The West, Islam, and the Last Stand of the WEIRD

Yet again, Pope Francis has stirred up the Western commentariat by addressing social issues, this time contraception and having babies. Every time this pope talks about matters sexual there are gasps from enlightened Western post-moderns, who seem shocked that Francis is actually a Catholic. They are so accustomed to the laid-back, non-judgmental “cafeteria Catholicism” around them that a Catholic cleric, much less the Pope of Rome, publicly endorsing what the church actually teaches on such issues, however gently, leads to dropped jaws.

After all, Francis seems so nice and progressive, with his outreach to the poor and welcoming things stated about gays and whatnot — these having been the source of consternation among some Catholic traditionalists — and then he turns out to be another old white guy with a lot of “sexual issues.” I am not a Catholic, but it never ceases to amaze me how educated Western post-moderns cannot seem to fathom that no pope is going to ditch centuries of social teaching just to get a nice write-up in Salon or Vox. Francis is a compassionate man, but as the head of the Catholic Church he advocates positions on matters sexual that seem profoundly outdated and literally unthinkable to many in the West today.

Unthinkability is the issue here. The WEIRD demographic, as I’ve explained before, standing for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic, is wholly dominant among our media elites that play a huge role in forming opinions and judging the acceptability of the same. Over the last half-century the WEIRD vanguard has taken over the academy, the media, and the entertainment world; one of its better-known members is in the White House right now. Obama’s castigation in 2008 of “bitter” Americans who cling to guns and religion was a perfect one-sentence explanation of how WEIRDos view less educated and enlightened fellow citizens, which is no doubt why his opponents will cite it forever.

There is no tyranny as offensive as a cultural tyranny, of course, and just as affluent, educated post-moderns view their lessers with undisguised contempt, the guns-and-bibles brigade returns that contempt with interest. This goes some way to explaining why American politics has become so bitter in recent years: both sides simply hate each other and bother less and less to mask it.

The WEIRD contingent has had an impressive string of victories since the 1960’s, especially in America. Their record of wins, fast, may have no precedent in history, since culture tends to shift slowly, sometimes glacially. The culture war has been won, and the victory for the WEIRD side is essentially total. In the last fifty years, racial relations have been so dramatically transformed by government and culture, hand in hand, that racism, once casual among many whites, is totally unacceptable in anything resembling polite society. It speaks volumes that Jeffrey Dahmer, who murdered, dismembered and ate seventeen young men, many of them black and Hispanic, was at pains to make clear that, though he was a cannibalistic serial killer, he wasn’t racist: that fact he deemed important.

Even more transformational have been shifts in gender relations since the 1960’s, with American young women today being better educated than their male counterparts, with access to opportunities personal, professional, and sexual that their grandmothers could only have dreamed of. Some feminists now ask what good men are actually for, not in jest. Young men have noticed this seismic shift and numbers of them are dropping out of the race — professional and sexual — in a way their dads and granddads could not possibly comprehend. In Japan, this has become an official problem, and has a good deal to do with Japan’s staggering demographic crisis. As with race, feminism has triumphed so totally in just a couple generations that we have NGOs plus governmental bureaucracies hunting for evidence of racism or sexism, however fragmentary, to prove the need for more transformation. When young men lose interest in sex, as has occurred in Japan and is spreading in the West, something big is happening.

While race is of interest to the WEIRD demographic, sex is more central to their worldview. Catfights among progressives about determining who has more sexual privilege are fun to watch yet challenging for normals to comprehend. Here the LGBT issue has played a major role. Simply put, less than twenty-five years ago, gay issues were peripheral politically, confined to America’s far-Left fringe, while topics like gay marriage were never discussed by mainstream figures. Thanks to media and government action, now LGBT issues are given a place of importance in all discussions of social issues, while soon the Supreme Court will take up gay marriage, which may prove its most hot-button case since Roe v. Wade.

Regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, LGBT issues are another area where the culture war has turned out to be one-sided in the end. Opposition to gay marriage is fading fast, while it barely exists among younger Americans. However, just as with race and gender issues, LGBT advocates are showing minimal magnanimity in victory, preferring to double-down on public dissenters. Even the powerful are being driven from jobs and public life over their opposition, even when quiet, to gay marriage. There is more than a whiff of the Social Justice Warrior (SJW) mob about all this, and the idea of live-and-let live does not seem to be in fashion among the Cultural Marxist Left. It’s difficult to see how America avoids a serious clash between progressives and tradition-minded religious groups over all this.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Cultural Marxists have won fast, and their transformation of the post-modern West has been very quick by any historical standards, the Left is brimming with confidence that their revolution is final. Hence the rhetoric about their enemies being on “the wrong side of history,” heard regularly, even from Obama. But any historian will tell you that history is not read that simply, and is seldom quite so linear: ask Erich Honecker how that March of History worked out.

It’s tough to miss that the post-modern Western Left is immersed in WEIRD narratives so deeply that it is unable to recognize, much less tolerate, alternative viewpoints. We have come a long way from the Bolshevism of the last century, which after a brief period of Leninist experimentation in social matters, turned towards an aggressive traditionalism; Stalin and his Red minions had views on abortion, gender, and sexual minorities that would make FoxNews blush. The revolution needed soldiers and workers, meaning hard men, and what were women for if not to make them?

Today’s social revolutionaries have created a post-modern WEIRD paradise that does not seem to know what it wants save permanent revolution. How this new society can be maintained for long without enough children of its own is the great imponderable, since the signature achievement of the sexual revolution that began in the 1960’s, from any big-picture historical perspective, is the amazing decline in fecundity in any society it touches.

Mass immigration is the preferred solution for WEIRDos, because it gets them off the hook for reproducing while providing interesting ethnic restaurants, plus ample cheap labor to do the household chores that affluent progressives don’t seek to do  themselves (until recently many of these domestic tasks — cleaning, fixing, lawn-cutting — were assigned to a family’s children, who no longer exist in numbers).

In the United States, mass immigration, heavily from Latin America, is causing discontent but is seen as a nuisance, at most, by WEIRDos, who seldom know the working-class Americans who do see this as a serious threat to their economic and social well-being. In Europe, however, the influx comes heavily from Africa and Asia, and is mainly Muslim, leading to all kinds of problems, the most visible of them being terrorism.

The recent attacks around Paris have caused another outburst of introspection of a highly limited sort in the West. The Usual Suspects are, of course, explaining that all this unpleasantness has nothing to do with Islam. I’ve castigated this progressive myth-making already, as well as those on the other side, who seem to want a permanent war on Islam, which has more than a billion-and-a-half adherents.

Finding a middle path on discussing this problem is tricky but here we go. I have a Ph.D. in history, not Islamic Studies, which Islamist apologists insist you must if you discuss Islamic anything, but I’ve studied the subject in detail, I know Islam’s history and theology. Just as important, I’ve spent time in Muslim countries in many places, I’ve gotten to know many Muslims of diverse backgrounds: some remain my dear friends, some have been lovers (I came close to marrying a Muslim woman: that’s another story). Without further delay I shall engage in what SJWs call stereotyping and normals term analysis.

Issues of culture and development cannot be decoupled from discussions about the Muslim diaspora in the West. Pakistanis in America — many well educated professionals, nearly all speaking English — are frequently successful immigrants, many are notably patriotic and see no contradiction between their faith and their Americanism. Yet their illiterate co-nationals who come to Britain from the most backwards part of Pakistan — they bring their redneck habits, including cousin-marriage, to Yorkshire — are a breeding ground for crime and extremism. This is not all about Islam, other factors matter too, but we must be able to discuss Islam to understand what is going on.

France, which is home to a quarter of the twenty million Muslims living in Western Europe, likewise presents a complex picture that defies thumbnail assessment. The Parisian concept of laïcité, which was defended staunchly by Marine Le Pen in her New York Times op-ed demanding that France talk about Islamic extremism now, has been a success with more Muslim immigrants than many realize. There are millions of French Muslims, mainly of North African extraction, who have assimilated rather well to life on the other side of the Mediterranean, and many are well adjusted French patriots; some are even supporters of Le Pen’s Front national.

Westerners have a tough time understanding how Islam is actually lived by believers, while WEIRDos, thanks to their biases, seem incapable of grasping the essentials. In the first place, it must be understood that Islam is less a religion than a culture and a complete way of life. It has nothing to do with “religion” as defined by the post-Enlightenment West, which is comfortable with faiths that can be safely placed in a box ninety-five percent of the time, locked away when not in church, temple, or mosque.

Islam, being a programmatic faith not confined to the mosque, provides detailed commentary and rules on daily life, including matters sexual that invariably seem strange to post-modern Westerners, who view any infringement on personal sexuality as oppressive. This is a subject of regular mocking in parts of the Western press. Few care to note that Islam is very like Orthodox or Conservative Judaism in such matters.

Islam as actually lived by its adherents easily breaks down into three basic groups that are replicated everywhere there is Islam. Seeing how people live their faith, day in and day out, is illuminating. There is a genuinely radical element — perhaps ten percent, rather more in the West — that advocates Islamism, that is applying Islam in politics, by force if necessary. The aggressively pious vanguard of this sort pushes violence, even murderous barbarism, to further its aims. It has no sympathy for the West and seeks confrontation and victory, not dialogue. Its loudest adherents are usually dysfunctional sorts with a criminal past.

On the other side, maybe another ten percent, there are Muslims who actually reject the faith, de facto, but if they’re living in a Muslim country they keep relatively quiet about it, lest they be denounced as “apostates.” Many are well educated. Such atheists, or at least serious Islam-skeptics, are frequently encountered in the West; it’s seldom noted that many such people emigrate to freer countries precisely to be able to live their skepticism openly.

But the vast majority of Muslims fall into a big group that lives the faith as best they can, without questioning its essentials. They try, they fail, they keep trying. They usually make an effort during Ramadan, at least, and if a life crisis appears, they will pray and seek the comfort of the mosque; the rest of the time their lived faith is rather hit-or-miss. In other words, they are completely normal human beings.

It needs to be clear that these majoritarians do not question Islam: if pressed, they will state the problem, the failing, is with them, not the faith. It should be obvious that the group wholly absent from this division-into-threes is the post-modern Western skeptic, the nominal mainline Protestant, or perhaps a very Reform Jew, who’s down with gay marriage since it’s been “reinterpreted” in recent decades. Hipster Jesus — into you with your sins, cool with your ironic vibe — does not have a corollary in Islam. The hardest thing for WEIRDos, who view all religion as odd, and perhaps risible, when not dangerous, to grasp is — Muslims actually believe this stuff.

Not having been touched by the Enlightenment, much less post-modernism, Muslims are on a different planet, intellectually speaking, than WEIRDos. At best, they talk past each other. As someone who has advocated a tough approach to Muslim immigrants who do not seek to assimilate to Western norms, particularly if they have extreme views, some sympathy for them nevertheless is in order here.

