Enemies, Allies and Kurdistan (Weekly Standard, Nov. 03, 2014)

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The Case For a Major New US Military Base

It is not clear at the time of writing if Turkey will or will not allow the United States to use the NATO air base at Incirlik for airstrikes against ISIS forces in Syria and Iraq. On October 13, national security adviser Susan Rice announced that Turkey had finally agreed to the use of the base, only to be contradicted the very next day by Turkey’s foreign minister. A subsequent press report claimed that the Turks were allowing their American allies to fly reconnaissance drones from Incirlik but no manned aircraft.

The brouhaha exemplifies a troubling downward trend in America’s ability to project power in the Middle East, a trend that goes beyond Turkey and its peculiar, complicated, sometimes hostile relationship with America. The ISIS crisis and the feebleness of the current air campaign don’t just provide evidence that only a foolish leader would preclude putting at least some “boots on the ground” in a military campaign. They also show that the countries that have long given us basing rights in the region may not be as cooperative or as trustworthy as our planners assume them to be, and that this is likely to get worse.

Given this unfortunate development, it is time for America’s planners to consider breaking with tradition and setting up new bases in countries that are likely to remain reliable allies—even if they are not yet recognized as independent states. 

Iraqi Kurdistan is just such a place (another is the Somaliland Republic, just across the Gulf of Aden from Yemen). It is not technically an independent state, as it has not seceded from the battered, unraveling republic of Iraq. But at this point that doesn’t really matter. Baghdad is hardly in a position to object to any deal between the United States and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Indeed, any hope that Iraq has of remaining a single state, federal or confederal, once ISIS has been defeated would depend on Baghdad and whoever controls it (likely a Shiite-dominated government), giving the KRG something very close to de facto independence.

Similarly, the only way Iraqi Kurdistan will feel really safe from invasion by Baghdad-controlled forces, an ISIS-Sunni alliance, a Turkey that has returned to its old anti-KRG ways, or Iran (Syria is unlikely to be a threat for a long time to come) is if there is a U.S. military presence in the country.

For both the Iraqi Kurds and the United States, then, a U.S. base in Kurd-istan—which already has airfields with long military-spec runways—would offer the United States tremendous strategic advantages.

These are all the more important in a region where U.S. influence has diminished, and in which the United States may well lose access to some of its biggest air, land, and naval bases in the medium or long term.

In the short term it obviously makes sense. There has been much talk about the need for the United States and its allies to stand up effective local forces in the war against ISIS. But the 5,000-strong Syrian rebel force that U.S. military leaders think they can stand up within a year or two is nowhere near adequate.

A proper alliance with Iraqi Kurdistan, one that includes the training and equipping of more effective Kurdish armed forces, offers perhaps the only hope of defeating ISIS without having to cooperate militarily with Iran (which would demand nuclear concessions and continue to undermine U.S. interests in Iraq) or Syria’s Assad regime (which has much American as well as Syrian and Iraqi blood on its hands).

Despite the Obama administration’s reflexive hostility to Kurdish aspirations and the official U.S. government preference for dealing only with Baghdad, the airports of Iraqi Kurdistan have reportedly become U.S. military installations as a matter of simple necessity. Some of the big air bases in Iraq proper like Balad and Taji are either too vulnerable to ISIS attack to be used by coalition aircraft or have already been captured. As for bases further south like the Rasheed base in Baghdad, the Iranian military is already using them to launch surveillance drones, and U.S. military officials are rightly nervous about the security implications of sharing an air base with, and being studied by, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

 But quite apart from the immediate value of Iraqi Kurdistan in the ISIS campaign, it would make sense for the United States to form a closer military partnership with the KRG. Unlike several of the countries from which we fly our aircraft or base our ships, its leaders and people are pro-American, its ruling regime is not a monarchy ripe for Arab Spring-style overthrow, it’s not trying to replace the United States as a regional hegemon, it does not sponsor Islamist terrorism, and if we did ally with it, we would be guaranteeing its freedom and security in such a way as to bind it to us by the strongest cords of self-interest and gratitude.

Currently, American military efforts in the region are dependent on Qatar, which hosts CENTCOM’s forward HQ and the huge al-Udeid air base, Kuwait, home of the Ali-al-Salem airfield, the UAE, location of the Al-Dhafra air base, and Bahrain, which is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Qatar is said to sponsor Islamism and jihadist militancy around the world: Its financial beneficiaries have allegedly included Hamas, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Somalia’s al Shabab, the al Qaeda-allied Nusra Front in Syria, and finally the Afghan Taliban. Alleged Qatari support for ISIS has prompted the U.S. Treasury to single out the kingdom as an especially “permissive jurisdiction” for terrorist financing.

Kuwait, too, has sponsored the Muslim Brotherhood as well as more radical Islamist groupings around the world. It was revealed by WikiLeaks to have been a key transit point for al Qaeda financing.

Moreover, the Arab Spring showed that even the most stable-seeming authoritarian monarchies and dictatorships can be more vulnerable than they look. It should be clear to U.S. planners that it is risky to assume that the rulers of the Gulf States will continue in power or that they will continue to be on America’s side.

Certainly violence in Bahrain, where members of the Shiite majority protested against Sunni rulers and were brutally repressed with Saudi assistance, should have the Pentagon making plans for the day when the regime has been overthrown and neither CENTCOM nor the Navy can use the country as a base.

As for Turkey, now that it sees itself as potential top dog in a region from which America withdrew, it is unlikely ever to give us free rein at Incirlik, regardless of the destination or mission of U.S. aircraft. And even if the Erdogan government were inclined to be more cooperative in the matter of ISIS, the Turkish military has on several occasions shown itself willing to sacrifice the U.S. alliance on the altar of its anti-Kurdish obsession.

There is a strong argument that gaining a permanent U.S. base in Iraq, preferably in Kurdistan, always ought to have been a primary U.S. goal after the 2003 invasion, and not just because such a boon might have quieted those “realist” opponents of the Iraq mission who abhorred talk of fostering democratic government in the Middle East.

The United States has lost several key bases in recent years, the most significant one being the Kharshi Khanabad base in Uzbekistan (thanks to Russian pressure). At the very least, the existence of a major modern U.S.-equipped air base in Kurdistan would offer redundancy for whenever Turkey refuses permission for the use of Incirlik, or for the day when Turkey might cease being even a nominal ally.

A U.S. air base in Iraqi Kurdistan would give America the ability to influence events in the immediate region and also in the Caucasus. Just the reconnaissance capability would be transformative. After all, Sulaymaniyah is only 330 miles from Tehran and 500 miles from Damascus.

A U.S. base in Kurdistan could make all the difference to Washington’s military options when dealing with the Iranian nuclear program. The fact that airstrikes would be significantly less difficult—not to mention the potential for inserting special forces by air or land—might well have a salutary effect on Tehran and therefore make such an action less necessary and less likely.

Iraqi Kurdistan is one of the few places in the world where both the government and the population actively desire an American military presence. Indeed the KRG has been quietly lobbying for more than a decade for the United States to establish a base in its territory.

The Kurdistan Regional Government certainly has its flaws and would continue to have them even if the country asserted its independence and became a formal U.S. ally. Its key institutions are dominated by two rival clans, there are serious problems with corruption, and also periodic problems with press freedom. Still, the country is more democratic and much more religiously tolerant than most others in the region. A formal, quasi-permanent arrangement for a U.S. base in Kurd-istan could transform for the better America’s position in the region. It would also be a good thing for all the Kurds (not just those in Iraq), a good thing for Iraq, and arguably a good thing for a region that otherwise will be a proxy battleground for Iran and Turkey.


Britain's Heart of Darkness (Commentary, October 2014)

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The Rot in Rotherham

A scandal involving rape, ethnicity, religion, and the willful failure of Britain’s public authorities to protect thousands of girls from horrific exploitation has become international news. But while some of the revelations of the barbarities practiced in the town of Rotherham in South Yorkshire and elsewhere in England are fresh, the story is not new. It has taken some 15 years for this scandal to reach critical mass and get the attention of the British political class. This delay was due to a toxic combination of pathologies on the part of the authorities and the British media. And it all boiled down to a deliberate and even bizarrely principled refusal to speak the truth, no matter the consequences to the innocent.

These pathologies include 1) endemic official terror of seeming “racist” or being labeled as such, 2) an obsession with not giving ammunition to the country’s weak and tiny extreme right, 3) the requirement that all liberal middle-class British people ignore or pretend not to see any negative fallout from mass immigration, and 4) the persistence of multiculturalist dogma that prescribes a morally relativistic response to cultural difference.

But other, less well-known forces were also at play. Among them is one of the few politically correct forms of social prejudice in the UK: a disdain for the white working class, and in particular the part of it that has been degraded by welfarism and family breakdown. But perhaps equally important, and all but unnoted by the mainstream press, is the problematic role played by a misguided and ineffective British counterterrorism strategy based on winning the cooperation of self-appointed Muslim community leaders and Pakistani immigrant “elders.”

The large-scale targeting of vulnerable white (and also Sikh) girls by networks of Muslim men and the massive institutional failure that allowed such exploitation to flourish reveal some dark truths about British society and the British state. One can only hope that the lessons to be learned are lessons the United States will not need to heed.

The tipping point came in late August with the publication of the Jay report. Based on an independent inquiry commissioned by Rotherham Borough Council, Professor Alexis Jay’s report recounted in harrowing detail the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 girls by gangs of men, almost all of Pakistani origin, between 1997 and 2013 in the Yorkshire town. (Rotherham has a population of 250,000 and is a satellite of the city of Sheffield.) The report was commissioned in the wake of, and provided independent evidence to support the findings of, a devastating 2012 investigation by Andrew Norfolk, a reporter for the Times (London). Norfolk had revealed confidential police files suggesting a nationwide pattern of exploitation of girls ages 12 to 16 by “Asian males.”

