including the ones of readers of this blog, but in a country where many people don't cross a border much, if ever, it's a revealing assumption, and one that Republican primary candidates could exploit, if they were paying attention.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

KPI stands for Keeps Pundit Impressed

Thomas Friedman in Riyadh this week --

I spent an evening with [Deputy Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman at his office, and he wore me out. With staccato energy bursts, he laid out in detail his plans. His main projects are an online government dashboard that will transparently display the goals of each ministry, with monthly K.P.I.s — key performance indicators — for which each minister will be held accountable. His idea is to get the whole country engaged in government performance.

Tom Friedman, almost two years ago, in Dubai, proclaiming another Arab awakening --

Talk about reform — in Dubai, the government has set a strategy for 2021, and each of the 46 ministries and regulatory agencies has three-year Key Performance Indicators, or K.P.I.’s, they have to fulfill to get there, ranging from improving the success of Dubai 15-year-olds in global science, math and reading exams to making it even easier to start a new business. All 3,600 K.P.I.’s are loaded on an iPad dashboard that the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, follows each week.

Mustachioed high-flying pundits used to be much more difficult to impress. Friedman was in Riyadh in 2002, visiting the young Mohammed's uncle, then Crown Prince Abdullah --

So I took the opportunity of a dinner with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, and de facto ruler, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, to try out the idea of this Arab League proposal. I knew that Jordan, Morocco and some key Arab League officials had been talking about this idea in private but had not dared to broach it publicly until one of the ''big boys'' -- Saudi Arabia or Egypt -- took the lead. After I laid out this idea, the crown prince looked at me with mock astonishment and said, ''Have you broken into my desk?'' ''No,'' I said, wondering what he was talking about. ''The reason I ask is that this is exactly the idea I had in mind -- full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in accord with U.N. resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for full normalization of relations,'' he said. ''I have drafted a speech along those lines. My thinking was to deliver it before the Arab summit and try to mobilize the entire Arab world behind it. The speech is written, and it is in my desk. But I changed my mind about delivering it when Sharon took the violence, and the oppression, to an unprecedented level. ''But I tell you,'' the crown prince added, ''if I were to pick up the phone now and ask someone to read you the speech, you will find it virtually identical to what you are talking about."

That column essentially became the source for the "Arab Peace Plan" which has fared just about as well as any other Arab-Israeli peace plan. Abdullah, a canny old-style family operative, knew how to get a good message out without taking too many domestic risks. A skill his nephews have inherited. Incidentally, while your humble blogger doesn't want to fall into the trap of thinking of the older Saudi royals as having a monopoly on wisdom, consider the final part of Friedman's 2002 column --

As for the ''axis of evil'' and reports of a possible U.S. military strike against Iraq, the Saudi leader said: ''Any attack on Iraq or Iran should not be contemplated at all because it would not serve the interests of America, the region or the world, as there is no clear evidence of a present danger. Iraq is contemplating the return of the inspectors, and the U.S. should pursue this because inspectors can determine if Iraq is complying with the U.N. resolutions.''

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

African refugees in Africa

Another day, another reminder of the plight of refugees who don't get to a European shore --

ALGIERS (Reuters) - At least 18 people died and 37 others were injured when a fire broke out at a camp for African refugees in southern Algeria on Tuesday, Algerian official media reported, citing civil protection services.

Paisley heirs offer Irish territory for defunct nuclear weapons

House of Commons exchange during David Cameron's statement on ISIL and defence spending --

Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): With support for the Union in Northern Ireland growing ever stronger, may I help to assuage the concerns of the right hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson, SNP) by saying that we have lots of loughs and lots of ports, and that if the Government ever need a new home for Trident [nuclear submarines], Ulster is there? 

 The Prime Minister: I know that the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson) and I are united as one in hoping it never comes to that.

It was nice of Mr Donaldson to offer various parts of Ireland, including Donegal, as a home for potential evictees from Scotland.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Not like arriving on the Greek islands

Reuters --

Egyptian border forces shot dead five Sudanese migrants trying to cross from Egypt's turbulent North Sinai region into Israel on Monday, the military said in a statement. "Law enforcement tasked with protecting the border spotted at dawn today a group of Africans trying to sneak though the international border in cooperation with criminal elements involved in illegal immigration," the military said.