It must be deeply confusing to any Muslim newcomer to France to encounter a place of such unbelief and debauchery as Paris, where raw sexuality is everywhere, women run free in every sense, and faiths of all kinds are mocked openly. Free speech is not a French priority, and certain kinds of speech are protected, while others are not. Since I cannot rationally explain why French law protects certain speech, and not others, I don’t expect an unlettered immigrant from West Africa to make sense of it all either.

The list of things that can get you thrown in a French jail for saying is long, including “offensive” speech against various racial, religious, and sexual minorities, but it must be mysterious to Muslims why gross public indecencies against the Prophet are tolerated when denial of the Holocaust, a purely human affair, is not. When a founder of Charlie Hebdo, the publication whose profane cartoons provoked mass murder, says that its editor, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier, was a provocateur/jerk-off whose offensiveness got everybody killed, we can imagine what less sympathetic Muslims might feel about this case. Not least because Charb was no free speech advocate, rather a far-Left agitator who tried hard to get his political opponents banned while offending every traditionalist, of every stripe, he could.

To illustrate how complex this all actually is, allow me to sketch my good friend A., whom I’ve known for years, a highly assimilated French Muslim. His grandfather came from Algeria after a long career as a decorated French colonial soldier, one of the lucky harkis to escape the bloodbath after Algerian independence, when deGaulle condemned so many who had fought for France to an evil fate. A. has filled those shoes well as a soldier and then a career intelligence officer. His French patriotism is sincere and deep; he has visited Algeria a couple times, his command of Arabic being no greater than mine, and didn’t like it. France is his home, his patrie.

In matters of faith, A. is privately a modest skeptic, but he makes an effort during Ramadan, mostly to appease his father, a kind old gentleman who, like many do, turned to faith in an old age marked by illness and loneliness.  The rest of the year, A. regularly goes boozing and whoring like any counterintelligencer worth his salt. His ceaseless quest for the “right beurette” continues, unfulfilled. He is a Muslim and proud of it, but sincerely hates extremists and admits to feeling more than a little sympathy for the Front national, for its willingness to “stand up for France” (while A. is purely Algerian by background, he possesses a dislike of Germans to match anyone in France).

Yet A.’s views on many matters would distress WEIRDos. He thinks outright atheists are contemptible and views liberals with undisguised distaste, especially if they are Jewish and/or gay, and he is no fan of Israel. It should be noted that A. is no fonder of  newer Muslim immigrants who freeload on welfare. Yet his anti-Semitism is far from deep or uniform, and he reveres Éric Zemmour, a fellow Frenchman of (Jewish) Algerian descent, as someone “who says the truth.” A. wants Muslims to be respected yet thinks it would be best if jihadists were taken out over the ocean in helicopters, Argentinian junta style, and dropped into the deep from 5,000 feet.

What to make of all this? My friend represents a best-case scenario for Europe, a Muslim whose faith is modest, entirely private, and who feels sincerely at home in Europe, but I know his views on many issues would not pass progressive muster. Survey after survey demonstrates that Muslims in Europe broadly possess views that would be shocking to the WEIRD demographic. Significant portions of Europe’s Muslim community, particularly among more recent arrivals, espouse attitudes that are, at best, conditional in their condemnation of violence, i.e. jihad, while their views on Israel and Jews are implacably hostile.

Short of a coercive reeducation program worthy of Mao’s Cultural Revolution I’m not sure what can be done about all this in 2015. Even if Muslim immigration were halted tomorrow — which is surely not on the table yet — Western Europe will still possess twenty million Muslims, many quite unassimilated, who are reproducing at a rate far beyond the native population. It’s difficult to see how this can end well — or peacefully.

The tragedy is that European powers were, until recently, able to inspire loyalty from their Muslims. France got millions of African Muslims, like A.’s grandfather, to fight for their empire in both World Wars, and Britain managed the same. The Ottoman Empire’s pompous declaration of jihad in 1914, on behalf of the Central Powers, went nowhere as Muslim soldiers of the Indian Army turned out to be loyal to the British Empire, the world’s biggest Muslim power, even in battle against fellow Muslims.

Muslims in Russia proved equally faithful to the Tsar during World War I, that country’s aggressive Orthodox Christianity notwithstanding, while Austria-Hungary found that their Bosnian Muslim subjects were their most loyal and combative soldiers. In the Habsburgs’ last war, the 2nd Bosnian Regiment, the legendary Zweier Bosniaken, won more valor decorations than any other of the emperor’s regiments, while Bosnian Muslims died at the front at the highest rate of any of Vienna’s many ethnic groups.

Such tenacious loyalty to an “infidel” empire seems difficult to imagine a century later, but was understandable at the time, for the simple reason that Western colonial powers protected Islam and ensured Muslims could keep their faith and traditions even under an explicitly Christian occupier. Austria-Hungary’s 1878 invasion of Bosnia met stiff resistance from Muslims, but they were soon bought off with generous allowances for sharia, Islamic law, and Muslim conscripts in the Habsburg Army were led in prayer by imams in Austro-Hungarian uniform with a rigor many had never practiced in civilian life. The slogan, “On the path of Allah, for our Austrian homeland,” was cited by Bosnian troops headed to battle in 1914-1918, and it was no lie, for the Habsburgs protected Islam, and for any pious Muslim, Austria-Hungary counted as dar al-Islam.

How, then, are European countries today doing such a terrible job of assimilating Muslim immigrants? In the first place, Christianity has been replaced by secularism, often of an aggressive kind. We have changed; Muslims have not. The sort of in-your-face secularism that’s commonplace in Europe now is difficult for Muslims to relate to, having no resonance with their historical experience, and is viewed with contempt by many of them. Bonds of tribe and kin that have frayed in the West remain powerful among Muslims. Post-modern permissiveness in sexual matters is likewise met with bemused anger by many Muslims, some of whom gleefully rape European women they view as whores.

Crime is one of the great unmentionables in all this, preventing honest dialogue. In 2010, Éric Zemmour was convicted of racial incitement for stating that Muslim immigrants were grossly overrepresented among France’s violent criminals, though few could plausibly state he was wrong on the numbers. Over the last generation, France has created a serious problem in the suburbs of Paris, among other major cities, where Muslim ghettos are crowded with young people who seldom if ever work, living on welfare while plotting crimes of various sorts, while seething with resentment and hate for “infidels” around them. For some, this path of hatred leads to jihad. Here the Paris killers, with their obsession with angry American rap music, were a walking, vapid, and murderous cliche.

Many are now worried about low-grade warfare erupting across Western Europe, as jihadist cells go active and plant bombs and open fire. All over the European Union, in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, police and spies are watching would-be killers closely. Although there is no enduring security fix to this daunting problem, as I’ve explained before, consistent police and intelligence pressure on Salafi radicals can reduce terrorism, if the will exists to sustain such aggressive operations by the security services.

While more terrorism seems likely, it may not be anything as dramatic as alarmists and thrillers would promise. France already faces an Islamic insurgency of a low-grade kind — it is habitually downplayed by the authorities as “isolated incidents” that happen “at random” when shootings and driving cars into people is anything but random — that may continue on low-boil for years, claiming a few victims at a time, not dozens, much less hundreds. French inner cities may come to resemble shambolic American inner cities like Detroit or Chicago, where war-like casualty rates among civilians are similarly dismissed as “street crime,” with the difference that France’s troublemakers will be inspired by Salafi jihadism while being shockingly well armed. Needless to add, more militarization of police and society will follow.

It’s all too soon to tell. All-out civil war — think more Mad Max than Gettysburg — cannot be ruled out at this juncture. What is clear, however, is that Europe has no idea how to respond to this mounting crisis in any politically coherent fashion. Pushing Marine Le Pen, who heads the most popular political party in France, to the margins of the national dialogue about domestic extremism seems certain to increase political polarization when it needs to be reduced. As I’ve stated many times, unless Europe’s mainstream parties find a way to engage alienated voters of the sort to whom the FN and Germany’s PEGIDA appeal, they are surrendering this vital and politically explosive issue — which is only continuing to grow, especially among the young — to the friends of Vladimir Putin, whose commitment to democracy may be less than sincere.

In his professorial way, President Obama has told Europeans that they must assimilate immigrants better, in order to defeat terrorism, without explaining how this might be done. This lecturing has gone down as well in Europe as does European pontificating at Americans how we need to be nicer to blacks: cheap posturing is not a policy, anywhere. Moreover, Obama’s unhelpful hint leaves out the critical question of how many Muslims in Europe actually want to assimilate to a society that many of them openly loathe. (Neither does it help matters when major NATO leaders tell Muslim immigrants that under no circumstances should they assimilate to European ways.) Ample, if anecdotal, evidence suggests that Muslims in Europe who actually want to adopt European values are doing so, at their own pace, while Muslims who want no part of WEIRD anything are rejecting our post-modernism — some of them with violence.

None of this mess, which has been decades in the making, is conducive to easy solutions. There is no European-wide fix available; individual countries will need to fashion bespoke responses, based on the unique circumstances of their own Muslim populations. But a start to getting on the road to societal health would be making clear that immigrants who have no intention of accepting European political values should not enter Europe. In this vein, Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Moroccan-born mayor of Rotterdam, which possesses a large Muslim population, told co-religionists who are uncomfortable with European freedoms that they simply need to “f*** off.”

Such very free speech aside, institutionalized escapism continues to dominate Western debates on this issue. FoxNews recently caused a ruckus on both sides of the Atlantic with a discussion of Muslim “no-go” areas in Europe. The speaker overstated his case, as he tends to do, leading to hysteria among those eager to dismiss any notion that such areas, reminiscent of parts of North Ireland in the 1970’s where British security forces dared not operate, actually exist. The subsequent pontification has been strong, notwithstanding the fact that such no-go areas do exist in some parts of Europe, as any serious analysis would reveal. A brief discussion with any European cop or spook working operational counterterrorism would bring wisdom that would be discomforting to progressives.

The truth about Islam is that it approaches other religions from a triumphalist position, and always has. By default, it anticipates submission, not co-existence in any sense recognizable to the post-Enlightenment West. While its history is hardly all jihad, Islam’s “bloody borders” are a matter of record, not opinion. The last Ottoman effort to subdue Europe — one of many Islamic invasion efforts over the centuries — came in 1683, and was stopped, just barely, at Vienna. That sounds like a long time ago, but when King John Sobieski’s Polish cavalry appeared from the north to cut the Ottoman siege short, Harvard had been open for nearly a half-century, America’s coastal colonies were thickly settled, and Ben Franklin’s birth was barely two decades off. This was over three centuries ago, but hardly ancient history.