Norfolk’s articles had demonstrated a pattern of “grooming” and sexually exploiting children—not only in Rotherham but also in cities with large Pakistani communities such as Derby, Oldham, and Rochdale. They revealed that all across the economically depressed midlands and north of England, and in some other more prosperous towns (including Oxford), there had developed a criminal phenomenon in which vulnerable, mostly white teenage and preteen girls had become subject to “grooming” by men from Pakistani and Bangladeshi immigrant communities.

“Grooming” is code for a process by which rebellious, alienated young girls from the white working class and underclass—of whom there are many—are seduced with alcohol, drugs, and sometimes a degree of affection and attention, and then raped and forced to become sex slaves and prostitutes.

Many of the girls are in what the British authorities ironically call government “care”—wards of the state—or else are known delinquents. Often they are initially targeted by young men whom they consider their boyfriends but are then broken in by gang rapes and passed around groups of related older men. These criminal endeavors are based around taxi companies and associated with late-night fast-food and kebab restaurants of a kind that abound in the UK’s poorer neighborhoods.

To give a flavor of the phenomenon of sexual grooming and the official response to it, let me quote at some length from the executive summary of Alexis Jay’s report:

It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators…

Over the first twelve years covered by this Inquiry, the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant….Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE [child sexual exploitation] regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.

By far the majority of perpetrators were described as “Asian” by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councilors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councilors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.

One of Jay’s sources was a Home Office researcher who as early as 2002 provided Rotherham authorities with information about incidents of exploitation by networks of Anglo-Pakistani men. As a result of her report she was told, “You must never refer to that again, you must never refer to Asian men” and then made to go on a “two-day ethnicity and diversity course to raise my awareness of ethnic issues.”

The Times’s 2012 investigation had detailed a 10-year history of Rotherham’s police and social services failing to act on specific evidence about predation by organized groups of sex offenders from the Pakistani community. Like the Jay report, it included stories that are hard to read and even harder to fathom.

It was apparently representative that Rotherham social services allowed one 14-year-old child, who had been put into state care after her parents had tried unsuccessfully to end her relationship with an older Pakistani man who had twice impregnated her, to have daily contact with her abuser (a violent ex-convict) on the ground that the relationship was consensual. A father in a town near Manchester told social workers that his 15-year-old daughter had been lured into an underage sex ring based at a local kebab shop; they told him that the girl had simply made a “lifestyle choice.”

Another Home Office researcher, who produced a 2001 report on the crisis and wrote without result to the local police chief, had described a horrific case: “One girl’s social worker invited her abuser to attend ante-natal meetings as if this was some kind of normal relationship. This was a 14-year-old and an adult abuser, married with children and a pregnant wife.”

The police were even more derelict in their duties. Again and again they chose to ignore the complaints of the girls and their parents, often because they believed the girls were “slags” and “trash.” One Rotherham detective interviewing a girl who had been gang-raped by five men refused to list the case as one of sexual abuse as he believed it to be “consensual”: The girl was 12. If that doesn’t sound bad enough, in two cases cited by the Jay report, “fathers tracked down their daughters and tried to remove them from houses where they were being abused, only to be arrested themselves when police were called to the scene.”

Mike Hedges, the now retired chief constable of South Yorkshire, recently claimed that the sexual grooming of children was “never raised” while he was in office. It has since been revealed that he was sent letters detailing accounts of such abuse, including one from the anguished parents of a 13-year-old girl who had been raped.

The problem was so bad, and so well known in the town, that according to Jay, “Schools raised the alert over the years about children as young as 11, 12, and 13 being picked up outside schools by cars and taxis, given presents and mobile phones and taken to meet large numbers of unknown males in Rotherham, other local towns and cities, and further afield.”

The Jay report’s revelations have resulted in a media firestorm, a handful of reluctant apologies and resignations in Rotherham itself, and, in the past few weeks, the first admissions by the BBC that a specific ethnic group played a massively disproportionate role in a pattern of crime that it had worked hard to play down or ignore.

The latter is important. Until recently, the norm in covering the Rotherham incidents, and many similar ones in the north of England, had been to either avoid any mention by the victims of the ethnicity of the perpetrators, or to refer to them nebulously as “Asian” men. In the UK, “Asian” is used to describe people whose ancestors come from the Indian Subcontinent (i.e., Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Nepalis, and Sri Lankans) rather than people from Southeast Asia.

The use of this word in these cases is troubling because it is animated by racism—racism in the service of cowardice and political correctness.

Labeling the perpetrators as “Asians” was an attempt to disguise the fact that the men involved were almost all Muslims of Pakistani or Bangladeshi descent, plus a few Turks, Kurds, Arabs, and Afghans. No Sikhs or Hindus or Buddhists have been linked to the crimes, so to use the term “Asian” (as is still the norm on the BBC) is to introduce race without the slightest honest justification.

The anguish about ethnicity and terminology actually goes to the heart of the overall problem. According to the both the Jay report and the best journalism on the subject, one reason the perpetrators were able to flourish for so long was that those in authority were much more concerned with denying or deflecting attention from the existence of Pakistani rape gangs than they were with the safety of thousands of brutally abused girls.

One serious question surrounding the scandal is the extent to which these crimes have a racial or religious motivation or are somehow connected to the remarkably consistent ethnic and cultural background of the perpetrators. Put simply, were these girls targeted because they were white? Because they were infidels? Both? And what, if anything, does it signify that the perpetrators are almost all of Pakistani background?

Rotherham and similar cases are highly unusual in that “ordinary” child sexual abuse involves perpetrators and victims who come from the same ethnic group. Moreover, there is no equivalent phenomenon of Pakistani and other Muslim girls being specifically targeted for grooming and pimping by non-Muslims, or white men, or black men, or Sikh and Hindu men. This doesn’t mean, of course, that all Muslim men are a threat to girls from those groups; most sexual abuse and rape in Britain is a white-on-white problem.

No one seems to know the degree to which the perpetrators are motivated by racism or religious bigotry when they speak, as they have, of their victims as “white trash” and “white whores,” because almost all white girls in the UK are non-Muslims. But the fact that Sikh girls were also targeted would seem to imply some kind of vengeful religious animus.

One young Muslim leader, Mohammed Shafiq, who received death threats for discussing the matter in public, explained it thus: “The reality is that there is a small minority of Pakistani men who think white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused with impunity. Part of the problem is related to the fact that they should not have extra-marital sex with Pakistani girls inside their own tightly knit communities. Not only would such behavior be quickly uncovered via the local grapevine and their close family networks, but it would also offend their own twisted code of honor.  So, instead, they turn to vulnerable Western girls, whom they regard as more easily available because of greater social freedoms.”

There is other circumstantial evidence to bolster the case that religion has played a central role. As  right-wing British pundit Milo Yiannopoulos pointed out, a similar pattern involving gang rapes by Lebanese Muslim men in Sydney, Australia, led to race riots in 2000. And the Netherlands has struggled to deal with a widespread pattern of Moroccan and Turkish gangs “turning out” white Dutch girls, with a particular emphasis on underage virgins.

There is nothing in the Koran or in Islam as a whole that mandates rape and sexual exploitation, still less anything that suggests that one race is more deserving of mistreatment than another. However, as is now well known due to widely reported cases of gang-rape punishments in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier, tribal traditions of rape and misogynistic violence are often justified on religious grounds and even seen as a form of Islamic hygiene by certain communities.

There is also in Islam, as in variants of Orthodox Judaism and some Hindu traditions, a traditional concern with female purity that can lead some devotees to assume that women from other communities are unchaste, unclean, and unworthy of respect.

Which raises another horrifying aspect of the Rotherham cases—one that does not involve the perpetrators. It is the degraded character of white-underclass and even working-class life in Britain’s cities. It is hardly surprising that immigrants from conservative parts of the subcontinent and their strictly brought-up children might be shocked by some behaviors of the indigenous population.

Public drunkenness has long been a British tradition for all classes, but it is far from uncommon on a Saturday night in any English town to see puking-drunk girls staggering around or collapsed half-naked in the gutter, not to mention public sex and public urination. These are not spectacles that invite assimilation into British culture or that inspire respect. That is certainly not to say that the unattractiveness of British street culture is any excuse for grooming or raping, or that these girls, many of them under 13, are in any way responsible for their abuse by these predators.

It is also important to note that certain behaviors that are utterly normal, respectable, and dignified in Western terms—such as a post-pubescent woman going about her business with her hair uncovered and without being accompanied by a male relative for protection—are in some parts of the subcontinent (especially the parts of Pakistan from which many British immigrants come) considered immoral.

In Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of India, I have often heard women who leave their houses without a father, brother, son, or cousin being described as “prostitutes.” The men who say that are not claiming that the women are literally selling sex but that they are as undeserving of respect as prostitutes, fair game for abuse, and perhaps even deserving of some kind of punishment. 

Still, you would expect even conservative Muslim immigrants who have been in Britain for a long time, and certainly their offspring, to have made some kind of accommodation with Western ideas of female freedom and appropriate dress. But Britain is not America, and here, as in other European countries, cultural assimilation has proved to be a problematic process, especially with Muslim immigrants from certain countries.

While many immigrant groups, such as West Indians or the South Asians who fled persecution in Africa in the 1970s, have become part of the British mainstream despite having had to battle considerable racism and intolerance, many Pakistani and Bangladeshi neighborhoods have successfully resisted assimilation. They sometimes look and feel not like a normal immigrant ghetto, but like colonies, inhabited by people who despise the culture around them. Part of this contempt may be rooted in a sense that their religion and traditional sense of honor render them inherently superior to the English, but it may also have something to do with a reaction to the social and economic degradation of the English underclass. After all, many of these communities live alongside English people who have lived on welfare benefits for generations and among whom radically dysfunctional families are the norm.

The second major question raised by the scandal is this: Why were the social workers and police so reluctant to go public with or do much about the Rotherham crimes?