The plight of migrants within Africa has been lost in all the focus on the European Union migration crisis, as has the practices of countries along their route.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation

President Obama in a news conference as he left Malaysia to return home, on ISIS --

They're a bunch of killers with good social media.

Some "JV" style cleanup might be needed after that remark.

The messy middle

As we've noted in earlier posts, the emerging bimodal view on what must be done about ISIS is either the Krugman-Yglesias-Klein consensus that any kind of major response is a trap, versus the off-the-record Pentagon-Russia-Israel triangulation of brutal but ultimately effective urban war: Hama, Grozny, Gaza, and perhaps next, Raqqa.

But is there somewhere in between?

In the Bamako Radisson Blu siege on Friday, the Malian special forces faced difficult odds. At least two, and probably several more gunmen had gotten inside a busy hotel, and would kill as many people as they could. They killed 19, but 10 times that number were saved.

Three years ago, the In Amenas siege in southern Algeria took place, which is connected in terms of perpetrators to Bamako. 39 hostages were killed, but Algerian forces freed 15 times that number of hostages, and killed a large number of the Al Qaeda-linked attackers.

Against Boko Haram, the most effective national forces have been those of Chad, but their methods require the occasional wince.

There are some common factors. First, French-style train and equip seems to work a lot better than its American version, not least because the French stick around indefinitely to see what's happening. Second, these forces accept casualties -- themselves and hostages -- as a price of ending a crisis and sending a signal of their intent (a cliche normally reserved in western countries for sports commentary).

Of course, these tactics come with costs, and reflect the circumscribed politics of the countries. But from their perspective -- and arguably from the "western" perspective, in terms of what it saves "us" from -- it works.

And by the way, it was the Moroccan intelligence service who knew where in Europe the most wanted man in Europe was. And now he's dead.

The solution to a problem that severely afflicts Africa might lie in ... Africa! 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

It's invasions all the way down

Bleak concluding quote in excellent Wall Street Journal analysis of Western options regarding ISIS --

U.S. military officials say the overall changes under consideration so far are a refinement rather than a change in strategy against Islamic State. “There is only one thing that is going to beat these guys and that is a ground army,” said a military official. “And there are only two ways to do that: provide one yourself or rely on someone else’s. It is either invade Syria or do what we are doing.”

Before flattening Hama was cool

Excellent New York Times analysis by Tim Arango on the options for defeating ISIS; particularly striking: the at least partial Russian-Israeli consensus that heavy weaponry urban combat may be the best option --

But if the world is wedded to a military solution, it is likely to come at a high cost in human lives. Some Russian and Israeli experts argue that an effective military approach would have to meet brutality with brutality. It could not, they say, be waged only from the air. Some Russians pointed to the operation to tame an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya. Russians effectively adopted a scorched-earth policy, devastating the capital, Grozny, and even holding the families of jihadists hostage. In Chechnya, the houses of relatives were demolished or burned, and brothers and other members of militants’ family were abducted. Mr. Kabanov, the former Russian intelligence agent, said jihadists should be forced to think twice before strapping on a suicide belt. “He should understand his relatives will become accomplices,” he said. Speaking on Israeli radio on Sunday, Shabtai Shavit, a former chief of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, said the international coalition that has been fighting the Islamic State for more than a year must “stop talking and start doing.” He continued: “With this enemy, we have to push aside arguments on law, morality and comparisons of security and the rights of the individual. That means to do what they did in World War II to Dresden. They wiped it off the map. That is what has to be done to all the territorial enclaves that ISIS is holding.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Greater Syria

Russia is demanding that Lebanon clear its airspace for Russian military exercises. Where oh where could the Russians have picked up the notion that Lebanese sovereignty doesn't count for much compared to the needs of Syria?

Above: the blast scene after the assassination -- most likely ordered by Bashar al-Assad -- of Rafik Hariri. 

Always sending a message

Vladimir Putin held a a video conference meeting today at the Kremlin with the heads of the various military sectors involved in his pro-Assad operation in Syria. Among the details, clearly intended for public consumption, they're using: Engels Air Base, named after Marx's intellectual companion Friedrich Engels; Mozdok Air Base, which for a time over the last 20 years looked like it was being downgraded not least because of proximity to Chechen rebel areas; and Olenya Air Base near the Arctic Circle, which at one time would have the forward base for a strategic bomber attack on North America. Also, one of the missile ships being used from the Caspian is named Dagestan (another restless Islamic territory and original home of the Boston marathon bombers).