Many progressives fall prey to an argument, composed of equal parts narcissism and masochism, whereby jihadism and Muslim anger are really the West’s fault. The source of all this rage, you see, is to be found in recent Western “colonial blunders,” and certainly has nothing to with Islam. Colonialism has caused all sorts of bad issues — it’s difficult to see how France or Britain would have their big problems with Muslim immigrants without their former empires in the closet — but if it’s fair to point the finger at Western colonialism, it’s equally fair to cite all the centuries of examples when Muslim countries tried to overrun Europe at sword-point, killing, raping, and taking slaves all the way.

History matters and we must understand Muslim narratives about the past. This does not mean the West should agree with those, and we must not allow historical grievances, real or imagined, to be employed in defense of terrorism and murder. Above all, Muslims are people like all the others, and the average Muslim obsesses about such matters no more than the average American seethes about the Alamo. Muslims, on close inspection, turn out to have all the usual human frailties and complexes, not all of them conducive to peaceful coexistence.

The number of Muslims actually eager to wage jihad is small, but to deny that such sorts exist, and that they are motivated by a toxic brew of nihilism and aggression, in the name of Islam, is to perpetuate a dangerous lie. Moreover, opinion polling among Muslims, including in the West, quickly reveals that many of them strongly dislike lots of things about us, including Western sexual mores and Jews. There is nothing to be done about the issue of anti-Semitism at this point — the desire of some French Jews now to simply escape is sadly understandable — while Muslim discomfort about our post-modern ways is intractable unless we are willing to change who we are to appease relatively small, if vocal, numbers of newcomers. That matter will be left to voters, most of whom I doubt will be inclined to abandon their comfortable lifestyles to please angry foreigners on welfare who are responsible for a lot of street crime.

To sum up, the triumph of the WEIRD demographic in the West over the last half-century, so such post-moderns now dominate our scholarly, media and political elites, means that having a genuine discussion with Muslims appears impossible. While Christian Europe of the last century still had some common ground with believing Muslims, the gap today between our societal values and those of most Muslims is vast and cannot be overcome without huge changes, perhaps on both sides, that seem unlikely to happen without bloodshed.

To make matters worse, the only European country that is making an effort to appeal to normal people of faith in dangerous times is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Kremlin, speaking through its religious mouthpieces, has staked out a clear position that terrorism is unacceptable, but so is intentionally offending religious people with blasphemy. In this formulation, Russia — and Russia alone — offers a welcoming home to Christians and Muslims alike, while driving extremists of all sorts, whether they be jihadists or Communist cartoonists, out of the public square. Religion is not the problem, Russia makes clear, and its support for traditional religions here is consistent — extremism is.

WEIRDos in the West naturally find all this a tad comedic, and they were mightily surprised when Pope Francis (“One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith”) came alarmingly close to towing the Kremlin line about Charlie Hebdo. Yet again, post-moderns were distressed to discover that the Pope of Rome is actually a Catholic. You have to be part of the WEIRD demographic to find it “shocking” when traditional religion stands up against aggressive blasphemy.

Europe is in real danger here. The possibility of mass violence, caused by jihadist insurgents who are painted as “criminals” by the political and media elite, is serious and the gross decline in European military strength since the end of the Cold War does not provide assurance that such messiness could be brought under control quickly. In that case, radicalization will beget counter-radicalization and grave violence between Muslims and native Europeans should be expected. In that case, madmen like Anders Breivik will turn out to be trendsetters of an odious kind. Here the progressive need to find Islamophobia, which seems to concern many on the Left more than armed jihadism, does not promote stability.

As Europe descends into chaos and violence, a dystopian future wanted by no sane person, who will be there to stave of total collapse? Some are already planning for this, quietly, but most of Europe is not — how can governments plan for something they dare not even name? — and we can expect NATO to be unready for what may be coming. Having participated in many defense exercises with NATO, I can state confidently that the very last thing the U.S. military wants to get caught up in is European chaos. If the German military, far too small to contain mass violence, appeals to Stuttgart, where the U.S. European Command is headquartered, for assistance, somehow emails will be lost and calls will be “missed.” It’s impossible to imagine Obama committing American troops to putting down Muslim riots and worse in Europe.

However, Vladimir Putin will be waiting by the phone, eager to “help” Europe in its time of troubles. Not to mention that Putin comes from the Russian secret police tradition, where you create problems in order to solve them. Kremlin wags are eager to remind everyone how many times Holy Russia has selflessly saved the continent from Western European madness, in 1814 and in 1945 in particular, and suddenly the man in Moscow will appear as a savior, a warrior of faith himself — not at all like Europe and America’s weak-willed elites — who can appeal to moderates of all sorts, Christian and Muslim alike, to reject violence and extremism. This scenario is fanciful only if you are blind to what Putin wants, and how bad the situation in Europe actually is. When a drowning Europe needs Putin’s urgent assistance, our WEIRD demographic may find out that history did not turn out quite as they had been promised.

Why Ukraine Is Losing

Today brings more bad news from easternmost Ukraine, as Kyiv’s defenders are trying to hold on to Donetsk airport, where fighting has waxed and waned for months between Ukrainian troops and rebels, many of whom are actually Russian soldiers. Putin is pushing again around Donetsk and the airport’s brave defenders, termed Cyborgs by the Ukrainian public, may not be able to stand their ground much longer. As usual, they are dismally supplied and badly led. Never in the Russo-Ukrainian War, which started last spring, has Kyiv’s General Staff inspired much confidence, and their leadership is improving slowly, if at all, under the rigors of war.

The disorganization and corruption of too much of Ukraine’s military is no secret. Indeed, that the higher-ups are criminals who avoid battle is a near-universally held belief among the fighters who are doing the dying around Donetsk, who see senior officers, many of them hold-overs from the Yanukovych era, living in comfort far from the sound of the guns. The troops who have borne the brunt of the Russo-Ukrainian War to date are volunteers — there are more than fifty battalions of them, though some are in reality more company-sized — since the regular army is in such a lamentable state that many of its units cannot be sent into battle.

Why the Ukrainian military remains so unready after many months of promises from Kyiv that it is serious about resisting the Russians is an important question. We have heard many excuses proffered about how the military was neglected for two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, which is true but unhelpful now, when Ukraine urgently needs combat-ready forces. Courage is not lacking while battle skill clearly is.

Small wonder then that morale among Ukraine’s combat troops is low and dropping. The Azov Battalion, which is among the more proficient as well as politically radical of the volunteer units, makes no effort to hide its contempt for the politicos in Kyiv, promising to turn the guns around once the Russians are defeated. If Kyiv isn’t careful, it could easily find itself with a serious political problem on its hands, with angry volunteers feeling themselves to be defeated more by their own government than by the enemy. Here the experience of Germany’s Freikorps may offer worrisome lessons.

Moreover, the critique of many volunteers, that Kyiv is fundamentally not serious about the war, is difficult to refute. Even staunch defenders of the Ukrainian government concede that support for the combat forces is haphazard, at best, and the fighting troops would be starving and freezing without donations from private citizens eager to support “the boys.” Kyiv has just upped the draft age limit to twenty-seven, and has promised to soon add 50,000 conscripts to the hard-pressed forces.

But those troops will not be fit for frontline service for months, and if Putin decides to push harder in Ukraine’s Southeast, defenses would collapse quickly. Not to mention that calling up 50,000 draftees in a country of forty-five million citizens represents something very short of a general mobilization, and bespeaks a lack of understanding in Kyiv about the situation they actually face. The Poroshenko government is happy to raise awareness about Russian aggression, amidst unsubtle hints that they have been left in the lurch by NATO and the West, while bringing in foreign experts who are pleasing to the eye to try to repair the pathetic economy. However, Kyiv seems much less serious about actually defending the country from Putin’s aggression, substituting talk for action as a matter of policy. As for strategy on how to win the war, none can be detected.

A historical comparison illustrates how lame Poroshenko and his cronies actually are at defending Ukraine. When the First World War ended, Western Ukraine, centered on the recently Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia, attempted to defend ethnic Ukrainian land (then, as now, Western Ukraine was a hotbed of nationalism). In a few months, they created an army of 100,000 troops, and managed to get three-quarters of them into battle in more than a dozen brigades. Notwithstanding a grave lack of weapons and funds, and a critical shortage of trained officers, they acquitted themselves well in battle, losing only when overwhelmed by greater numbers of much better equipped Polish forces. They did this from nearly no industrial base and a population less than one-tenth of Ukraine’s today.

To cite a more recent example that likewise puts Kyiv in a poor light, in 1991 Croatia saw fully one-third of its territory seized in a few months by Serbian rebels who were backed by Belgrade. Croatia had to create a military almost from scratch, possessing few heavy weapons, while burdened with counterintelligence problems at least as bad as Ukraine’s today. Yet by the end of 1991, by executing a true mass mobilization, Zagreb fielded an army of 150,0000 in sixty brigades, and thereby managed to blunt Belgrade’s effort to subdue Croatia by force.

Croatia stopped the Yugoslav military’s putative effort to destroy their country through sheer grit, helped by Serbian incompetence. Indeed, the Yugoslav offensive to crush Croatia was far larger than the effort Putin has made in the Donbas to date, while the epic siege of Vukovar in late 1991, which ended in Pyrrhic victory for the Serbs, was more intense than what’s going on around Donetsk now.

By early 1992, the war calmed down, front lines became more or less static, and Croatia resolved to get back the one-third of its country that had been seized by Belgrade. Zagreb understood this was a long-term project that required the building of a proper military machine. Croatia’s president, Franjo Tudjman, had many flaws, but he was a military man by background and he understood the strategic imperative. For the next three years, Croatia methodically built a new army along NATO lines, with discreet Western aid, while laying the diplomatic basis for eventual victory in what they call the Homeland War.

When the time was right, in mid-1995, as the Greater Serbia project was falling apart and NATO had tired of the antics of Slobodan Milošević, Zagreb unleashed Operation STORM in early August, the largest military operation in Europe since 1945. With lightning speed, 130,000 Croatian troops struck and within three days most of the country was back under Zagreb’s control, demoralized Serbs having folded in the face of betrayal by Belgrade. Three years after STORM, thanks to smart diplomacy, Croatia recovered all the territory it lost in 1991, setting the country on a path to membership in NATO and the European Union.

Lessons abound here for Ukraine today. In the first place, possessing competent armed forces is the critical factor; no amount of diplomacy, Western sympathy, or avid hashtagging can compensate for military power when your country is at war. If Ukraine wants to defeat Russian aggression and eventually get back the territory it has lost, the first job is making the Ukrainian military functional and big enough to matter. That remains far off at present. Talk of joining NATO or the EU until Ukraine controls every inch of its territory is a dangerous fantasy that should not be encouraged by the West.