Ineptitude and laziness certainly played a role. But the notorious, sometimes deadly incompetence of many of Britain’s social workers is often connected to political correctness. The most infamous recent example of this was the case of Victoria Climbié, an eight-year-old girl originally from the Ivory Coast who was tortured and murdered by her great aunt and the aunt’s boyfriend. During the 10 months the eight-year-old was beaten, bound, burned, and starved, she was seen by the police, the social services of four local authorities, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and workers at National Health Service hospitals. All failed to investigate or help. Race apparently played a role, not just because Climbié’s guardians were black, as were the primary social workers and police officers who dealt with her case, but because social workers were afraid of being seen as culturally insensitive to African-Caribbean family practices.

It was all too typical that the “Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board” would write in a confidential report discovered by Andrew Norfolk that grooming cases had “cultural characteristics…which are locally sensitive in terms of diversity.” The report went on to say: “There are sensitivities of ethnicity with potential to endanger the harmony of community relationships. Great care will be taken in drafting…this report to ensure that its findings embrace Rotherham’s qualities of diversity. It is imperative that suggestions of a wider cultural phenomenon are avoided.”

In 2002, after the Rotherham council was given a draft of a report for the Home Office on child exploitation in the town, the council actually ordered a raid on its own frontline provider of children’s services to remove and destroy files that documented abuse cases, the names of suspects, and the specific locations where Pakistani exploitation networks were targeting children. According to Bindel, the police and social workers “feared race riots” if the truth were to be known.

The horrifyingly lax conduct of law-enforcement authorities should not surprise anyone who has witnessed the steady decline of British policing. Given the endemic laziness that underlies their visible withdrawal from the streets, the unhealthy enthusiasm in senior ranks for pursuing thought crimes such as “racist” speech, and the incompetence and institutional cowardice on display during the London riots of 2011, it would have been foolish to have high expectations of British police.

Julie Bindel, an expert on the grooming phenomenon, and a Northerner herself, is convinced that the local officials who betrayed the girls of Rotherham were not at all “politically correct” in terms of their own beliefs, or worried about offending Pakistani opinion. “It’s just a matter of covering their own behinds in case they were accused of racism,” she says.

Indeed, the dominant emotion of those who failed to do their jobs here was fear—fear of being accused of social evils and  fear of criminal disorder that might follow the revelations of uncomfortable truths about minority populations defended by well-funded and aggressive public-interest organizations. And it was mirrored by the deep ideological discomfort of the mainstream media in Britain with telling the truth about what has been going on. A handful of brave investigators had been trying to expose the sexual grooming of children for many years. But such was the pressure to ignore or keep quiet about it that those fighting to reveal the truth often found themselves with odd bedfellows. The first journalist to break the Rotherham story was the left-wing lesbian feminist writer Julie Bindel—and she did it, of all places, in Standpoint, the conservative English monthly.

In a 2010 article called “Girls, Gangs and Grooming: The Truth,” Bindel laid bare not only the practice of targeting and seducing vulnerable young girls and then “breaking them in” as prostitutes, but also the extreme reluctance of charities, social services, and law-enforcement authorities to admit that the perpetrators came from a particular ethnic and religious background.

Bindel was compelled to publish the piece in Standpoint because “progressive” outlets such as the Guardian would not touch the issue. After writing about “Asian” grooming for another paper in 2007, she had been deemed a “racist” and her name was included on a website called “Islamophobia Watch: Documenting anti-Muslim Bigotry.” Similarly aggressive denunciations had greeted the Labor Party politician Ann Cryer, who had gone public with complaints from constituents whose daughters had been victimized.

At times, the informal system of media censorship has been very sinister indeed. In 2004, Britain’s Channel 4 made the television documentary “Edge of the City” about parents trying to stop groups of young “Asian” men from grooming preteen girls for sex. However, the thenchief constable of West Yorkshire fought successfully, in alliance with a radical leftist group called United Against Fascism, to have its broadcast canceled, lest the program strengthen the neo-Nazi British National Party in an imminent election.

So much attention has been paid to the troubling role of political correctness and multiculturalism on one side, and bigotry, misogyny, and anti-white racism on the other that it’s easy to miss another factor in the failure to confront “grooming.” That factor is the essential but largely unspoken element of the UK’s  counterterrorism strategy, which is premised on cultivating key figures in certain communities, even if that means making unsavory compromises. Put simply, in order to get information on potential jihadist terrorists, government authorities have tried to curry favor with selected Muslim community leaders by turning a blind eye to various morally abhorrent or illegal practices.

Abandoning low-status white girls to the cruelties of local sex traffickers is arguably only one disturbing manifestation of this policy. Muslim women and girls have also been deprived of the equal protection of the law in order to win the support of elders and self-appointed leaders whom the authorities foolishly believed might help them root out young jihadists.

For many years now, as authors including Theodore Dalrymple have pointed out, the police and social services have systematically ignored the illegal removal of Muslim girls from school once they reach their mid-teens. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, they have also largely ignored the forced marriages (i.e., rapes and kidnappings) that often follow such truancy. They have failed to stop the widespread practice of female genital mutilation. And they have been accessories to the effective abolition of female suffrage in Muslim communities. (The latter works by means of a postal voting system that allows conservative men to keep their wives, daughters, and sisters at home on polling day—and, in reality, to cast their votes for them.) And it goes almost without saying that sexual and other abuse within these communities takes place with little chance of the authorities or the law becoming involved.

This grotesque group betrayal, like the sacrifice of thousands of vulnerable teenage white girls, has not resulted in intelligence triumphs or effective measures to neutralize the threat of British-born jihadists. But it has indulged the most reactionary, unassimilated, and misogynistic elements within relevant communities. Meanwhile, the long refusal to discuss the truth has indulged the worst instincts among the British elites and left in its wake a moral stain on the nation that may be impossible to remove.

Britain’s Heart of Darkness

Why Americans (And the West) Should Care About Scottish Secession (TWS Sept. 18 2014)

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This week’s referendum on Scottish independence may seem like an obscure, perhaps even Ruritanian quarrel to many Americans, but it has profound implications not just for the U.K. and Europe but also for the United States.

Most of the debate in the U.K. and elsewhere about Scottish secession has concentrated on whether an independent Scotland could survive or thrive, with a particular focus on whether Scotland would be immediately allowed to join the EU and if it would become a member of NATO despite the official anti-nuclear stance of the Scottish National Party. Very little attention has focused on the likely impact of secession—culturally, psychologically, and economically on the rump United Kingdom.

Great Britain—or whatever the country may be named after the loss of the North of that island—would the only Western European country to lose significant territory since the Second World War. (Various Eastern European countries have split since then, but all of them were relatively recent concoctions, put together in the aftermath of World War I and the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian empire.)

If the British union is dissolved after 300 years, you can expect the impact to be considerably greater than that felt in Russia when the USSR collapsed after a mere 82 years. And we are only beginning to appreciate the extent to which the Soviet collapse affected the morale of the Russian population, prompting a tidal wave of social ills ranging from alcoholism and suicide to catastrophically low birth rates to the rise of virulent ethnic nationalism.

With regard to the latter, it’s worth bearing in mind that “British nationalism” has generally tended to be relatively inclusive and non-racial. However, “English nationalism”, if awakened by Scotland’s secession, is likely to mirror its Scottish and Welsh equivalents and be explicitly racial, with significant potential for ethnic, social and political strife.

Until the last couple of weeks the U.K.’s political class has been remarkably complacent about the referendum, partly because polls had showed a victory for the “No” vote and few had thought much about the possible consequences of secession.

It didn’t help that the commentary in the U.K. press has not been informed by a historical awareness of what happened in other countries when secession was threatened or territory was lost. The Brits seem unaware or to have forgotten that democratic countries like the United States and India have fought bloody wars to prevent secession, or that the loss of Alsace to Germany poisoned French society and politics for more than a generation.

Nor, for that matter, have they noticed that foreign countries, including Britain’s friends and allies, are baffled by the very idea that the U.K. would willingly allow itself to be dismembered.

But, arguably, the most important factor in the inappropriate calmness and inertia of the establishment has been its inability or unwillingness to talk about Britishness. The U.K.’s political class is so uncomfortable with overt expressions of patriotism, and so infected by the multiculturalist critique of British history as simply a narrative of racist, sexist, imperialist violence and exploitation, that it can neither promote nor fight for the union.

Even if a post-referendum secession process were to go as smoothly as that of Czechoslovakia (1918-1992), you can be sure Scotland’s separation from the rest of the U.K. would radically transform and weaken America’s most important military and political ally, perhaps to the point that it might give up its nuclear weapons, its key role in organizations like NATO, and its traditional advocacy of free trade. Such a diminished, demoralized U.K. would not be able, and perhaps not be willing to provide the essential diplomatic or military back-up that Washingon has long taken for granted.

As it is, deep cuts to Britain’s armed forces by the Cameron coalition have eroded the U.K.’s capacity and will to partner with the United States. That decline might become irreversible and permanent if the country is split in two. As for Scotland itself, given the past record of the Scottish National Party, it is likely to join the anti-American chorus at the U.N. and in other international organizations.

Moreover, a U.K. that has let Scotland go (together with its only nuclear submarine base at Faslane) and which could be confronted by more secessionist movements, might soon lose its place as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. No likely replacement—be it India, Brazil, or even Germany or Japan—can be counted on to be remotely as supportive of America’s strategic interests.

A “Yes” vote for secession would also set in motion a whole series of political crises across the continent and further afield. Not only is the referendum being closely watched by various nationalist, often left-leaning, secessionist movements around Europe, especially in Spain, Italy and France, but there are representatives of those movements in Scotland helping the nationalists.

If the latter should win, then Catalonia, Corsica, the Basque Country and the Veneto—all of which have well-established separatist parties—will only be the first regions to draw inspiration from the outcome. In Belgium—a relatively recently invented country (est. 1830) that has never succeeded in reconciling its French-speaking (Walloon) and Flemish (Dutch-speaking) populations—Dutch-speaking Flanders is almost certain to seize the moment and set in motion its separation.