Russia a place where history is everywhere.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Campus terrorists

Background: recent events involving student protests at the University of Missouri.

Now consider this from Daniel Henninger's column in today's Wall Street Journal --

Missouri and Paris have something important in common. Both represent the inability of primary social institutions to defend themselves.

It's quite a leap to look at a situation involving spree killers and think that the right comparison to American educational institutions involves the handing of student demands.

Karl Rove tells the truth

The less this election hinges on income inequality and the more it focuses on ISIS, the likelier voters are to turn toward the GOP.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It depends on the grievance

Part of the widely quoted John Oliver commentary on the Paris attacks (Vox) --

"Nothing about what these assholes are trying to do is going to work" Oliver said. "France is going to endure. And I'll tell you why: If you're in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good f*cking luck."

That logic depends on convincing most people that the French culture and lifestyle which they can see up close or on television is actually attainable. If you think you're always going to be on the outside looking in, and mix that emotion with the Islamist cocktail, a different set of options can persist for a long time.

Monday, November 16, 2015

ISIL meets CYA

At his Turkey news conference today, President Obama set out a sensible and realistic process for understanding whether terrorist incidents could have been anticipated. One wonders what would happen if it was applied to 9/11!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, every day we have threat streams coming through the intelligence transit. And as I said, every several weeks we sit down with all my national security, intelligence, and military teams to discuss various threat streams that may be generated. And the concerns about potential ISIL attacks in the West have been there for over a year now, and they come through periodically. There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need -- that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves. But typically the way the intelligence works is there will be a threat stream that is from one source, how reliable is that source; perhaps some signal intelligence gets picked up, it’s evaluated. Some of it is extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and there’s no clear timetable. Some of it may be more specific, and then folks chase down that threat to see what happens. I am not aware of anything that was specific in the sense -- that would have given a premonition about a particular action in Paris that would allow for law enforcement or military actions to disrupt it.

Recall also that the Russian plane bombing might have been discussed ahead of time as something big involving aviation.

Now if only we get some cedar tree lighting

Apparently there's social media "outrage" that Saudi Arabia ignores terrorist atrocities in western countries.

Here's Kingdom Tower in Riyadh displaying the French tricolour within the constraints of its distinctive architecture.

And in case you're wondering about the title of the post.

Photo: Saudi Press Agency.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Israelis have some relevant prior experience that might be helpful

White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes on ABC This Week, trying to tidy up the latest confusion about the very-much-not-contained ISIS strategy --

RHODES: Well, we'll have to be nimble, George. And that means looking at ISIL's efforts to expand. It should be noted that we took that strike against the leader of ISIL in Libya precisely because we were concerned about their efforts to set up a stronghold in Libya similar to what they've been able to do in Iraq and Syria. So we are going to be vigilant. And we're going to have a basic principle here that there cannot be a safe haven for a terrorist organization like ISIL that terrorizes the population around it and that seeks to project power and conduct attacks in the capitals of close friends and allies like France.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, operating out of the Sinai peninsula, meets that criterion. Does that mean that the US is now all-in with Egyptian President al-Sisi in the military crackdown in Sinai?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

They've changed the rules

Vox asks Brookings expert Will McCants to interpret the Paris atrocity in terms of ISIS objectives --

Zack Beauchamp: Of those explanations that you've offered, which one do you think is the most plausible?
Will McCants: I guess if this were just about an attack in Europe, you might say that it is in reprisal for the attacks being carried out in Syria and Iraq. I don't see this as necessarily part of the propaganda effort or the war with al-Qaeda, because they've already succeeded in attracting far, far more recruits. Given the target of a major enemy in Europe, in light of attacks on Russian civilians and an Iranian ally in Lebanon, it seems to me that this has to do with the war to expand its territory in Syria and Iraq. It is putting its major adversaries on notice that if they continue to impede its state building that they will pay a price.