Petro Poroshenko is well meaning but no war leader. If he cannot run the war he should step down in favor of those who can. At a minimum, Kyiv must purge the General Staff of crooks, incompetents, and Russian sympathizers. Turning to foreigners, including Ukrainians in the diaspora who possess acumen in military and security matters, is being done for the economy, why not for the armed forces? The time to evict Russian rebels from Ukrainian soil is years off but that goal will never be achieved if Kyiv does not get serious about the war soon.

There has been much complaining from some Ukrainians that NATO isn’t doing enough and I share some of that frustration. That said, Ukraine must defend itself. NATO will never go to war over the Donbas and the sooner Kyiv accepts strategic reality the better. Like Croatia in the 1990’s, NATO will provide discreet assistance with supplies, logistics, training, and intelligence, but the heavy lifting will have to be done by Ukrainians. If there are not enough Ukrainians willing to bear that burden, they will not have their own state for long.

Kyiv’s trump card, which they play poorly, is that Vladimir Putin is desperately afraid of getting embroiled in a messy, full-scale war in Ukraine. While Russia can defeat Ukraine’s military with relative ease still, occupying large chunks of Ukraine, in the face of certain resistance, would be a political and humanitarian nightmare and the Kremlin knows this.

It’s fair to point out that Russia, a vast nuclear power, is a much more formidable foe than Serbia. Yet it’s likewise fair to note that Croatia, whose experience in the 1990’s offers a template for what Kyiv must do now, has one-tenth the population of Ukraine, and even less territory. The Russo-Ukrainian War is far from over. Someday, Russian power and Moscow’s willingness to use it will wane and Putin, like Milošević, may seek to cut off bumptious rebels whom he nurtured but later finds a nuisance. Then will be the time for Ukraine’s own Operation STORM, but not before, and unless Kyiv gets serious about military matters, that day will never come.

There was no “Intelligence Failure” in Paris

The smoke has barely cleared from the fifty-four hours of terror around Paris that captured the horrified attention of the world. The seventeen victims are journalists, police officers, average people shopping at a Jewish grocery. One terrorist remains at large at this hour, while three are dead, including the Kouachi brothers who were the centerpiece of this murderous mayhem.

That these self-styled mujahidin, native born French citizens all, went out in a blaze of glory was easily predictable — indeed I did predict it on the day this story broke, when I also pointed out that murdering “those who insult the Prophet” isn’t exactly news in Europe, while jihadists returning home from foreign wars to cause war in France in the name of Islam … well, that’s been going on for nearly twenty years, when the heavily armed Roubaix Gang went down shooting just as this new cadre of killers has just done.

That something like what has just happened was inevitable in France also did not require clairvoyance, and back in June, after Mehdi Nemmouche murdered three innocents in Brussels, I told you that more domestic terrorism was coming. Despite the fact that Nemmouche was a known radical who had spent over a year in Syria, waging jihad, and French intelligence had a thick file on him, Paris, which is simply overwhelmed by the number of potential terrorists now, lost track of the killer. As I stated a few months ago:

If French intelligence and police can lose track of a high-interest possible terrorist even when allies are helping, one has to wonder how much more terrorism is coming. It’s clear that Paris is simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of its citizens going to Syria and returning home even more radical. In response to the failure of France’s counterterrorism efforts yet again, emulating the Merah case, Bernard Squarcini, the former DCRI director, demanded “ambitious reforms” of the intelligence system to meet this rising threat, adding that “the umpteenth intelligence reform led by [Interior Minister] Manuel Valls has clearly changed nothing, since there are still some glaring shortcomings in the detection of jihadis.” There is not much time left to repair the system. Three dead in Brussels ought to be enough. If major changes are not implemented soon, more innocent people will die.

The above-mentioned Valls, now France’s prime minister, surveying the latest outburst of savagery in Paris, has told the public of “a clear failing” with “cracks” in the security apparatus. This, however, is one of those phrases tossed off by worried politicians seeking to shift blame, and is essentially meaningless.

Many are now asking how France, which is no slouch in the intelligence game, possessing competent security services and police, could have “missed” this monstrosity. The answer to that question will be unedifying to the public, which has been conditioned to expect magical performance from spies and cops, who are mere mortals overburdened by potential threats. What happened in the Nemmouche case should illustrate how imperfect French intelligence is on counterterrorism, despite its solid HUMINT, SIGINT, and collaboration with partners:

On his return, the DGSE [General Directorate of External Security, i.e. French foreign intelligence] which is supposed to track our French jihadis in Syria, apparently missed him. It was German customs that detected him in March 2013, intrigued by his meandering route home, via Malaysia, Bangkok, and Istanbul. Germany reported his crossing to Paris, and there, officially, the DCRI [Central Directorate of Domestic Intelligence, i.e. French domestic intelligence], listed him as someone that should be kept under surveillance. In other words a suspect recorded on a so-called “S” file. From March to May 30, the day of his chance arrest, so for over two months, Nemmouche completely disappeared off the radar.  Meanwhile he is suspected of having perpetrated the shooting in Brussels on May 24.

The case of Mohammed Merah, the killer of seven innocents, four of them Jewish children, in the south of France in March 2012 — before he, too, went down amid shouts of jihad — provided an unheeded warning of sorts, since it turned out that French intelligence had been a good deal more informed about the twenty-three year-old jihadist than they let on at first. His travels to Afghanistan and Pakistan got Merah branded a “special target” by the secret services, but they lost track of him too.

By the fall of 2013, French intelligence was warning the public that the staggering and unprecedented numbers of French nationals traveling to Syria and Iraq to wage jihad, most of whom were likely to return home angrier and more lethal, represented a serious threat that the secret services were hard-pressed to counter, thanks to inadequate resources.

By the late summer of 2014, it was apparent that French intelligence was simply overwhelmed by the numbers of potential terrorist targets — furious young men (and women) eager to wage jihad at home. As a seasoned counterterrorism magistrate complained, French intelligence and police were finding themselves “disarmed” in the face of this new threat, while the lack of legal “teeth” meant that there was not much that the secret services could actually do about the many potential terrorists in the country. Likely trouble-makers could be arrested upon returning from jihad abroad, but they could not be kept in custody for long, and many were being released angrier than they were before, creating an explosive situation.

That, exactly, is the rub. France’s intelligence apparatus is good at what they do. The Kouachi brothers were on relevant watch-lists, their files with the secret services were surely thick and well annotated, and I have no doubt that many Western intelligence services, at some point, had tracked their goings and doings to some extent — and it’s likely much of that information was shared with foreign partners, as it’s supposed to be.

In terms of profile, these jihadist murderers fit it perfectly, to an almost comical extent: angry young losers, drug users with criminal records, coming from broken families, known unpleasantly in their community as violent troublemakers. There was even the obligatory aspiring rap artist cliche. These are essentially spree killers seeking an ideology to justify their murderous urges, and in Salafi jihadism they found it: that being the hate-based worldview of choice for many would-be terrorists these days, anywhere. When travel to foreign jihad was added to the Kouachi dossier, the French intelligence services had something to work with, but not enough to keep them off the streets for long. It was inevitable that the security apparatus — which can only track so many targets in “real time” or something close to it, and resources are always finite — placed other, more dangerous-looking jihadists higher on the list to be watched than the Paris killers.

That was a mistake, albeit one that every security service makes all the time; only on rare occasion are the consequences of such routine bad calls public and horrific. As a former spook myself, I am sympathetic to those who have to make tough calls based on invariably imperfect information. Two key points must be made. First, movies and the Snowden Operation, both of which are based in lies and fantasy, have created the impression that Western intelligence enacts 24/7 or “total” surveillance with ease. This is simply not true. Even with excellent SIGINT, as France possesses, all the information in the world — which, let it be remembered, must be analyzed by someone, looking for nuggets amid countless hours of mundane conversation by low-IQ jihadists about TV, rap artists, and problems with parents and girlfriends — only matters when action can be taken.

I suspect that the Paris outrage will turn out a lot like the 9/11 debacle in the United States, said to be an “intelligence failure” when it was really nothing of the sort. Oh, there were missed pieces of the puzzle, to be sure, dots not connected as the 9/11 Commission investigators so liked to put it, but the painful reality is that, in the run-up to what al-Qa’ida called its Planes Operation, U.S. intelligence worked pretty much as it was supposed to under the legal norms established in the 1970’s. There was only as much information sharing as the law allowed, and besides what would the FBI actually have done anyway?

I am confident that what French intelligence knew about the Kouachi brothers and their friends in the months and years before they took Paris by storm will shock the innocent and uninformed, as it will paint them correctly as violent cretins with murder on their warped minds. But that contingent is not as small in France as the public would like to think and French security simply didn’t know what to do with them. To be absolutely clear: What now looks like the obvious choice — arrest them and keep them off the streets — was never a realistic option.

To provide a relevant example, a few years ago I was discussing these sorts of things with intelligence officials from a friendly Muslim country, which like all of them possesses an extremism problem. Their solution is a deradicalization program to divert would-be troublemakers back to some sort of normal life before they kill. I am skeptical of all such deradicalization programs, since most sound too good to be true, but I listened carefully to the details of this rather well-thought out initiative.

In the first place, these spooks don’t have to worry much about civil liberties, so they track online activities carefully, and they have all potentially worrisome mosques wired too. Hence they find young men, usually maladjusted late teenagers, talking like potential jihadists and they arrest them. They are packed off to a tennis prison, a pleasant place without high walls, where for several months they get counseling from imams who gently explain that Islam is not about decapitating “apostates,” that real Muslims should improve spiritually, and they need to be law-abiding citizens. The young men receive vocational training and career counseling, plus help with job placement, with the aim of returning them soon to a normal life.

After a few months of this program, most of the inmates are released; nearly ninety percent after six months of deradicalization are assessed as fit to rejoin society. The spies track them, and at a year after release, nearly ninety percent of the “graduates” are considered to be no sort of threat. These are very impressive numbers, so, being my skeptical self, I asked the obvious question: “What about the ones who don’t deradicalize?”

Without batting an eye, the senior intelligence official responded, “Oh, we just keep them.”

There it is: would-be jihadists considered a threat to the public are kept in custody until they “get better” or forever, whichever comes first. This is a wise response, in my view, but let’s be honest here, it’s also nothing any Western law-based democracy is going to enact in 2015.

Western intelligence services since 9/11 have become very proficient at counterterrorism, with impressive collaboration in all disciplines, and France’s services rank among the best anywhere. If there was an “intelligence failure” here, and we can be sure that embarrassed Paris politicos will be looking for one, it was small-scale. The real problem is that French politicians, as in all Western countries, have absolutely no idea what to do with the burgeoning numbers of aspiring jihadist killers in their midst.

That is a political, not security, issue, that no amount of funds or personnel devoted to intelligence work can ameliorate. Besides, I sense no desire for France to become an East German-like counterintelligence state where one-third of the population is secretly reporting on the other two-thirds, including friends and family, to the secret police. Hence a political solution is required to Europe’s mounting crisis with homegrown Islamism, since there is no security solution at hand, and that knotty issue will be the subject of my next commentary.