Some of these countries are already confronting crises of national identity provoked by the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, by the euro’s problems, and by mass immigration, in particular from the Muslim world. If more than one of these states is plunged into political, economic or social chaos by invigorated secessionist movements, Europe will become even more of a busted flush than it is already. It’s willingness to resist threats and bribes from Russia will decrease, and its ability to support military campaigns like that in Afghanistan will be even more diminished.

Canada too might experience a resurgence of Quebecois nationalism and simultaneous separatism in its Western states, despite having only just regained its leading position among the liberal democracies.

Finally, Scottish independence could present an immediate security threat to the West and the NATO alliance. The Scottish National Party, though it now talks vaguely about Scotland becoming another Norway (a NATO member which takes seriously its vulnerability to Russian adventurism), has long favored neutrality and unilateral nuclear disarmament. Its instincts, as shown by its reaction to U.S. foreign policy over the last decades are not at all pro-American (the SNP even opposed the NATO interventions to prevent ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia).

Worse still, it is believed by Baltic intelligence services that Russia has discreetly lent a hand to Scottish nationalism (Scottish politics are notoriously corrupt by British standards) in the hope of causing as much trouble as possible to the Western alliance.

It is not at all far-fetched to imagine Vladimir Putin offering financial aid to a post-independence Scotland that will inevitably face severe economic challenges.

The price for that aid might include, among other things, basing rights for Russian military and naval forces. Certainly there would be little or nothing that the United Kingdom could do if an independent Scotland decided to rent its deep water submarine port at Faslane to Russia’s Northern fleet or if it let Russian maritime air patrols fly out of former RAF air bases.

That would essentially mean a shifting of NATO’s frontier hundreds of miles to the West and a revolutionary change in the balance of power in Europe.

As was clear from the discussions at the recent NATO summit in Wales, the U.S.-led alliance is already struggling to confront instability and danger in far off Afghanistan, in the chaos of Iraq and Syria, and in nearby Ukraine. Its members will therefore be watching the September 18 vote closely, and hoping for a result that doesn’t gratuitously bring uncertainty and peril to a corner of the world that has, among other virtues, long been a byword for stability, unity and calm.


A Dream of Scottish Secession (Standpoint Mag Online, 9 Sept, 2014)

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A year after the UK signed the Separation Agreement with Scotland, and two years after the Independence Referendum, negotiations between the two countries are dragging contentiously on. The remaining nations of newly dismembered Great Britain are in the painful throes of constitutional reorganization. Relations between Westminster and Edinburgh are chilly at best.

Nevertheless, Scotland’s President, Alex Salmond, head of state as well as head of government, (and likely to hold power for at least five more years under the new constitution written by the SNP), is in an upbeat mood.

He has just returned from a triumphant foreign tour, during which he was greeted by adoring crowds in Barcelona, Corsica, Venice and Quebec. (His barring from San Sebastian by the Spanish government gratifyingly prompted riots throughout the Basque Country.) Salmond is now a bona fide international celebrity and beloved of secessionists everywhere. In the British Isles, his speeches to the Welsh assembly and to the Irish Dail proposing a Celtic Federation are front page news.

The trip has raised Salmond’s spirits after some months of uncharacteristic gloom. For much of 2016 Salmond faced the most difficult challenge of his extraordinary career. The problem was not Scotland’s exclusion for the time being from the EU and Nato, but its financial crisis. Those economic warnings from Better Together that played so badly with Scottish voters turned out to be true after all1.

Fortunately for President Salmond and his country’s financial health, Scotland is not without wealthy and generous friends abroad.

There are friendship treaties in the pipeline with Venezuela and Iran. And the first formal State Visitor of the Salmond presidency on September 15, 2016 is none other Vladimir Putin himself.

It is actually a return visit. Salmond’s second official state visit to another country as President was to Moscow. (The first was of course to Paris where he raised his glass to the “auld alliance” at dinner with a slightly nonplussed President Ségolène Royale.)

Visits to China, where his reception was insultingly low key (Beijing doesn’t like separatist movements) and to the United States, where he was accorded only an informal five minute chat with President Elizabeth Warren have been less successful.

Putin’s early invitation to Edinburgh is a thank-you for the discreet financial support of SNP activities and candidates by Russian businessmen over many years, and the encouragement of Scottish independence by officials at the Edinburgh consulate.

Putin, who has never before been to Scotland, is clearly delighted by his reception, not least by the kilt-wearing Black Watch honour guard.

Up in the Highlands with President Salmond, Putin stalks and kills a large stag that just happens to wander across his sights on the first morning. Naturally he poses with the body of the beast, and footage of him deftly gralloching it with a survival knife is broadcast around the world. A kilted, shirtless Putin is similarly successful fishing for salmon on the recently purchased Presidential estate (bought for a song from a departing aristocrat).

Putin and Salmond are then flown from Aberdeen to an oil rig where Putin publicly offers discounted Russian helicopters for air-sea-rescue and also hydrofoils to protect Scottish fisheries, and to patrol the disputed maritime border between Scotland and the UK.

Informed observers say the offer is really an attempt to test the public relations waters and that the state visit is a cover for intense negotiation between the two Presidents about a new strategic relationship.

For Salmond, billions are at stake. And so are principles, in particular the SNP’s commitment to provide free higher education and medical care to Scotland’s citizens and to pay generous salaries to Scotland’s public sector workers. 

For his part, Mr Putin is more than happy to bankroll this brave new Scotland. As he points out in a speech at the opening of the grand new embassy in Edinburgh, Russia’s connection to Scotland goes back many centuries. Indeed Russia owes an enormous historical debt to Scots like the generals George Ogilvy, James Bruce and Patrick Gordon who served Peter the Great and enabled his great victories over the Swedes and Turks.

Putin points out that both countries share the same patron saint, and recalls that one of his favourite writers, Mikhail Lermontov, was of Scottish descent (a Learmonth), He himself has had an admiration for Scots culture since reading Robert Burns in translation at university, he says, and like so many other people around the world was inspired by movies like Braveheart.

“Scots independence must never again be compromised, for any reason” Putin declares, to the cheers of his audience. It is therefore his great pleasure to announce a comprehensive North Sea Economic Cooperation and Security Agreement between the two nations.

From now on, Russia will guarantee Scotland’s treasured freedom. And with the aim of helping the Scottish economy Moscow will lease the former Royal Navy submarine base at Faslane, paying more than five times the rent offered by the UK during the stalled post-independence negotiations.

Having visited the dockyards on the Clyde, President Putin is also delighted to announce that vessels of the modernizing Russian Navy will undergo refits there. Russia may also redevelop the old naval base at Scapa Flow with a view to making it a winter home for the Baltic fleet.

Finally, to the benefit of local economy and population, Russia will save the old RAF base at Lossiemouth from closing and reopen the one at Leuchars that was closed by the Tory British government in 2012. The two air stations will be shared by the Russian Navy and the Scottish Defence Force Air Wing. Until the latter has its own aircraft, Russia will offer, on a purely temporary basis, to provide maritime air patrols.

Westminster is stunned by the announcement. The United States, already aware that its global influence has been adversely affected by the diminished influence of the divided UK, is furious. There is panic in the Baltic states. Norway calls an emergency meeting of Nato defence ministers. The Swedish, Dutch, Danish and even the German governments are in uproar.

The British Prime Minister sends an outraged demarche to Edinburgh, saying that the deal with Russia is a “breach of the spirit of the Separation Agreement”.

Salmond’s response is quick and sharp: Scotland does not yield to threats no matter where they come from.

He appeals to Moscow, where Mr Putin declares that Russia can be relied on stand by her friends. He orders the symbolic deployment of a battalion of Russian Naval Infantry – the same size as the detachment of US troops sent to Poland and the Baltics during the 2014 Ukraine crisis – to Scotland, plus a flight of Su-35 fighter jets and a mobile battery of S-300 anti aircraft missiles to protect them. Putin also orders a task force led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov into the North Sea.

In Brussels Nato is divided between states calling for a general mobilisation and those who say that Scotland should immediately be invited to join the alliance to forestall a dramatic shifting of the East-West frontier into the North Atlantic.

Tony Blair writes an OpEd in The Times apologising for so carelessly setting in motion the process that led to Scottish secession.

A demonstration in Trafalgar Square by supporters of the new English National Party turns ugly, with hooligans kicking a well-known Scottish-accented BBC radio reporter.

David Cameron, widely blamed in the UK for losing Scotland, resigns his position as CEO (officially “Director of Dynamism”) of a leading public relations firm and quietly leaves the country.

As the UK considers moving a force of English and Gurkha (but not Welsh) troops to the border to symbolically counter what London claims is an illegal deployment of Russian forces in Scotland, the Russian-led successor to the Warsaw Pact, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) extends a formal invitation to Scotland. Salmond expresses gratitude for the offer without accepting it. London decides against moving troops to Hadrian’s Wall2

But then a convoy of Scottish nationalist demonstrators drives across the border and into Berwick-upon-Tweed where they raise the Saltire and occupy the town hall.  

At that point the alarm goes off.


1] Since the contentious split of the oilfields with the rump UK, it is now clear to everyone that income from North Sea oil is insufficient to make up for the fledgling country’s low tax base. And already, thanks to one of the lowest credit ratings in Europe, Scotland has found it difficult to borrow money from the international markets. It took Salmond and his cabinet by surprise when so many UK citizens sold their businesses and left, prompting a sharp decline in property prices. (The Sloane Ranger colony in Edinburgh departed en masse). They were also dismayed by how many Scots, given the opportunity to chose UK citizenship, did just that after London made clear that dual UK-Scots nationality would not be allowed and imposed a three month window for conversion to UK citizenship. If that weren’t bad enough, SNP sloganeering about “Scottish jobs for Scottish workers” prompted a nervous exodus of immigrants, in particular non-whites, despite the efforts of Hardeep Singh Koli, a junior minister in Salmond’s government, to persuade them to stay. The emigration of productive citizens has actually increased now that there is talk in both capitals of tightened visa restrictions and the imposition of customs duties. Although Salmond initiated the tit-for-tat with his popular restrictions on land ownership by foreigners, he genuinely did not expect the retaliation that followed, nor the sting of the British prime minister’s jibe that Scotland had become “the Zimbabwe of the North.”  