New York Times (David Kirkpatrick) asking a terrorism expert a few days ago of the possible fallout if Ansar Beit al-Maqdis is shown responsible for bombing the Russian passenger jet --

If its role in bringing down the plane is confirmed, the Sinai Province may have even momentarily surprised and surpassed its vicious parent, and, some analysts said, risked a broad backlash against the Islamic State itself ... The parent group, based in Raqqa, Syria, has much to lose by approving or even embracing the apparent bombing, he [William McCants] argued. Although supporters of the Islamic State are calling the jet’s crash retribution against Russia for its intervention in Syria to prop up President Bashar al-Assad, Mr. McCants noted that the Russians had mostly attacked Western-backed rebel groups that were foes of the Islamic State. “Russia has been hitting their enemies for them,” Mr. McCants argued. “I can’t imagine the guys in Raqqa want Russia to go all in against them.” ... But some analysts now wonder if the Egyptian offshoot has taken the Islamic State’s ideology of violence against its enemies even further than its leaders envisioned, multiplying its powerful enemies. “You can’t just say ‘let a thousand bloody flowers bloom’ without some of the blood splattering back at you,” Mr. McCants said.

Compare the expert and the associated interpretations in the two extracts.

UPDATE: From another analysis article by Eric Schmitt and David Kirkpatrick in Sunday's New York Times --

“They have crossed some kind of Rubicon,” said William McCants, a scholar at the Brookings Institution and author of “The ISIS Apocalypse.” “They have definitely shifted in their thinking about targeting their enemies.” When the Islamic State’s Egyptian arm claimed responsibility for blowing up a Russian charter plane over Sinai two weeks ago, some analysts wondered if the group’s so-called Sinai Province of the Islamic State had acted on its own and leapt out in front, even at the cost of risking a Russian military backlash on the parent group in Syria and Iraq.

No quote from any of those latter analysts is provided -- they must have been difficult to locate!

They've widened the field

The White House defence of President Obama's Thursday evening statement to ABC News on ISIS -- "we have contained them" -- is that he was referring to their status in Syria and Iraq. That's technically accurate, since his follow-on remarks refer to Syria and Iraq. But as an argument, it's no less problematic than the surface awkwardness of the timing. The reason is that the basis for US military intervention in Syria and Iraq relies on the idea that ISIS is a threat beyond those countries. Here's the letter from US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power giving the international law justification for the operations in Syria and Iraq --

ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria are a threat not only to Iraq, but also to many other countries, including the United States and our partners in the region and beyond. States must be able to defend themselves, in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 if the UN Charter, when, as is the case here, the government of the State where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks. The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe-havens effectively itself. Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL threat to Iraq, including by protecting Iraqi citizens from further attacks and by enabling Iraqi forces to regain control of Iraq’s borders. In addition, the United States has initiated military actions Syria against al-Qaida elements in Syria known as the Khorasan Group to address terrorist threats that they pose to the United States and our partners and allies.

Since (1) the Pentagon recently announced that it had killed the head of the "Khorasan Group" (a name they made up to find a reason to attack al-Nusra Front), (2) Syria has since asked Russia for help in attacking ISIS, and (3) ISIS has shown that it can attack beyond its region well over a year after the original military action began, the entire international law justification for the operations now rests on the dubious benchmark of Iraq at some point having full control of its territory. By narrowing the scope of the claimed success of those operations to their impact on Syria and Iraq, Obama was essentially conceding that a key rationale for the operation, and the one most closely linked to US national security, is invalid.

Preemptive mission creep

Reuters --

"There is no justification for terrorist acts and no justification for us not (to do) much more to defeat ISIS, al-Nusrah and the like," [Russian foreign minister Sergei] Lavrov told reporters ahead of a meeting with his U.S. counterpart John Kerry and U.N. special envoy Steffan de Mistura. 

Al-Nusra is not known to be implicated in any of the recent terrorist attacks outside Syria, and his addition of "and the like," based on current Russian military operations in Syria, includes all groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad.