After Paris: The Kremlin’s New Message

Today, before the terrorists believed responsible have even been caught, the mainstream Russian media ran an interview in which a noted political commentator explicitly blamed U.S. intelligence for yesterday’s murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo‘s Paris office.

The extended interview with Alexey Martynov was carried on LifeNews.ru, which is not state-run but which follows the Kremlin line on most issues and has a very large audience: this is anything but a fringe network in Putin’s Russia. Martynov’s novel theory is that American intelligence was behind the attack in order to force Europe, particularly France, into closer cooperation with the United States in the name of “counterterrorism.” As for proof for this hypothesis, there is none, but Martynov claims that since the Americans are really behind the whole Islamic State thing, of course the Paris attack was really the work of the CIA … or something. This is Alex Jones-level stuff, carried on a major network with millions of viewers.

And who is Alexey Martynov? He bills himself as a political scientist and “human rights activist” — which is another of those terms that, when used in Putin’s Russia, doesn’t mean what you think it means. Martynov heads the oddly named International Institute for New States (MING, in Russian), a Moscow-based think tank that dispenses Putin-friendly propaganda posing as analysis. Before MING was founded in 2008, he headed an NGO called “For Democracy and Human Rights” which actually pushes pro-Putin messages under the “human rights” banner. He regularly gets cited in regime media for his consistently Kremlin-line take on, well, everything.

Martynov’s op-eds run the gamut of pro-Putin ramblings, mostly about the former Soviet space, but his anti-Americanism is clear; his frequent denunciations of U.S. “imperialism” and “neo-liberalism” seem to be why The Nation considers him a friendly voice. To cite only some of Martynov’s more recent rants, he praised NSA defector Edward Snowden as “a symbol of resistance to American neo-imperialism,” while talking a great deal about Ukraine which Martynov, a native of Crimea, considers to not really be an independent country but, to the extent that it is, it’s under the control of Nazis and/or Islamic extremists. Sound familiar?

Martynov’s core belief is that Russia is constantly under threat from U.S.-led “color revolutions” and, in that sense, Kremlin aggression in Ukraine isn’t aggression at all, but a legitimate and defensive act. Like jihadists, pro-Putin propagandists see their cause as under colossal, indeed existential Western threat, so any aggression they perpetrate is, cosmically speaking, defensive in nature. This is really Oliver Stone stuff, in Russian, with a faux-academic gloss.

Who is behind MING, Martynov’s think tank, isn’t exactly clear (“Funding is provided by contributions from the founders, private donations and grants”) but it proudly states, in bold, that it takes no funds from “foreign agents” — this being Putin-speak for its status as a “patriotic” outfit that’s not in bed with U.S. “neo-imperialism.” MING’s take on events can be fairly assessed as rabidly pro-Kremlin, when not slavishly so.

Martynov’s public bio is sketchy about his activities before 2007 — perhaps not coincidentally, the year Putin publicly threw down the gauntlet at America about its alleged aggressions against Russia — leading to speculation that he is a former officer of the Russian special services: of course, there is no such thing as “a former Chekist,” as Russia’s president himself has stated. Regardless of Martynov’s possible affiliations, past or present, with Russian security agencies, it’s fair to say that if the FSB were running a think tank, it would look and act a lot like MING, and it’s understood by all seasoned Kremlin-watchers that most of Russia’s “independent” pro-regime institutes actually aren’t all that independent when you examine their funding and personnel.

Yet the most interesting part of Martynov’s rant about the Paris atrocity isn’t actually his fact-free pinning it on American intelligence. He revealed what the Kremlin’s real agenda now is. He hailed Europe’s “voice of common sense, calling for the restoration of cooperation with Russia” in the face of terrorism — this being exactly what pro-Putin politicians in France like Marine Le Pen have called for — while asserting that nefarious U.S.-backed terrorism will have the opposite effect of pushing “Russia and Europe closer together in the face of common threats — terrorism and the hegemony of the United States.”

That is a perfect explanation of Moscow’s strategic aim in Europe today, as has been evident for some time to anyone with open eyes, and now Kremlin mouthpieces are saying it openly. As someone who has repeatedly warned Europeans that their rising right-wing is being co-opted by Moscow against NATO and the West, it’s an unpleasant surprise when the Russians are this unsubtle about it. Clearly Putin is feeling confident despite Russia’s dire economic predicament. Watch Paris and Madame Le Pen for the next move.

Parisian Terror: Will Europe Finally Wake Up?

I woke today to appalling news of an atrocity in Paris. Black-clad gunmen stormed the office of a popular magazine, assassinating journalists. In truth, I was not surprised, given the rising wave of terrorism in France recently; like many in the counterterrorism community, I’ve been expecting professional-style attacks of this kind in Europe, but this news cannot fail to shock.

The story is only now coming into focus but the killers remain at large, at this hour, while at least a dozen victims are confirmed dead, including two policemen, one of whom was murdered execution-style, based on graphic footage. The target was Charlie-Hebdo, a left-wing magazine known for skewering sacred cows of many breeds, including Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. Four cartoonists who were especially reviled by extremists are confirmed dead, and the assassins are reported to have asked for them by name: think of this a jihadist version of “targeted killing.”

The real question I have, as someone who has followed jihadist terrorism in Europe, as both a scholar and practitioner, for a couple decades, is: How could anyone be surprised by this? Jihad-watchers, with quiet nods from European officials, have been warning for years about the mayhem to come when the thousands – yes, thousands – of Europeans fighting with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria return home angry, skilled at killing, and well-armed.

Moreover, assassinating Europeans who “insult Islam” is hardly new. Theo van Gogh, the Dutch journalist-cum-provocateur who was indelicate in his attacks on Islam, was butchered on the streets of Amsterdam by an angry teenager with a knife back in 2004. A decade later, the masked killers are clad in black, bearing Kalashnikovs and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher – a marked jump in professionalism and firepower, but the intent remains the same.

Watching on-scene video, it’s clear that the assassins today did not learn how to scoot-and-shoot on the Internet. Yet even then, the idea of well-armed, hardened jihadist killers coming back to France to cause murderous mayhem isn’t ripped from today’s headlines – it was going on fully twenty years ago.

As I’ve explained in detail, back in 1995 French jihadists returned from the battlefields of Bosnia, where they were fighting with al-Qa’ida-linked units, to bring the jihad home. They pulled off several impressive armed robberies in the French-Belgian border region – they were stealing to get funds for terrorism – and the police had a tough time catching up with what they called the Roubaix Gang. When they finally did, the jihadists, who had an abundance of automatic weapons and were better armed than the cops, chose to go down in fire and glory rather than surrender. Their leader, the charismatic convert Lionel Dumont, alone escaped death, managing to evade capture for the better part of a decade by escaping to the global jihadist underground in a manner that has never fully been explained.

Despite the fact that the Roubaix Gang was all over the French media twenty years ago, not least because they came close to blowing up the G7 meeting in Lille, the story did not result in much examination of what was going on with heavily armed French citizens trying to bring jihad-of-the-sword home. The story disappeared down the memory hole and became something polite people did not want to discuss.

The trend has continued to the present day. The butchering of Jewish children and French servicemen by a self-styled jihadist was treated as an unpleasant one-off, while the rise of a young French convert to a position of power in the Islamic State in Syria has been considered more a curiosity than an alarming portent. Too many Europeans have been eager to dismiss all this as “random” or “senseless” and, at worst, the by-product of “racism” and “failures of assimilation.” Officials have sung the same tune in public, with the recent wave of car-terrorism in France being dismissed as having absolutely nothing to do with Islamism or radicalism.

The painful truth is that France today, like much of Europe, faces a profound crisis, as thousands of European Union citizens are waging jihad abroad, most of whom will eventually come home more radical and more proficient at killing. Historical patterns suggest that only five to ten percent of these returnees will engage in terrorism at home, but given the unprecedented numbers of Europeans – there were platoons of Europeans fighting in Bosnia twenty years ago; today there are whole battalions in Syria and Iraq — now serving in the ranks of the fanatical Islamic State, there is no comfort found there.

French intelligence is competent and, behind closed doors, has a realistic understanding of this threat, but they are overwhelmed and constrained by timid political masters. The scary truth is that many EU countries now face a wave of returning jihadists that no European security service can hope to monitor and deter with any degree of confidence, based on existing laws and norms. The full story of today’s atrocity will take time to emerge, but we can be sure that the details will not be comforting to progressives and bien-pensants, who per custom will attempt to play down the ugly reality. As someone who recently predicted more terrorism in Europe in 2015, some of it sure to be “mysterious,” I hate to be right so soon in this new year.

It does not help realistic debate that Europeans who try to discuss this threat are routinely shut down and marginalized, to use a favorite progressive term, by mainstream forces who desperately seek no debate at all. Last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel castigated fellow citizens, the so-called PEGIDA movement, who since the autumn have been peacefully protesting against Islamization and radicalism. They are racists who have no place in a democratic society, the chancellor made clear, and on cue Germany’s great and good – politicos, magnates, celebrities, clerics – backed Merkel in her public effort to silence PEGIDA.

Therefore the only winner in today’s atrocity is Vladimir Putin and his European friends. As I’ve noted for some time, right-wing friends of the Kremlin are the only force in Europe that has consistently and unapologetically sought to address rising public concerns about jihadism in their midst, while mainstream parties have surrendered the field on this vital issue to people on Putin’s payroll. After today, Marine Le Pen, whose condemnation of Islamism and affection for Putin seem equally sincere, may wish to start planning her inauguration party as president of France. You can be sure her friend from Moscow will have a seat of honor.

UPDATE (1130 EST, 7 JAN): Video of the assassins includes audio of one of the terrorists speaking something that sounds an awful lot like Russian (my Russian is good, but more importantly several native speakers have said this sounds like Russian to them too); given the explosive nature of this revelation, it would be wise to wait for official voice analysis before conclusions are jumped to. That said, counterintelligence hands who know the Russians will recall that the Kremlin has a long history of using Chechen agents in false-flag terrorism going back two decades.

UPDATE (1205 EST, 7 JAN): Since I’ve heaped scorn on European politicos who refuse to seriously address the issue of jihadism, it bears noting that today, when asked about the Paris atrocity, White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused to say if it was terrorism. This from the administration that called the Fort Hood attack an “incident of workplace violence.” Seriously, if executing journalists to silence them does not count as terrorism, I’m not sure what does. Eternal shame on Obama and his minions here.