[2] It shows similar forbearance when Salmond claims the tiny island of Rockall in the North Atlantic as Scottish territory. TV cameras cover the ceremony as his envoy, landed on the granite islet by Russian special forces deploying from a submarine, raises the Scottish flag. Not only is the Royal Navy powerless to prevent the occupation but one of its frigates is boarded and briefly taken over by Russian special forces in an incident that recalls the 2007 HMS Cornwall incident in the Persian Gulf.


The Twitter Hypocrisy of Kenneth Roth (Commentary Sept. 2014)

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It is not yet clear if Twitter, the social-media site whose users send out 140-character mini-statements, is generally good or bad for public life, or for the mental health of its users. But it is inescapable: Campaigners, politicians, and rock stars use it to maintain a constant presence in the online lives of their followers. Marketing executives are obsessed with it. “Old-media” editors follow it slavishly in the foolish belief that retweets actually indicate movement in public opinion, rather than mini-campaigns by obsessives or lazy clicking by people who are bored at work.

The behavior of Twitter users can be wonderfully, unintentionally revealing. This is not so much the case for occasional users, who may choose to tweet only about one particular interest, or one side of themselves, or who just crack jokes. But in the case of some public figures, the urge to tweet can unwittingly disclose truths they would probably prefer to keep hidden. That seems to be the case for Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, one of two dominant behemoths among the myriad pressure groups around the world that describe themselves as human-rights organizations. Each year, Human Rights Watch publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human-rights conditions.

His organization may cover 90 countries a year, but during the month of July, Roth’s Twitter feed was dominated to an extraordinary degree by one specific country: Israel and its conduct of the war with Hamas. No other subject received half or even a third of the attention. On some days up to half of Roth’s tweets (and he can tweet up to 40 times in a day, including retweets) were devoted to Gaza. Most of those concerned alleged Israeli violations of the laws of war, though now and again there was a dutiful observation that Hamas, too, should observe the Geneva Conventions.

For example, on July 23, out of 28 tweets by Roth, 12 were critical of Israel. They included these:

In face of @HRW’s detailed evidence of attacks on civilians, #Israel ambassador just blathers about “kangaroo court.”

US is shamefully alone in opposing UN rights council investigation for #Gaza. It passes anyway, 29 to 1; 17 abstain.

UN rights council should ask UN rights chief to investigate war crimes by both sides in Israel-Hamas conflict.

 Names, ages & genders of 132 Palestinian children that #Israel has killed in #Gaza this month: http://trib.al/KidhhPX

 Speaks for itself: #Israel ambassador says IDF deserves Nobel Peace Prize for its “unimaginable restraint” in #Gaza.

 Despite “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself…military operation must be proportionate & in line w/…law”: EU

 #Israel seems to use argument against “moral symmetry” with Hamas to seek immoral exemption from Geneva Conventions.

Cheap excuse. There were no “human shields” when Israel targeted boys on beach, attacked hospital, killed 25 in house

That last tweet is worth examining, because it gives a sense of the tone that underlies all the others. Many observers, especially those who run organizations concerned about the rights of the innocent, might have been inclined to take their time and investigate rather than assume that Hamas would never lie about such a thing. Not Roth. He might not have been there on that beach, but the clear sense one gets from this tweet is that he knew, knew in his marrow, that the IDF was out for Gazan blood. He might never have fired an artillery piece or sent or received coordinates or been under fire, but there are some things you just know. Like the fact that the IDF is driven by vengeance and is looking for reasons to kill Arab kids—even though that would mean Israel was violating military law and the Geneva conventions, and even though IDF leaders would have every reason to know such an attack would be a propaganda victory for the enemy.

Other things happened in the world in July 2014 that you might think would have been of at least equal interest to the director of America’s biggest and most powerful rights organization. The last week in July was the worst in Syria’s civil war for some three years—with 1,700 deaths at the hands of parties who pay little attention to the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) persecuted and drove out the Christians of Mosul.

Roth did tweet about the crises in both places—in particular about the barrel bombs used in Syria—but with nothing remotely like the obsessive energy he brought to the Israel issue. He also tweeted occasionally about other matters (Equatorial Guinea, Russia, China, Libya, Burma, Ethiopia, the Iraqi government’s use of indiscriminate bombing, Arizona executions, Poland having “aided CIA renditions and torture,” and “the insanity of US marijuana prosecutions,” etc.). Oddly, he only mentioned the African Islamist group Boko Haram a handful of times despite the fact that his own organization was coming out with a report on its depredations—and he didn’t think it worthy of notice that its actions in July included abducting the wife of the deputy prime minister of Cameroon, setting off a suicide bomb on a college campus, and taking over a town in North Eastern Nigeria where its terrorists murdered more than a hundred people.

What is going on here?

For several years now, critics of Human Rights Watch—including the organization’s co-founder and chairman emeritus, Robert Bernstein—have pointed out that it directs a disproportionate amount of critical attention to Israel, a country that, unlike most others in the Middle East, has a large and flourishing civil society and human-rights sector of its own. HRW has usually batted away that claim by pointing out that other countries in the Middle East have been the subjects of as many or more HRW “reports.” This is a disingenuous response, because the overall amount of material put out on Israel, measured by words and pages, is strikingly out of balance and because HRW’s reports on Israel are uniquely accompanied in almost every case by high-profile press releases and press conferences. As its executive director, Roth has devoted much of his letter writing and public work to alleged Israeli crimes, to the exclusion of other matters. And he has taken his conduct to Twitter.

It is not only the frequency of his Israel-related tweets that leaves little doubt that the Jewish state 
occupies a special, preeminent place in Roth’s pantheon of villains. It’s also what he chose to tweet. He jumped on any and every critical piece in the papers. Moreover, the sneering tone of many of his tweets rather undermines his claim that he has no special animus against Israel and was just giving that human rights–abusing, international law–breaking country the critical scrutiny that it so obviously deserve.

For example, here were some of his tweets from the last week in July:

If abiding by laws of war isn’t incentive enuf for #Israel to avoid killing civilians, the p.r. disaster should be.

Why does #Israel condemn #Hamas for firing from a cemetery? Duty is not to endanger living civilians, not dead ones.

It’s far too facile to pass off global condemnation of #Israel’s West Bank settlements & reckless killing of Gaza civilians as anti-Semitism

No excuse for Israel shelling school killing 20. Hamas “in vicinity” not enough. Precautions, not targeting, is issue

Roth seemed delighted to tweet the declaration of the BBC’s notoriously anti-Israel editor Jeremy Bowen, who “saw no evidence during my week in Gaza of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.” He was even more pleased when the New York Times echoed his own narrowly legalistic definition of human shields: “Hamas is putting civilians at risk but ‘no evidence’ it forces them to stay—definition of human shields: @NYTimes.” He must have known perfectly well that a “human shield” in the normal use of the term can be voluntary; he probably knew some of the American anti-war activists who served as “human shields” for Saddam Hussein in the run-up to the Iraq War.

Roth’s pleasure was apparent when he tweeted a New York magazine blog post that claimed that an Israeli spokesman had admitted that the kidnapping of three Israeli boys that ignited the current fighting had not been perpetrated by Hamas: “Remember when #Israel insisted Hamas was behind kidnap-murder of three West Bank teens. Oops, turns out it wasn’t.” That article and its claim were later discredited; Roth did not see fit to tweet that correction of fact.

Occasionally Roth remembered that he is supposed to be holding both sides to the standards mandated by international law, but his notion of balance seemed to be an eccentric one given the context. Hence on July 27: “Judging by the vitriol of its defenders, #Israel seems to be losing the p.r. war. Time to start respecting Geneva Conventions. #Hamas, too.”

You can feel the grudging dutifulness of the Hamas add-on. Which is odd, given that Hamas’s entire strategy is based on violating the Geneva Conventions. Roth appeared loath to admit that it is standard operating procedure for Hamas to endanger the civilian population of Gaza for military advantage. (Hamas knows that the Israelis may hesitate to fire on rocket launchers, ammunitions stores, and command centers if the obvious likely cost in civilian lives outweighs military necessity, and Hamas also knows that if the Israelis do fire, then the propaganda advantage compensates for the loss of the target.)

Roth certainly showed no awareness—though he must have been told, must have been briefed—that the IDF frequently chooses not to engage tactically important targets out of deference to both the Geneva Conventions and humanitarian considerations. And he gave the IDF no credit for the multiple warnings—including telephone calls—of impending missile and air strikes. These are a unique practice in the annals of warfare.

This is not to say that the IDF doesn’t get things horribly wrong—it’s all too clear that it does—or that its use of indirect fire in the conflict is not problematic, or that warnings are not sufficient if civilians have no place to take shelter.

But if Roth really understood the logic behind the Geneva Conventions and was honest about them, there would surely have been dozens of tweets from him calling for Hamas to stop endangering the civilian population of Gaza by placing rocket launchers in and around schools, by putting military headquarters in hospitals, and so forth. The few such tweets he did post tended to have an oddly surprised tone, like this one from July 30: “This is becoming a bad habit. #Hamas should never be storing weapons in UNRWA schools. Schools should be protected.” Apparently Roth was remarkably unaware that Hamas routinely keeps rockets in, and launches rockets from, civilian areas and protected targets such as hospitals and schools.

Roth was not alone among the professional human rights–worker class in his selective outrage and inability to see the gross illegality Hamas practices. For example, he retweeted a statement from the International Committee for the Red Cross that “firmly condemns…extremely alarming…attacks against humanitarian workers, ambulances, & hospitals.” But in so doing, both he and the ICRC were deliberately ignoring the pattern of the unlawful use of ambulances and hospitals for military purposes. The very reason international law dictated the use of symbols such as the Red Cross on battlefields was to create a zone of safety around them. When militants use those symbols as camouflage, they are the ones who are destroying the system.