Are the G20 leaders really proposing to sit with Vladimir Putin in Turkey this weekend and NOT consider the possibility of a link between his intervention in Syria and scaled up regional terrorism: Sharm Al-Sheikh, Beirut, Amman, and Paris?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Now gaining its identity

The wretched media trend of naming winter storms has now gone official with the confirmation of this year's first named North Atlantic winter storm by the UK and Irish Met Offices. It will be Abigail, which has the cliche has it, means Bringer Of Joy. Bring on Clodagh!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

He fought the law and he won

Above, Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi today meeting with Moqtada al-Sadr. The photo provides a moment to reflect on the degree to which Moqtada al-Sadr was the favourite "bad guy" early in the insurgency following the US invasion in 2003 -- an obsession that made the Bush administration even slower to grasp the nature of the Sunni resentment bubbling underneath. 

Euphemism watch

Republican Presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz is bringing forward legislation to have "the Muslim Brotherhood" (sic) declared a terrorist organization. Most of the draft bill is an accounting of various events and utterances that are said to warrant the designation, and includes:

The August 14, 2013, clearing of Muslim Brotherhood protests in Egypt resulted in attacks by Muslim Brotherhood supporters targeting the Coptic Christian community.

That "clearing" of protests is generally known as the Rabaa massacre, in which between 700 and 1000 people were killed. It remains the largest unaccounted-for killing in Egypt's modern history, and among the single largest killing of protestors anywhere in the world. 

If only there was more focus on connecting dots

New York Times on US intelligence interpretation of information around the Russian plane crash in Sinai --

Intelligence officials said that they had intercepted communications from militants based in Sinai before and after the crash but that the intercepts were inconclusive. In the days leading up to the crash, American spies intercepted an electronic communication discussing “something big in the area” related to aviation, a senior American official said on Friday. But it was a single intercept that conveyed no specific time or place — the kind of militant chatter the analysts see all the time, the official said.

Sadly that portrayal of how information was being dealt with is proof that we've "moved on" from 9/11. Another echo of that era is the apparent lack of awareness of the prolonged deterioration in security in Sinai and of the risks associated with the Egyptian military's heavy-handed response. That's just one reason why any wistful talk of a forceful Russian response -- which would just be the existing Egyptian response with even more weapons -- is headed for disappointment.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Extrapolating the dots

If the information trickle around the Russian passenger plane crash in Egypt is not generating some serious questions for the media and security officials, it should.

The "respectable" media has been locked into the "here's what we know" mentality. This forbids the type of probabilistic judgment involved in noting it was a Russian flight originating in a region where ISIS has a potent affiliate while Russia is engaged in a war of choice in the Middle East -- hence a terrorist attack had to be one of the possibilities.

Meanwhile, intelligence agencies had apparently come to that conclusion from the start, but for whatever reason, decided to wait a few days until saying so even with the associated risk to flights still present.

And then there's that ISIS affiliate itself, whose name change seems to have disrupted a general understanding of its capacity. Before it was called Sinai Province, it was Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, and while Vox's Zach Beauchamp states it --

in the past, principally focused on taking and holding territory in the Middle East rather than executing dramatic transnational terrorist attacks.

in fact, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis had conducted several brazen attacks in Israel. It doesn't help that Russia and Egypt both have extraordinary incentives to obscure the causes of the crash.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Erdogan is major league and Davutoglu is big time

Prominent conservative opinion writers Daniel Pipes and Michael Rubin are so shocked that a President could steer an election result in his favor in an atmosphere of war and terrorism, they think the election result can only have been rigged! Turkey 2015, not USA 2004.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Fantasy sports overseas politician picks report

Barack Obama meeting with the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in early summer --

Well, it is a pleasure to be with Prime Minister Abadi and his delegation. Obviously, the United States has made an enormous commitment and investment in Iraq, and we’re fortunate to have a reliable partner in Prime Minister Abadi ... And in all of these discussions, what I found is that Prime Minister Abadi is very much committed to effective, inclusive governance.

The good news is that Iraqi PM Abadi has indeed succeeded in uniting the entire Iraqi parliament in response to his agenda.

The bad news: the entire parliament is opposed to how he's doing it (Reuters) --

Iraq's parliament voted unanimously on Monday to bar the government from passing important reforms without its approval in an effort to curb Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi amid discontent over his leadership style, lawmakers said. The chamber acted after Abadi unilaterally enacted reforms in August that it deemed a violation of the constitution including his dismissal of the vice presidents and deputy prime ministers and cuts to salaries of government employees.