UPDATE (1615 EST, 7 JAN): French media have identified the three suspects in today’s attack, who as of this hour remain at large: Saïd Kouachi (born 1980), Chérif Kouachi (born 1982, and who appeared in a 2008 AP story about support for the Iraqi jihad), Hamyd Mourad (born 1996): they are of Algerian background, and lived in Gennevilliers (Hauts-de-Seine). The Kouachis have substantial police records — and, one expects, thick files with French intelligence — and are rumored to have recently returned from Syria. More soon ….

CIA Torture: An Insider’s View

The global commentariat is aflutter in the aftermath of yesterday’s release of what Twitter has termed #TortureReport by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI, pronounced “sissy,” to DC insiders). If you’re living in a cave like a member of Al-Qa’ida and somehow have missed this story, you can find all of the massive original report, plus rebuttals, here.

Up front, allow me to get my own story, and therefore biases, out there. I spent close to a decade in the Intelligence Community (IC), with the National Security Agency as an intelligence analyst and counterintelligence officer. I served in joint assignments with CIA and spent considerable time trying to help Langley, specifically on counterintelligence matters. I count several CIA officers, present and former, some high-ranking, among my close friends. I also think CIA is a mismanaged agency that needs serious reform.

Happily, I had no involvement with CIA’s “torture” program; though I was aware of its existence early on, I had nothing to do with waterboarding and worse. I was involved in certain activities in the months after 9/11 that probably would not pass smell tests in today’s calmer times, but there are quite a few IC people in the same boat.

It is perilously easy, more than thirteen years after the terrible attacks on New York and the Pentagon, to forget the hothouse atmosphere across the IC in late 2001, when fears of more, and worse, terrorism against our homeland were a constant concern. It is this decontextualization by the just-released SSCI report, the prosecutorial judging of people who sought to do good by defending fellow citizens, however misguidedly, that I find most objectionable.

For much of the IC, the months after 9/11 were a blur. I spent more time at the office, or on the road, than at home; my recollections of that era — easily the most exciting time of my life, when all of Uncle Sam’s spooks thought our personal contributions, each day, might make the difference between a “nuclear 9/11” happening or not — are therefore impressionistic, with occasional vivid recall of specific operations. I never had Dick Cheney call me, or anyone close to me, screaming into the phone to “get tough.” This was unnecessary: we all knew what the stakes were.

I provided counsel to senior leadership at Guantanamo Bay, the dreaded GTMO, on how to deal with interrogations. From what I saw, their operation was a shitshow — a characterization top IC officials agreed with, off-record. They knew it was all going wrong, but they wanted to prevent terrorism. They listened to, and rejected, my counsel, which was to get serious and professionalize their approach, without delay. Specifically, they needed to adopt something like the Israeli model.

How Israeli intelligence, specifically their domestic security service, SHABAK, approaches interrogation, is much misunderstood. While SHABAK can employ what outsiders would term torture on occasion, those conditions are tightly controlled by legal authorities: this prevents abuses and, critically, allows interrogators to know they will not face prosecution or banishment, years later, for doing what they were told was legal.

But what makes SHABAK interrogators effective is not the threat of physical pressure, rather their professional competence. The most junior Israeli interrogators have completed a rigorous three-year program in psychology and Arabic before they meet their first subject. When I told U.S. senior officers this was the way to go, they gasped and explained this was impossible. Meaning, this was not how the IC likes to do business. (They particularly objected to my mantra: “Interrogation through a translator isn’t interrogation.”) Instead, Americans opted for an ad hoc, somewhat fly-by-night interrogation program, lacking in expertise or language skills, and botched the job — to the surprise only of those who have never seen U.S. intelligence in action.

It’s fair to point out that SHABAK has a far simpler problem set, focusing mainly on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, while U.S. spies have global responsibilities and targets; it’s likewise fair to note that our IC has personnel and resources that Israeli spooks can only dream of. Failure here was a choice, perhaps a preordained one.

Let there be no misunderstanding. While CIA officials are now insisting, contra the SSCI report, that the special interrogation program was a success, having prevented terrorism — and there is no doubt their claims are largely correct, in a technical sense — from any big picture view, it was a disaster, having delivered minimal gains at vast and enduring political cost.

Knowing the CIA and the IC, I’m not sure any other outcome was likely here. The salient fact is that, on 9/11, CIA lacked interrogators. That was a messy line of work the Agency had happily run away from after Vietnam, so in 2001 there were no serving officers who had a clue what to do. Indeed, coercive interrogation went deeply against the culture of CIA case officers, for whom getting friendly, if (hopefully) not too friendly, with sources is a requirement. As a result, CIA fobbed this nasty mission off on Agency security types lacking understanding of operations (in an eerie replay of the botched Nosenko affair of the 1960’s), much less of Arabs, and dumped the rest of the mess on a motley crew of contractors who never had any business falling into this most sensitive line of work. Whether you think CIA use of torture was right or wrong, there can be no debate, based on what the public now knows, that this program was badly mismanaged and doomed to failure from day one. As is so often the case, noble IC intentions collided with the wall of incompetence and wishful thinking, and eventually ample CYA.

That said, it is perilously easy to find fault here with people who did their best under most difficult circumstances. I find it noxious that much of the emotional hand-wringing about this comes from people, many of them in Congress, who were happy to sign off on such matters when the danger of terrorism was acute, yet are now happy to throw spooks under the bus when times and administrations have changed.

What Democrats on the SSCI have done this week is highly damaging, not to mention gratuitous, and will have lasting impacts on the IC and our national security. It is at the least highly curious that Democrats on the SSCI, as a parting shot before control of the Senate changes hands shortly, released a report that had existed, in several forms, for years. Much of the “torture” details have been known to the public since 2006, almost a decade ago, while revealing details of how foreign intelligence agencies assisted the IC after 9/11 is nothing short of stupid.

After the 9/11 attacks, many foreign partners assisted us in our covert fight against terrorism, with the understanding that it would be kept tightly secret. “May we read about you in the newspapers” is a MOSSAD joke-cum-curse for good reason. Now that the SSCI majority has betrayed that trust, I can see no reason why any foreign intelligence agency should believe American promises ever again. Coming on the heels of the Snowden debacle, which rightly raised serious questions about the IC’s ability to keep secrets, this is a grave problem. Without close foreign intelligence partnerships, based on mutual trust and discretion, our ability to protect our country and our interests will be seriously and lastingly degraded.

It is never a healthy thing in a democracy when naked partisan politics intrudes on the intelligence business, which is a sacred trust that ought to be above the partisan food-fight. Yet that is precisely what the SSCI Democrats have done here. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this release was a spiteful reaction to their recent midterm election losses. What else can be said when the Democrats made no effort to include CIA or IC viewpoints in their vast and scathing reports, which run to over seven thousand pages.

Senior IC officials have reacted with vitriol to the Democrats’ action, particularly Mike Hayden, who served as director of both NSA and CIA. The wisest response, however, has been Bob Kerrey’s. A former Democratic Senator and Governor, Kerrey served on the SSCI for eight years and knows the issues intimately. I’ve long admired Kerrey, a centrist who always tried to do what was right for the country, not just his party; his patriot credentials, as a former Navy SEAL who lost a leg in Vietnam, winning the Medal of Honor in the process, are above question. Kerrey makes many wise statements, you should read his whole op-ed, but this is central to his argument:

I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it. The Republicans checked out early when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.

There’s the rub. The SSCI majority report is in no way an effort to establish truths, much less to reform what clearly needs reform. Rather, it is a prosecutorial brief intended to cause pain to the committee’s incoming majority. This intrusion of overt partisanship into the intelligence business is a terrible precedent in our democracy.

There are few precedents for what has just happened. Some will cite the mid-1970’s efforts by Congress to investigate IC errors and worse, most famously the Church Committee. This, after all, led to the current Congressional oversight system, as well as most of the legal norms under which American intelligence operates down to the present day. But the analogy is flawed, as the Church Committee revealed IC programs, of dubious provenance and legality, which Congress knew nothing about. In contrast, the SSCI majority this week chose to release the details of Top Secret programs which they had known about for many years.

The only area where the analogy with the 1970’s is operative, regrettably, is in the realm of unintended consequences. While the Church hearings led to much-needed reforms of the IC, it also led to a bloodbath at CIA, including the firing of many valuable officers; worse, it caused the establishment of a clear delineation between foreign and domestic intelligence, more than exists in reality — so clear, in fact, that it was termed The Wall. This was The Wall whose prevention of cooperation between the FBI, CIA and NSA was the single greatest cause of the failure to prevent 9/11.

CIA isn’t going anywhere. It will weather these bureaucratic storms, as it always has. The first mission of any bureaucracy, of course, is survival. Sadly, there will be no real reforms, even though these are plainly needed. Just as the Snowden Operation made serious NSA reform impossible, since it brought the taint of treason and Moscow, the introduction of naked partisanship into the discussion of CIA torture means that Agency and IC reform is stillborn. Having branded themselves as the party of calling out CIA misdeeds, the Democrats have marginalized any credentials they have won on national security, and the Republicans, seeking payback for what the SSCI just did, will no doubt block needed reforms as “unpatriotic.”

Thus will CIA remain, largely unreformed. Its foreign partnerships have taken a serious blow, and any operational bias for action, strongly encouraged after 9/11, has evaporated, perhaps for decades. Who, after all, wants to take risks when you might be exposed by an angry Congress a few years down the road? Getting your intelligence services to be risk-averse and ineffective, acting like a very secretive and expensive Department of Motor Vehicles, is an eminently achievable goal, and will be the lasting legacy of the Democrats on the SSCI. Be sure to remember this after the next terrorist “big wedding,” which is sure to come eventually, when Congress seeks scalps to blame for the disaster.

As the world revels in blaming CIA with torture in lurid detail, we can expect outrage and perhaps prosecutions of American intelligence officers and their foreign partners. Lawfare is now a thriving global industry. The damage to our security and our allies will be lasting. To be clear, I am as disgusted as anybody by what the SSCI has disclosed to the world. My position, which I elaborated long ago, is that torture can be quite effective, but nevertheless is something no civilized country ought to employ. Period. Where easy moralizers see a simple tale of Hitlerian evil in CIA activities after 9/11, I see instead a sad, predictable story of incompetence and severe bureaucratic dysfunction that cries out for reform. A reform that Senate Democrats have now made impossible — until after the next 9/11.

P.S. It has been much noted that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) agreed with the majority on the SSCI. As well he ought to, since as someone who suffered torture for years as a POW in Hanoi, he is understandably touchy on this topic. That said, it’s fair to note that most of the people now praising McCain as the world’s moral avatar on torture generally consider him to be a deranged warmonger, and I suspect less than one percent of his cheerleaders today voted for him in 2008. Partisanship is ruining the Republic.

P.P.S. I’ve never been clear on the morality whereby invading countries, leading to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, many of them civilians, is ok, while using drones to kill thousands more civilians in several countries is quite acceptable, but torturing a few people, mainly terrorists, is officially The Worst Thing Ever…but that’s probably just me.