The exploitation of such norms by militants and insurgents was a common feature of the Iraq War. Any U.S. Marine who fought in Fallujah will tell you about the many times that the insurgents used ambulances to ferry fighters and munitions. When coalition forces fired on ambulances being used as troop carriers, they were duly condemned around the world as war criminals. In fact, under a rational and unbiased reading of the laws of war and armed conflict, those who misuse ambulances that way are the war criminals.

Not to have admitted this reality was disingenuous at best. But then so were Roth’s assertions that the UN Human Rights Council—the one lately chaired by Syria and Libya—is a morally serious body.

To wit:

NYTimes dead wrong saying UN rights council “focused entirely on Israel” in launching Gaza probe. Still no correction.

UN rights council recently launched investigations for Syria, SriLanka & NKorea but when it does for Gaza (both sides) it’s accused of bias.

Roth also chose to take the Hamas casualty claims, delivered via the Gaza health authorities, as gospel—as did many media organizations. Here he tweeted a Washington Post graphic of the death count: “Palestinian Gaza deaths: 116 militants, 571 civilians. If that’s precision, who is the target?” Even if those numbers were accurate at the time, which is questionable, a serious analyst would surely have been concerned about whocounts as a civilian, who did the classification, and on what basis. In the past, Gaza police were counted as civilians, as were teenaged fighters. A serious analyst would also have been highly aware of the military usefulness to one side of the ability to claim, truthfully or otherwise, a massacre of civilians. Roth displayed none of the skepticism that such an understanding engenders.

The Washington Post graphic to which Roth linked demonstrates the problem. Genuinely random or reckless fire in civilian areas would be likely to kill a more or less equal number of males and females. Yet according to that same graphic, only 121 out of 749 Palestinian “civilians” were women. That is 121 too many, and something to be regretted and explained, but it should have made any objective observer wonder at the civilian status of the males and whether they were not in fact mostly combatants.

It was the small things that really gave away the obsessive nature of Roth’s attitude toward Israel. In July, he tweeted on more than one occasion a complaint about Israel State Radio:

Israel state radio won’t let @BTselem rights group read names of #Gaza children killed. Only cold numbers allowed.

“Don’t mention the children”: Michael Rosen poem on Israel state radio refusal to allow reading dead Gaza kid names

 Not once did he mention the Hamas TV broadcast in which a Hamas cleric declares that “we will exterminate” the Jews, “every last one.”

Roth’s Twitter feed at the end of July featured no tweets on the reports that Hamas fired an anti-tank missile from a Khan Younis mosque or that the al Wafa hospital was used as a command center and rocket-launching site. Nor was there a word about the growing evidence that Hamas has used threats to prevent journalists from taking pictures of fighters, rocket sites, or anything that might detract from a narrative of a one-sided war against civilians.

It is an interesting question as to why Roth seems to have such a disproportionate bugbear about Israel—and why HRW under his watch has hired so many people from what HRW program director Iain Levine calls “solidarity backgrounds” who are highly unlikely to be objective observers of Israel and Palestine.

Ideology presumably plays a role: All too often HRW fails to give authoritarian left-wing governments in Latin American countries like Ecuador and Bolivia the attention they deserve while directing disproportionate attention at countries the left tends to dislike, such as post-genocide Rwanda. But it’s not simply a matter of his being a man of the left. After all, so is Bernstein, and so are many other people who don’t believe that Israel should be subject to especially hostile and prejudiced scrutiny. It could have something to do with the interests of his fundraisers, or reflect a desire to maintain good relations with some of the media organizations on whose favor HRW depends. Or it could be something personal.

It is possible that simply heading an organization such as HRW—which today draws its staff and support from the left and arrogates to itself the status of a quasi-court of international law rather than a political-pressure group—leads to a kind of déformation professionnelle. But it often feels as if Roth has a religious sense of mission regarding Israel; it’s his crusade. In general, Roth never admits to being wrong and consistently represents HRW and its staff as infallible (except when, as was the case with Richard Goldstone and former military expert Mark Garlasco, they change their mind about alleged Israeli war crimes). But he responds with particular, extraordinary ferocity to any and all skeptical questioning of himself and the organization concerning Israel. HRW is of course not alone in subjecting Israel to disproportionate attention and particularly hostile scrutiny. Amnesty International does the same, and indeed its priorities have become even more distorted by the agendas of the left than have HRW’s.

Nor is it only Israel that prompts a disproportionate abundance of publicity efforts and a frequency of reports by HRW. The United States merits particular HRW scrutiny for its death penalty, its drug laws, its alleged persecution of Muslims in the name of anti-terrorism, Guantanamo Bay, and alleged torture during the war on terror. These are all legitimate subjects of concern, but, as Robert Bernstein has pointed out, the United States has many, many domestic-rights organizations, not least the ACLU and Human Rights First. Given this fact, it is hardly necessary for HRW to join the American fray. HRW was, after all, founded to promote human rights in closed and authoritarian societies, and there are plenty of countries where its well-funded efforts and influence are desperately needed. One must conclude that the reason for its scrutiny of America, like its scrutiny of Israel, is not objective necessity but the ideological inclinations of its leadership and staff.

It is worth noting that HRW’s attention often seems to depend not on the scale of a crime or even the identity of the victim (they don’t seem to care as much about Arabs killed by Arabs, or Muslims killed in Indian Kashmir) but on the identity of the perpetrator. In other words, they care more about certain bad guys than others, and it is this fact that determines the scale and intensity and tone of attention. And it is meaningful that among its bad guys are the United States and Israel—two democratic countries.

Human Rights Watch does invaluable work in many parts of the world in the tradition that began when Robert Bernstein, Orville Schell, and Aryeh Neier founded Helsinki Watch in 1978. Today, Roth and his coterie exploit HRW’s justly admired reporting from places other than the Middle East to give credibility to their anti-Israel advocacy. It’s bad enough that the lack of integrity in that advocacy (including the subjective, less-than-rigorous “investigations” concerning alleged Israeli crimes) undermines HRW’s overall credibility. But as polemicists and activists, they are figuratively firing at Israel from inside a Red Cross ambulance—and in so doing, are violating the most basic norms of honesty and proper conduct.


The Twitter Hypocrisy of Kenneth Roth

Can An Independent Kurdistan Reshape the Middle East (Newsweek Jul. 29, 2014)

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When Isis militants stormed the Iraqi city of Mosul in June, the disastrous fragility of Iraq’s armed forces was laid bare.  It also ignited a process that may lead to the setting up of the world’s first independent Kurdish state.

Since the departure of US forces from Iraq in 2011, relations between the Iraqi administration led by Nouri-al-Maliki and the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have deteriorated. The Maliki administration has, according to Kurdistan’s High Representative in London, Bayan Rahman, imposed “a policy of control and punishment”.

She explains that the region’s grievances with Maliki include Baghdad’s failure to hand over the KRG’s full 17% share of the national budget (it has never paid more than 11% and has paid nothing since January 2014), its failure to pay the salaries of the Kurdistan national guard, known as the Peshmerga, and its alleged efforts to hinder Kurdistan’s oil and gas sales abroad.

What’s more, Rahman says the central government has failed to carry out its obligations under the 2005 Iraqi constitution to hold a referendum in disputed, historical Kurdish territories such as the city of Kirkuk, which the Kurds claim should be part of Kurdistan.

Rahman says that “40% of Kurdish territory lies outside the regional border unilaterally drawn by Saddam Hussein in 1991”. These areas, some of them oil-rich, were subjected to ethnic cleansing and government-ordered settlement by Arabs from other parts of Iraq. They have now fallen under Kurdish control as a result of the Iraqi Army’s retreat from Isis.

Unlike many of the minority ethnic groups that fought unsuccessfully for their own states in the late 20th century, Iraqi Kurdistan has achieved something close to independence without actually declaring it. That is not because Iraq’s Kurds don’t want formal independence.

As the former diplomat and Iraq expert Peter Galbraith says: “I’ve been going to Kurdistan for 30 years and I’ve never met a Kurd who said I’d prefer to be a citizen of Iraq than a citizen of an independent Kurdistan, and that includes the [former] President of Iraq himself.” 

Rather, it is because until now the KRG’s ­leaders have seen advantages in remaining legally linked to Iraq, and because the obstacles to independence, in particular opposition from Arab Iraq, seemed impossible to overcome.

Ever since it was first negotiated in the 1960s, Iraqi Kurdish autonomy proved hard to achieve and hold. Even when Saddam’s forces were prevented from ­ravaging Iraq’s Kurdish areas by the post-Gulf War no-fly-zone, and then by the US-led ­invasion in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan remained under threat from Turkey. Ankara had long viewed any manifestation of Kurdish nationalism in the region as a danger to its own social cohesion and was willing to use force to neutralise it.

However, since 2009 there has been a rapprochement, to the extent that Turkish officials have signalled that they would be happy with an independent Iraqi Kurdistan.

These days it is Iran that has become an implacable opponent of Kurdish independence. Syria potentially would be another but its ruling regime is busy fighting a civil war. Iran was friendly to Iraqi Kurdistan when the latter was a source of support in the war against Saddam’s Iraq. But its sympathies have cooled as Tehran has become the dominant influence over Baghdad.

“If you look at Iranian media there is a campaign against the Kurds suggesting that the push for independence is all an Israeli plot,” declares Galbraith

In a bizarre confluence of interests, the only other country that seems equally opposed to Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence is the United States. American commitment to a unitary centralised Iraqi state has actually deepened under the Obama administration, despite Vice President Joe Biden once proposing the partitioning of Iraq into three countries.

The Kurdish nationalist movement could unite around 40 million ethnic Kurds under one banner Adam Jones

Galbraith says that the Obama administration has backed Baghdad and pressured the KRG by, among other things, “trying to stop people from buying Kurdistan’s oil, and threatening legal action against companies trying to import into the United States”.