Given what looks like perpetual disarray in the White House on Middle East policy, there may be staffers there wondering if that other guy Maliki is still available.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

From America with a bill

An Al-Monitor report prior to the Turkish election in June whose inconclusive result led to today's highly conclusive AKP resurgence, mostly at the expense of CHP --

In an exclusive interview with Al-Monitor, CHP Deputy Chairman Erdogan Toprak, who coordinates the party’s electoral campaign, said the CHP had recruited Benenson Strategy Group (BSG), the US firm credited for President Barack Obama’s winning electoral strategies. Hillary Clinton has also recruited BSG to work for her 2016 presidential bid.

Why do political parties outside the USA continually fall for the illusion that American pollsters, even if they have some kind of special sauce that works wonders in US elections, will be able to do anything like that overseas? Is the whole thing really just backdoor lobbying of American politicians? Because there's not much evidence that electorally, it's effective.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The circling back to the Assads continues

If it's Friday, it must be time for another White House strategy on Syria --

Reinforce Jordan’s and Lebanon’s defenses as ISIL is pushed south and west. Enhancing counter-ISIL support in both nations is expected to provide enhanced contingency planning so a strong defense plan is in place and reinforced, the official said. Lebanon likely will have doubled security assistance in its armed forces to protect against ISIL’s and other terrorist groups’ encroachment, the official said.

Lebanon's border with Syria is jointly, if tacitly, managed by the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah. And there's no way for the US to be claiming any contribution to helping Lebanon resist encroachment without some back-channel communication with Hezbollah -- which in any event is also using its control of parts of the border to give the Assads another lifeline to the world.

Brilliant plan.

Don't believe the plain English

David Brooks, expressing patience for the fact that none of the Republican candidate economic plans add up --

At this stage it’s probably not sensible to get too worked up about the details of any candidate’s plans. They are all wildly unaffordable. What matters is how a candidate signals priorities. Rubio talks specifically about targeting policies to boost middle- and lower-middle-class living standards.

David Brooks, after the fiscal cliff imbroglio three years ago, expressing impatience with voters continually believing in economic plans that don't add up --

Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. The average Medicare couple pays $109,000 into the program and gets $343,000 in benefits out, according to the Urban Institute. This is $234,000 in free money. Many voters have decided they like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their children and grandchildren. They have decided they like borrowing up to $1 trillion a year for tax credits, disability payments, defense contracts and the rest. They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living. They have made it clear that they will destroy any politician who tries to stop them from cost-shifting in this way. Most members of Congress are responding efficiently to the popular will. A large number of reactionary Democrats reject any measure to touch Medicare or other entitlement programs. A large number of impotent Republicans talk about reducing the debt, but are incapable of forging a deal that balances tax increases with spending cuts.

It seems that the voters aren't supposed to interpret candidate promises the same way as the pundit class. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Turf accountancy

Among the bizarre questions in the CNBC hosted Republican presidential primary debate last night --

QUINTANILLA: Governor Bush, daily fantasy sports has become a phenomenon in this country, will award billions of dollars in prize money this year. But to play you have to assess your odds, put money at risk, wait for an outcome that’s out of your control. Isn’t that the definition of gambling, and should the Federal Government treat it as such?

From The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes --

Or, to change the metaphor slightly, professional investment may be likened to those newspaper competitions in which the competitors have to pick out the six prettiest faces from a hundred photographs, the prize being awarded to the competitor whose choice most nearly corresponds to the average preferences of the competitors as a whole; so that each competitor has to pick, not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors, all of whom are looking at the problem from the same point of view. It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be. And there are some, I believe, who practise the fourth, fifth and higher degrees.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Solving Syria will involve more of this

Unlike last week's exercise in Russian foreign policy trolling in Moscow, the above meeting might actually be constructive. The Sultan of Oman's delegate on foreign affairs, Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, meets Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Bringing in a player who is (a) not compromised by military involvement, and (b) has a clue what they are doing, usually helps.

Photo: Oman News Agency.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Good luck, Speaker Ryan

The general phenomenon is well covered in the news today, but for a sample of the immature histrionics that Hillary Clinton had to face yesterday regarding Benghazi, it's tough to beat Representative Peter Roskam from Illinois, who had the demeanour of one of those fantasy sports losers yelling at the television as his picks go bad.