Is This The End of Europe?

Today, Pope Francis is in Istanbul celebrating a rare moment of Catholic-Orthodox unity with a visit to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Churches (whose authority over his flock is considerably less than the pope’s over Catholics worldwide), with whom the Vatican has been in schism for almost a thousand years. But the big news from Francis this week was his jaw-dropping speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The pontiff’s sharp public criticism of Europe’s troubled political culture received much comment in the secular media, which noted how strongly Francis castigated the European Union and its “bureaucratic technicalities,” adding: “In recent years, as the EU has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.”

Were this not coming from the Pope of Rome, it would be close to boilerplate, given the widespread discontent across the EU about its troubled and sclerotic institutions. Yet Francis’s speech included more acid comments, including that Europe is increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, but nothing got more attention than his description of “a Europe which is now a ‘grandmother,’ no longer fertile and vibrant.” It’s not everyday the head of the Catholic Church refers to Europe, which has been the headquarters of the faith since the late Roman Empire, as “elderly and haggard.”

That said, it’s difficult to say that Francis is wrong about any of this. Virtually no European countries are replacing their populations through natural means, achieving a birth rate of 2.1 live children per woman to even maintain their populations, while several EU members are near the 1.2 rate signalling “death spiral,” i.e. the birth rate at which the population cannot recover. The reasons for this are many and varied — birth rates among native-born Americans are hardly better than in the EU, while the lowest rates on earth are found in East Asia, especially Singapore, Japan, and South Korea, indicating that there’s more than a European problem here — but it can be safely said that the Catholic Church’s ban on birth control is being widely ignored in countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, which have among the fewest babies in Europe, per capita, yet which a generation or two ago were still strongly Catholic and impressively fecund.

While Francis’s analysis of Europe’s population problem, which is really a deep crisis of civilizational pride, identity and meaning, manifesting in a lack of will to even reproduce, is difficult to refute, it was his proposed remedy that received the most comments. The pope has previously spoken of his deep sympathy for migrants headed to Europe, but in Strasbourg he put his cards fully on the table, urging Europe to welcome migrants with open arms, adding, “We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.” Getting to Italy via boat is hazardous, and it’s estimated that 3,200 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean so far in 2014 while trying to make their way to EU territory.

While no one to the left of Attila the Hun is presumably in favor of people drowning on the high seas, the pope’s words caused many comments, not all of them friendly, across a Europe that is increasingly questioning the economic, political, and social wisdom of having something like open borders to their south. Decades ago, Milton Friedman noted that you can have open borders or you can have an advanced welfare state, but you cannot have both (in any fiscally sustainable way, he perhaps ought to have added), a position that many overtaxed Europeans are finding sympathy for these days.

The Catholic Church’s enthusiasm for open borders is not new, including its categorization, like Francis this week, of migration foremost as a human rights issue, and has been in evidence for some time in the United States, where Catholic bishops have loudly campaigned for amnesty, including support for Barack Obama’s recent executive action on immigration enforcement. All the same, it’s not hard to see, beyond humanitarianism, why Catholic bishops might welcome millions of newcomers from the south, many of them co-religionists, to bolster the declining numbers (and enthusiasm) of native-born U.S. Catholics. It is rather more mysterious why the Vatican would press for the arrival of millions of migrants from Africa and the Middle East, most of whom are Muslims, a group whose assimilation into Europe to date charitably can be called incomplete, even troubled.

While there can be no doubt that Europe needs more people to sustain their economies and costly welfare states, one ought to question whether simply having an open door to Africa and the Middle East represents any sort of coherent immigration policy (the same can be said of America’s decision to not have much of a border with Mexico). It certainly does not seem to be a good way to attract the skills needed by advanced, information-age economies. Canada and Australia, for instance, which have more thought-out immigration policies than the United States, may offer a model for Europe on how to attract educated, talented, and economically desirable immigrants, rather than merely those who get in boats and hope for the best.

Nevertheless, Australia too now has a migration crisis, caused by its own kindness to refugees, with migrants drowning in significant numbers while trying to make their way to that affluent country. “Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan?” asked one analyst, pointedly, a year ago. After all, Japan is a very nice country with a most advanced economy and a desperate shortage of people. But refugees don’t try to reach the coast of Japan. For the simple reason they know they will be turned away. Preferring to preserve its native population, Japan turns away virtually all refugee claimants, while Australia lets many of them in, with generous benefits to boot. South Korea, like Japan, is not open to more than few refugees despite a serious birth dearth, so few come. In 2014, any developed country that pursues a permissive policy towards refugees is going to get more of them, perhaps many more.

In this sense, Pope Francis may prove to be out of touch with much of his flock, at least in Europe. While the pontiff did not say anything as flat-out odd as President Obama’s remark this week that “the only people who have the right” to question immigration to the United States are “some native Americans,” which ranks as one of the stranger comments to fall from any president’s lips in public lately, the pope’s sympathy for migrants is clear. His prescription to open Europe to boats — how many, exactly? — of Africans and Asians does not seem to be in synch with where many Europeans are politically of late. At best, it’s a recipe for more troubles with difficult-to-assimilate, and not always very economically productive, immigrants, some of whom will collect generous EU welfare benefits while fighting to destroy Europe; at worst, it sounds like a path to the dystopia predicted by the notorious 1973 French novel The Camp of the Saints.

In France, where immigration and assimilation are very hot-button issues, Marine Le Pen has led her right-wing National Front to unparalleled heights of power and popularity, leading to speculation that she may be the republic’s next president. In Britain, the UK Independence Party has risen fast in the polls on a mixture of Euro-skepticism and anti-immigration sentiment, with its leader Nigel Farage questioning what Americans term “anchor babies”; while the British establishment has pooh-poohed UKIP as racists and yahoos, the fear of mainstream parties is mounting quickly before a possible UKIP avalanche, and its deep appeal to Britain’s white working class is undeniable. Even in Germany, where a phobia about the far-right lingers from 1945, the recently established Alternative for Germany (AfD) is making impressive political hay with a rather UKIP-like mix of Euro-skepticism and anti-immigration sentiments, all without any Nazi taint.

The reasons for this political shift are not difficult to determine. In addition to rising frustrations about the under-performing EU economy, there’s the troubling matter that quite a few European governments have promised reforms to ailing immigration and assimilation policies, without doing much of anything. Four years ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel raised eyebrows by stating that Germany’s multi–decade experiment in multiculturalism had “utterly failed.” While Merkel proclaimed “multi-kulti” to be “dead” in late 2010, it is still there in any real sense. Similarly, Britain’s David Cameron in early 2011 stated that “multiculturalism” had “failed” — and proceeded to do nothing about it, leading to the rise of UKIP. British voters, aware of the “fool me once…” paradigm, are likely to be skeptical of Cameron’s public counterattack on UKIP this week, at last promising real reforms to a broken immigration system.

Yet Cameron’s instincts are the right ones, however flawed a messenger “Dave the Chameleon” may be. If the European center-right does not make haste to address essential issues of immigration and national identity, in a way that is plausible and free of cant and condescension, they will surrender this huge issue to the far-right, which now is increasingly allied with Putin’s Russia on this and many other matters.

While the Kremlin’s outreach to the EU’s right-wing fringe has existed for years, the mainstream media is starting to notice what I was writing about months ago, and no longer are Russian intelligence payoffs getting to just the quasi-Nazi fringe. This week it was revealed that Le Pen’s National Front has secured a 40 million Euro loan from a Kremlin-linked bank, while Heinz-Christian Strache, head of Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ), was in Moscow this week to discuss “overcoming the crisis in Europe,” amid rumors that the FPÖ, too, is taking Kremlin cash. Germany’s AfD likewise has suspicious financial ties to Moscow, while the Russian position was made clear in a recent strategy paper published by a Kremlin-linked think-tank titled: “Putin: The Leader of International Conservatism.”

As I explained months ago, Putin and his worldview are in direct opposition to the post-modern West’s “WEIRD” demographic, which provides our elites. The Kremlin strongman is making no effort to hide his views, rather the contrary. In last year’s Valdai Club speech, Putin employed enough muscular faith-and-family language to warm the heart of any European traditionalist:

Another serious challenge to Russia’s identity is linked to events taking place in the world. Here there are both foreign policy and moral aspects. We can see how many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilization. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.

The excesses of political correctness have reached the point where people are seriously talking about registering political parties whose aim is to promote pedophilia. People in many European countries are embarrassed or afraid to talk about their religious affiliations. Holidays are abolished or even called something different; their essence is hidden away, as is their moral foundation. And people are aggressively trying to export this model all over the world. I am convinced that this opens a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.

It cannot be missed that Putin considers the post-modern West to be a civilization in profound crisis, too bored with affluenza and so mired in the loss of faith that it has even lost interest in reproduction, one of the most basic of human desires. It is no exaggeration to observe that Putin sees his mission as saving Russia from that fate.

Although it has long been fashionable to note that Russia, too, has a terrible demographic problem, not helped by rampant alcoholism, there are signs that the corner has been turned. New evidence shows that Russia actually has one of the higher birth rates in Europe, thanks in part to Putin’s pro-natalism policies. As with many old-fashioned Kremlin efforts, Westerners have chuckled at things like “go home and have sex day,” but they seem to be working. (It bears noting that the only country in the former Soviet Union that has really kicked its birth rate up high is Georgia, a devoutly Orthodox as well as anti-Russian country, thanks to the offer by the country’s Patriarch to personally baptize all third-and-more children born to Orthodox families.)

There should be no illusions here. Putin sees the European right, by no means just the far-right, as his friends and allies on a wide range of political and social issues. Many right-leaning Europeans have greeted Putin’s defense of traditionalism warmly, seeing it as far more important than anything involving Ukraine, and have accepted Kremlin funding in an increasingly overt manner. Even UKIP’s Nigel Farage, the most moderate of the Kremlin’s EU friends, at the height of Russia’s Special War on Ukraine in the spring, stated that he considered Putin the world leader he most admired.

While there is little chance of full Putinism, which is a distinctly Russian and post-Soviet phenomenon, taking hold in the EU, there is ample room for politicians to exploit opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, as well as support for traditional family values, in a distinctly Kremlinesque fashion. What that might look like can be gleaned by looking at Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is leading his country towards a sort of Putinism-lite on the Danube, allowing democracy in form if not always in content. His increasingly authoritarian ways are much noted in the Western media, more than might be expected from a small country of ten million people. But Orbán is a gadfly, and he holds a commanding majority in Hungary’s parliament, where under him the once center-right Fidesz party has ditched the center and has headed towards unapologetic traditionalism and nationalism — xenophobia to his detractors.