Such economic pressure is no minor threat for a country of only six million people that has taken in some 250,000 refugees from Syria and about 750,000 refugees from other parts of Iraq. However, it’s not clear that America has much leverage over the question: after US opposition made little difference to the breakups of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

Some experts, including the journalist and investor Bartle Bull, who is writing a history of Iraq, are not so sure that independence is inevitable. “Yes the KRG is a big winner of recent events and has been strengthened in its disputes with Baghdad,” he says. But if the KRG wins a referendum in Kirkuk [for that traditionally Kurdish, oil-rich region to join with Kurdistan] then its grievances with Baghdad decrease.”

Independence, with all its complications and risks, would therefore be less necessary.

Bull believes it is the “destiny” of Iraqi Kurdistan “always to be loosely, uncomfortably but definitively linked to the rest of Mesopotamia”. He suspects that the drive to independence may lose momentum if Isis is defeated and Maliki is replaced as Iraqi prime minister by a more acceptable and more able Shia politician. “Any likely new government would rule better, could not be as incompetent and sectarian and paranoid as Maliki’s, and that would make staying in Iraq that much more attractive for both Kurds and Sunnis.”

Galbraith and many other observers disagree and think Iraq “unfixable”. Gary Kent, who heads the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, sees it as unlikely that “Baghdad with a new leader and a new form of governance can reach out to the Sunnis and keep promises it has broken to the Kurds and defeat Isis.”

That Maliki has become more hostile to the KRG since the Mosul debacle, accusing it of being in league with Isis, makes reconciliation seem even less likely. If Kurdistan does declare its independence it may struggle for international recognition.

According to Brendan O’Leary of the University of Pennsylvania, the new state might be quickly recognised by Turkey and Israel “but it would be much better to have comprehensive recognition”. He thinks it is highly unlikely that any member of the Arab League will recognise an independent Kurdistan, so the EU and the US will be key. But EU recognition might be tricky because “Spain would almost certainly block recognition of Kurdistan given its position on Kosovo”.

In general it is rare for the international community to recognise new states unless the former ruling power recognises them first. The refusal of Somalia to recognise the breakaway Somaliland Republic, which has been independent for two decades, has meant that no other country does so. Baghdad might be equally unwilling to recognise Iraqi independence. O’Leary sees the KRG as having two other choices given the weakness of the Baghdad government. It could try to renegotiate the existing constitution with a Baghdad that it does not trust. Or it could work towards the refashioning of Iraq as a confederation of two or three sovereign states with those states having a right to secede after a specified time.

Such confederations are rare. One recent ­example was that of Serbia and Montenegro, Another was the confederation of Sudan and South Sudan but both ultimately broke up.

Whether an independent Kurdistan could flourish is another question. Not only would it have to deal with threats from Isis and the deadly chaos in Syria, but would need to defend itself from whatever state emerges in Iraq.

Even in the best of circumstances an independent Kurdistan would need to cultivate other foreign friends lest it become a kind of dependency of Ankara. The KRG has long hoped for closer alliances with the US, the UK and other Western countries, but Gulf States like the United Arab Emirates have been quicker to invest in Kurdistan. As Gulf assistance often comes with Islamist strings attached, the idea of close relationships with countries like Qatar makes some Kurds nervous. Experts disagree as to how quickly or even whether Kurdistan will declare its independence.

In any case there seems little chance of a return to the status quo ante. As the prime minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani has put it, “there is Iraq pre-Mosul, and Iraq post-Mosul”.

Regardless of whether Iraqi Kurdistan pursues sovereignty plus confederation, or full independence, right now it faces a more immediate ­problem. As experts who testified on Kurdistan to the British parliament recently pointed out, the KRG has a 1,000km border with the Isis Caliphate and only 50km border with Iraq.

Moreover, Isis now fields armoured vehicles and artillery pieces captured from the fleeing Iraqi Army, while Kurdish forces have little more than small arms.

As Galbraith puts it: “The ironic fact is that the US has ended up arming Isis, which is our enemy, and not the Peshmerga, who are our friends.”



Stop Messing the Kurds Around (Breitbart - London 23 July 2014)

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One of the less attractive characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon powers is their post-war habit of betraying third world allies, whether they are Vietnamese Montagnards, Afghan interpreters or belong to one of several less well-known minorities that have paid a grim price for trusting Britain or America to reward their loyalty.

The Kurds of Iraq are the latest to find themselves in the position of under-appreciated and betrayed allies.

Grateful for the US-British-French no-fly-zone that kept Saddam’s forces out of Kurdistan after the 1991 Gulf War, the Kurds have long been the most pro-American and pro-British ethnic group in the entire region. They were enormously helpful to the Coalition before and during the invasion of Iraq and defeat of the Saddam regime in 2003.

Iraqi Kurdistan could then have asserted its independence, kept control of historically Kurdish (but partially ethnically cleansed) Kirkuk and done little or nothing to help the authorities in Baghdad fight the Sunni insurgency and Shia militia violence that spread through Iraq from 2004.

Instead, as any allied commander who is worth his salt will tell you, Kurdish battalions were invaluable to Coalition efforts. Not only were they good at counter-terrorist operations, they were also reliable and trustworthy, qualities all too rare among Iraqi Security Forces especially in the early years.

Nevertheless, even at the height of the war, and even though they often fought side by side Coalition forces in Baghdad and elsewhere, the Kurds received minimal military assistance from the Coalition.  

When America pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011, after Prime Minister Malik and President Obama failed to find common ground on a Status of Forces Agreement, you might have expected the US and its allies to cultivate the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).

After all, Kurdistan was then, as it had been during the fighting, and continues to be today, much more stable, peaceful and economically vibrant than the rest of Iraq. And unlike the Maliki government it was not falling under the malign influence of Iran.

Instead, the US government has consistently backed the Baghdad government in its worst behaviour to the Kurds.

Under the Iraqi constitution, oil and mineral resources can be extracted and sold by the regions as long as the proceeds are shared with the rest of the country. But Baghdad has refused to pay the KRG the 17 percent of revenues that it committed to (it never paid more than 11 percent and stopped paying altogether in January. Baghdad also never ponied for the salaries for Kurdish troops.). It has also tried to stop Iraqi Kurdistan from selling oil and gas to Turkey and elsewhere.

Amazingly the US State Department has joined with Baghdad in trying to stop foreign buyers from taking Kurdish oil and gas, with the US government actually threatening legal action against anyone trying to buy it in the United States.

The KRG could be forgiven for resenting this American economic warfare on behalf of the corrupt and incompetent and Iranian-leaning Maliki regime, especially given that Iraqi Kurdistan has to feed and house 750,000 refugees from Syria and at least 250,000 displaced people form other parts of Iraq.

And the F-16’s promised by Washington to the Iraqi Air Force have rightly been seen as a potential threat by the Kurds who have vivid memories of bombardment by Saddam’s jet fighters.

The bizarre American approach to the US’s most reliable allies has three roots.

The first is the fact that the US government and in particular the State Department, prefers strong unitary states with only one center of power and set of leaders to talk to. The second is more emotional: after putting so much effort, blood and treasure into rebuilding and defending Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam it feels right to back the central government even if the complaints and claims of the Kurds are valid.

Finally, the fact that the Kurds unquestionably did gain from the overthrow of the Baathist regime makes them unattractive to people in or out of the Obama administration who opposed the war or who saw George W Bush as the devil incarnate.

Thanks to ISIS and the collapse and retreat of the Iraqi Army from Northern Iraq, the Iraqi Kurds are now in a much stronger position political politically than at any time since 2003. (It helps that Turkey is not only no longer trying to undermine the Kurdish Regional Government; it has become a regional friend and economic partner of the fledgling state.)

But in terms of security the Iraqi Kurds are in greater danger than they have been at any time since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Between 2003 and 2011 they had to be on their guard against the threat presented by Arab Iraq’s various insurgents and militias. But they had powerful allies in the form of Coalition forces and an Iraqi army that was being mentored and guided by the Coalition. And they were able by and large to keep terrorists out and down. Now they are effectively alone as they confront the ISIS Caliphate along a 1000km border.

There have already been deadly clashes with ISIS in places where the Pershmerga – the Kurdish armed forces – have taken over cities abandoned by the Iraqi army. And the Pershmerga have not always come out on top.

ISIS front line forces may not be that numerous but they are experienced, well-trained operators, thanks to years of fighting in both the Iraqi insurgency and the Syrian civil war. They also have a significant advantage over the Peshmerga in that they now have, thanks to the sudden flight of the Iraqi army, an impressive arsenal of modern weaponry, much of it US-supplied.

That includes at least 1500 armoured Humvees and MRAPs, 52 modern 155mm howitzers, a number of M1 tanks and even helicopters

The vehicles may not be easy to keep running over time without spare parts or the expertise of foreign contractors. But ISIS, like its predecessor al Qaeda in Iraq, includes in its ranks plenty of former Iraqi army soldiers who know how to use artillery and other heavy weapons.

The Peshmerga lack heavy weaponry and aircraft, and all their recent experience has been fighting small numbers of insurgents and terrorists rather than an actual army. Among the supplies the Kurds need is electronic jamming equipment to combat IEDs. They have requested some from Britain. However, the UK, like the US, has so far refused to send defence equipment to the KRG unless end-user certificates are supplied for them by the central government in Baghdad. This the Maliki government refuses to do.

If we help the Kurds, it will protect an oasis of stability and democracy and tolerance. And it will cement a natural friendship that could be of enormous strategic benefit to both the West and Kurdistan. (After all it is only 400 or so miles from Kurdistan to both Tehran and Tiblisi.)

If we don’t, Iraqi Kurdistan will have to look elsewhere, most likely to Teheran or perhaps Moscow. Or that oasis could be overwhelmed by the violence and chaos that is spreading outward from Syria.

Neither would be good outcomes; both are easily avoidable. It’s up to Downing Street and the White House to do the right thing.



Building the US-Kurdistan Special Relationship (WSJ, July 10, 2014)

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A U.S. base in Kurdistan would improve the U.S.’s strategic position in the region while guaranteeing Kurdish independence.

 The Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is reeling from the sudden loss of key northern cities to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Baghdad is looking increasingly to Iran and Russia for military assistance. That’s led some foreign policy gurus in Washington to call for a closer U.S. relationship with Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG. It’s a good idea, but they aren’t going far enough.

The time has come for America and the West to support Kurdish independence and, simultaneously, to set up U.S. bases in Iraqi Kurdistan that would make it America’s military hub in the region.

After all, this country-in-the-making has proved to be a haven of stability, relative security and pro-American, pro-Western sentiment ever since it broke free from Saddam’s misrule. A major American air base in Kurdistan would improve the U.S.’s much-weakened strategic position in the Middle East while guaranteeing Kurdish independence.

Not long ago such an alliance would have been politically all but impossible. Regional powers were reluctant to support Kurdish independence for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that Washington was adamant in its support of a unitary Iraqi state within the borders set by colonial powers after World War I.

Since the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. has tended to disregard Kurdistan’s aspirations and even hindered the KRG’s efforts to develop and profit from the oil resources on its territory. That’s because America’s priorities have generally been to bolster the government in Baghdad, in which Washington had invested vast amounts of blood and treasure, and to maintain good relations with neighboring Turkey.

Ankara is a NATO member that was long dominated by a military establishment fanatically hostile to any manifestation of Kurdish independence anywhere in the region. These days, however, the Turkish military has lost much of its political influence, and Turkish businessmen are among the biggest investors in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mr. Maliki’s Iraqi government, meanwhile, has effectively become a client of Iran after being largely abandoned by the Obama administration following a half-hearted attempt to make an agreement allowing for a rump force of US troops. Iranian influence is unlikely to diminish in the immediate future, whether or not Tehran’s assistance helps Baghdad stop the ISIS advance and recapture lost territory.

Kurdistan’s economic success, and the military prowess of its peshmerga troops, mean that the KRG’s strength has increased relative to Mr. Maliki’s in Baghdad. The region has enjoyed what amounts to de facto independence from Baghdad since 2003 and a great deal of autonomy since the establishment of a no-fly zone in the wake of the first Gulf War. Perhaps the most pro-American ethnic group in the entire region, and for good reason, Iraq’s Kurds were the Coalition’s most loyal and effective allies during the eight-year war there.

Early in the Iraq war, the KRG encouraged the U.S. to take advantage of the stability and security of the region. It offered air bases and R&R facilities in the mountains that could have made long troop deployments much easier to bear for U.S. forces. Both offers were turned down.

Now that hundreds of thousands of Americans in uniform are no longer being sent to fight in Iraq’s baking deserts and broiling cities, the R&R facilities aren’t needed. But given how quickly the region is changing, and given what Washington should now understand about the fragility of Arab tyrannies, America could certainly use an air base in Kurdistan.

U.S. military planners can’t assume that our alliance with Turkey won’t decline further. Nor should they assume as given Turkey’s military cooperation with NATO for missions against adversaries in places like Syria and Iran.

And it would be even more foolish for American policy makers to assume that U.S. forces will always be able to use bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. All three countries are autocracies vulnerable to upheaval. So far, adroit use of their fantastic wealth has protected these countries’ rulers against the resentments of their subjects, but this may not always be the case.

Moreover, Kuwait and Qatar are arguably “frenemies” rather than true allies of the U.S. It’s no secret that elements within their ruling elites have long sponsored and encouraged jihadist terrorism and fundamentalism in the same way that Saudi princelings have. As for Bahrain, it is something close to an apartheid state, with a Sunni elite brutally repressing a Shiite majority. As the author Ralph Peters has famously written, in the end, “the Shah always falls.”

A new U.S. Air Force base near the Kurdish cities such as Sulaymaniyah or Erbil—both of which already boast airports with suitably long runways—would radically increase American leverage over everyone in the region, in particular Iran and Syria. Both Sulaymaniyah and Erbil are within 600 miles of Tehran.

The presence of such a base might even make it easier to deter the Iranian mullahs, since the chances of a successful U.S. strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be that much greater. Such a move would also guarantee Kurdish independence in a very concrete way—the price likely to be demanded, quite fairly, by the Iraqi Kurds.

The Obama administration would have to be uncharacteristically bold to make such a breach with past policies and with the State Department’s traditional preference for maintaining postcolonial borders. And there is no question that deepening the U.S. military partnership with the KRG would carry risks for landlocked Kurdistan and for America. But both would be in a stronger long-term position to face an uncertain future in a chaotic region.

Mr. Foreman covered the Iraq war for the New York Post.


Secretiveness and Dishonesty in the Aid Sector, Ch. 35

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In the aid world you hear a lot of rhetoric about “transparency” and “accountability”, but both are in troublingly short supply. This is especially the case at some of the powerful mega-charities. So it was good to see this OpEd piece in the London Times by Stephen Pollard calling for more openness in the UK charitable sector.

For those unable to access the piece behind the Times paywall, one key passage reads:

If an organisation is going to enjoy the benefits that society grants to charities, including exemption from inheritance and other taxes, then the rest of us are entitled to at least an inkling of how it spends our money.

Pollard’s starting point is a new reform proposed by the Charity Commission that would require charities to be open about how much money they spend on political campaigning.

It is not surprising that such an innocuous-seeming, public spirited reform might provoke hysterical opposition – as it already has – in the NGO sector.

Transparency would mean that Oxfam and others would have to be honest about where public contributions are really going:  they would have to tell Granny that her fiver isn’t actually going to feed the hungry or provide shelter for the homeless; it’s going to be spent, er, addressing the “root causes” of hunger and homelessness, by campaigning against the Coalition government or against free trade or for higher taxes for large corporations….

Those who run the charitable sector in the UK have enjoyed minimal oversight over the years. They have therefore become accustomed to operating in an environment in which secretiveness and even dishonesty has no downside.  To some degree the shady behavior that has ensued, and the amazingly self-interested and smug attitudes of charity executives and lobbyists is not  their fault. It is also the fault of a political class and a general public that are foolishly and ignorantly dazzled into myopia by the moral glamour of “charity”.

Both charities and those they are trying to help deserve better.

Roger Ebert, R.I.P. (NRO April 5, 2013)

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I was shocked to hear last night of Roger Ebert’s death. This was partly because only yesterday I read a blog post, written by him on Tuesday, in which he announced that he was about to take a “leave of presence” from his fearsome schedule of film reviews (more than 200 in 2012) but was relaunching his website, rogerebert.com.

But I was shocked also because, like many of those who had the good fortune to encounter Roger Ebert in life, on the page, or on screen, I had somehow come to believe that he would always be there. He had not only survived a brutal cancer, he had kept on reviewing at a punishing pace even when that cancer had taken away his jaw and his ability to speak. It therefore seemed logical, as well as comforting, to believe that Ebert had won, thanks to his astonishing courage, force of will, and desire to write, and that he would simply keep going with work of undiminished quality for yet more decades.

Sadly, it is not to be. And as I myself begin to miss him, I suspect that Roger Ebert will be more missed than any journalist in America of his generation, and of the generations that have come after.

Not only was Ebert probably the most widely read critic in the history of film and film writing, he had a unique, intimate relationship with tens of millions of people, many of whom, having read him since adolescence, had fallen in love with his quiet, honest, educated, and unpretentious voice and felt that they knew him.

Because Ebert had reviewed films on TV as well as written about them for the papers, because most of his reviews had a conversational tone (which is another reason why so many readers felt he was speaking directly to them), and perhaps because he had been around for so long, there were sophisticates who didn’t take Ebert as seriously as they did some of the critics for New York–based papers and magazines.

This was a misjudgment — a jejune error of the kind that Ebert himself would never make. For Roger Ebert was at least as smart and knowledgeable as his supposedly more highbrow rivals. But he was also a confident, old-fashioned democratic intellectual who believed in the intelligence of the mass moviegoing audience and in the intelligence of a mass readership, and was utterly unmoved by snobbery of any kind.

That confidence, and that desire to communicate his love and understanding of film to the widest possible audience, meant there was no place in Ebert’s writing for obscurity or name-dropping. He was never flashy. And he was never a show-off (though he had much to show off about, most obviously his encyclopedic knowledge of film history). Yet he was steeped in literature and deeply engaged with the rest of the culture, and the fruits of all that reading and listening and talking and watching consistently enriched and leavened his film criticism.

Whenever I go back and look up a film from the 2000s or 1990s or 1980s in the archive of his Chicago Sun-Times reviews (which I do often, as you really can’t do better for thoughtful, well-written, and reliably non-crazy summaries of films you are thinking of seeing or cannot remember), I am struck by how humane and decent and commonsensical his opinions usually were.

Some of our most lauded critics, in particular those who took after Pauline Kael, have had an adolescent weakness for gratuitous violence and cruelty. Not Ebert. Moreover, even when other critics were lavishing praise on filmmakers whose incompetence and pretentiousness looked liked profundity, he kept his head and heart about him.

Unlike, say, Andrew Sarris, a charming and clever critic whose “auteurist” criticism revealed a near-total ignorance of how movies are actually made, Ebert recognized the importance of the screenwriter and the editor in Hollywood films. (He himself had penned the screenplay for Beyond the Valley of the Ultra Vixens.)

I am sad to say that I met Roger only a handful of times. He was far friendlier than a critic and journalist of his fame and distinction — indeed, than a national treasure — had any need to be. He and his beautiful wife, Chaz, were charming and funny and wonderfully tolerant of those younger and less-experienced critics, like myself, rendered febrile by the glamour and excitement of their first Cannes or Toronto film festival.

Now as I recall the man and his work, all I can think about is the astonishing bravery with which he met the physical challenges of his last decade, how he overcame pain and mutilation that would cripple most people with despair, in order to continue his nearly five decades of engagement with the movies and his readers. Later I will face the fact of his loss, the shocking reality that no new Ebert reviews will ever be added to that huge trove of educated, thoughtful, heartfelt opinion, the feeling of emptiness that comes with the final silencing of a journalistic voice that in its intimate way was as important and influential as any in American history.