Yet it should be noted that, excepting occasional bone-headed missteps of the sort Putin made in his early years in Moscow too, Orbán remains popular with most Hungarians, who view the post-Communist period as one of corruption and incompetence, against which Fidesz has defined itself, plus the only plausible alternative is the more or less neo-Nazi Jobbik, which holds one-fifth of the seats in Budapest’s parliament, and compared to whom Orbán looks like a sensitivity trainer.

Orbán, like Putin, does not hide his program, which seems designed to make the WEIRD demographic’s heads explode. He has unabashedly extolled Hungary’s Christian values (he is not a Catholic, like a plurality of Hungarians, rather a member of the country’s politically influential Calvinist minority) while hailing Europe’s Christian Democratic leaders of the 1950’s, comparing them harshly with the post-modern liberal political, economic, and social values that reign in the EU today. Needless to add, such comments have not endeared Orbán to the Brussels smart-set, which is embarrassed to have such a caveman leading an EU country, but as long as Fidesz and its leader remain popular with Hungarians, there’s not much the EU can do about its Orbán problem.

Unsurprisingly, Orbán has spoken warmly of Putin, while pursuing close economic relations with Moscow, which has the oil and natural gas that Budapest needs. Adding fuel to the fire, Orbán has toyed with historical revisionism, noting the injustice of the post-Great War Treaty of Trianon, which took away two-thirds of Hungary, which is a sure-fire way to aggravate fellow EU and NATO neighbors Romania and Slovakia, which have appreciable ethnic Hungarian minorities. Just as bad, from the EU’s viewpoint, were Orbán’s comments this summer on immigration.

He more or less strapped on a flamethrower, stating, “The goal is to cease immigration whatsoever,” he said: “I think the current liberal immigration policy, which is considered obvious and morally based, is hypocritical.” When later asked about how this went down with fellow EU leaders, Orbán added fire: “There were two types of reactions: some envied me because they mustn’t say things like that although they’d very much like to. The others disagreed because they’ve failed to turn around demographic trends with family politics; have kept social tension at bay by subsidizing the jobless; and aren’t fazed if the ethnic basis of a nation state is broken.”

Not content to stop there, Hungary’s prime minister noted that his mission was to keep his country, which is far from wealthy, ethnically Hungarian and Christian. While this was met with horror by postmodern Europeans, there was less outcry in Hungary. To secure the country’s future, Orbán is implementing natalist policies including cash incentives, three years off work with pay for new mothers, and encouragement from Budapest to newlyweds to produce more Hungarians the old fashioned way. If your love for one another becomes the source of a new life, that’s the greatest gift to your family. A child is a blessing, and the pledge of survival of the family and our nation,” says the congratulations card sent by the government to new brides and grooms.

Will this work in raising Hungary’s birth rate? That remains to be seen, though the cases of Georgia and Russia of late demonstrate that it can be done. What is certain is that the future belongs to those who show up for it and, at current birth rates, in fewer decades than anybody wants to imagine, much of Europe will be aged and infirm, and in severe financial crisis for no reason other than a lack of Europeans.

During the Cold War, clever anti-Communists were careful to deprive the militant Left of much of its program by increasing pay and benefits for workers, and generally treating the working class fairly, thereby nullifying the appeal of Bolshevism. In the United States, Washington, DC’s embrace of civil rights had more than a little to do with a desire to take away from Moscow a powerful propaganda point about how badly America, the supposed land of freedom, treated African Americans. In a similar vein, Europeans who want to blunt the rising appeal, and influence, of Putinism and its fellow travelers would be wise to wage a political counterattack, soon.

Mainstream EU political figures must acknowledge that grass-roots concerns about immigration and assimilation are not simply due to racism and related unfashionable views. Native, working class Europeans have valid reasons, not about hate, to question these policies. Moreover, in no EU country did any government ever ask the population if they wanted these currently controversial policies that have opened the door to Africa and Asia. If mainstream European political parties do not make a sincere effort to address these concerns, they will be exploited by friends of Putin whose commitment to democracy is weak, at best. And it will happen sooner than you think.

Time will tell if Pope Francis’s Strasbourg speech is as out of step with as much of European opinion as it seems to be. It is, however, safe to say that an era has ended, one of huge historical significance. Only ninety years ago, the Anglo-French Catholic layman Hillaire Belloc (in)famously pronounced, “Europe is the faith and the faith is Europe.” And he was right. As of this week, this is no longer the case.

Poland Prepares for Russian Invasion

As Vladimir Putin’s Russia continues to threaten Ukraine, having stolen Crimea in the spring and exerted de facto Kremlin control over much of the Donbas this summer, war worries are mounting on NATO’s eastern frontier. New reports of Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border this week are not reassuring to those Atlantic Alliance members who suffered Soviet occupation for decades, and still live in Moscow’s neighborhood.

Neither are Russian air force incursions into Western airspace calming nerves with their reborn Cold War antics: yesterday, NATO fighters intercepted no less than nineteen Russian combat aircraft, including several heavy bombers. No NATO countries are more worried about Kremlin aggression than the Baltic states, with their small militaries and lack of strategic depth, which are frankly indefensible in any conventional sense without significant and timely Alliance assistance.

But Poland is the real issue when it comes to defending NATO’s exposed Eastern frontier from Russian aggression. Only Poland, which occupies the Alliance’s central front, has the military power to seriously blunt any Russian moves westward. As in 1920, when the Red Army failed to push past Warsaw, Poland is the wall that will defend Central Europe from any westward movement by Moscow’s military. To their credit, and thanks to a long history of understanding the Russian mentality better than most NATO and EU members, Warsaw last fall, when the violent theft of Crimea was still just a Kremlin dream, announced a revised national security strategy emphasizing territorial defense. Eschewing American-led overseas expeditions like those to Iraq and Afghanistan that occupied Poland’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) during the post-9/11 era, this new doctrine makes defending Poland from Eastern aggression the main job of its military. Presciently, then-Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, contradicting optimistic European and NATO presumptions of our era that conventional war in Europe was unthinkable, stated in May 2013, “I’m afraid conflict in Europe is imaginable.”

Particularly in light of the fact that both NATO and the Obama administration rejected my advice to seriously bolster Alliance defenses in the East with four heavy brigades, including the two brigades that Warsaw explicitly asked NATO — meaning, in practice, the United States — for after this year’s Russo-Ukrainian War began in earnest, the issue of Poland’s military readiness is of considerable importance to countries far beyond Poland. Instead of creating a militarily viable NATO tripwire that would deter Russian aggression, the Alliance, and Washington, DC, have opted for symbolic gestures — speeches, military visits, small exercises — that impress the Western media but not the Russians.

Simply put: Can Poland defend itself if Putin decides to move his aggression westward? Even if NATO rides to the rescue, as they would be required to under Article 5 — that is now an “if” question to many in Warsaw — will the Polish military be able to buy sufficient time for the Alliance to come to their aid? Notwithstanding that Poland (and Estonia) are the only “new NATO” members that take their Alliance obligations fully seriously, spending more than the required two percent of GDP on defense — a standard almost all longstanding NATO members can’t manage to meet — there are serious doubts about the ability of Poland’s armed forces to defend against a major Russian move to the West.

There is good news. When it comes to resisting what I term Special War — that shadowy amalgam of espionage, terrorism, and subversion at which the Kremlin excels — Warsaw, with its long acquaintance with sneaky Russian games, is probably better equipped than any almost NATO country to deter and defeat Putin’s secret offensive. The recent arrests of two Polish agents of Russian military intelligence (GRU), one of them a Polish military officer assigned to the MoD, sent a clear message to Moscow that Special War will be countered with aggressive counterintelligence.

When it comes to conventional defense, however, the news from Poland appears less rosy. Despite the fact that no one questions the basic competence of the Polish armed forces, nor the impressiveness of their current defense acquisition program, there is a matter of size. The recent MoD announcement that it is moving thousands of troops closer to the country’s borders with Belarus and Ukraine, where any threat would emerge, is encouraging but not sufficient (thanks to the Cold War, when Poland’s Communist military was directed westward, most of its major military bases are closer to Germany than the East). Since the abandonment of conscription five years ago, a cumbersome process that caused readiness problems for some time, Warsaw’s armed forces come to only 120,000 active duty troops, with less than 48,000 in the ground forces (i.e. the army). That number is insufficient to man the army’s structure of three divisions with thirteen maneuver brigades (ten of them armored or mechanized).

A solution to this manpower shortfall was supposed to be found in the establishment of the National Reserve Forces (NSR), with 20,000 fully trained part-time volunteers who would flesh out the order of battle in a crisis. Yet the NSR, which was announced by the MoD five years ago with much fanfare, has had considerable teething problems, with shortages of recruits and inadequate training budgets. Recent reports indicate both morale and readiness are low among NSR soldiers, who feel poorly treated by the regular military, while none dispute that the force has only recruited and trained 10,000 troops, half the target figure.

Quality can compensate for deficient quantity to an extent, and Poland’s recent acquisition of more late-model Leopard II tanks from Germany, adding to the 124 it already has, means they will be able to replace most of their Soviet-model legacy armor, and meet any Russian incursion on an equal footing in terms of quality, if not quantity. By approximately 2020, the air force will have wholly replaced its Soviet-era helicopters, buying 150 modern airframes, while the MoD plans to purchase thirty-two late-model attack helicopters by 2022, which would pose a significant threat to Russian armor.

More interesting still are plans taking shape to give Warsaw asymmetric deep-strike capabilities to resist Russian aggression. The navy and the army intend to acquire long-range missiles to counter superior Russian numbers, but the cornerstone of the deterrence concept called “Polish Fangs” by Warsaw is the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), to be carried by the air force’s F-16 fleet (the wing of forty-eight F-16’s is the backbone of Polish airpower). Combined with drones and Poland’s excellent special operations forces, which are among the best in NATO, Warsaw believes that the American-made JASSM on the American-made F-16 will give them an important qualitative advantage over the Russians, including the ability to precisely hit targets up to 370 kilometers behind enemy lines.

Yet even the most optimistic forecasts predict that “Polish Fangs” will not be fully operational for three more years — five seems a more realistic estimate — so there is the pressing matter of deterring Putin’s rising aggression right now. To provide additional deterrence, Warsaw is taking the remarkable step of creating home guard forces to harass the Russians in the event of occupation, a condition that Poles are only too familiar with. Unlike Ukraine, Poland plans to be prepared should Putin opt for war.

Ever since Moscow’s aggression against Kyiv became overt in the spring, the Polish MoD began quietly standing up volunteer forces to bolster the armed forces, should the Russians come again. Word of this became public this week with a story in the Polish edition of Newsweek that details what’s been going on behind the scenes. Building on shooting clubs that exist all over the country, possessing several hundred thousand members, the MoD has been supporting the establishment of paramilitary units that would bolster the army if needed. Their intent would be to counter Russian irregulars, GRU’s “little green men” that caused such havoc in Crimea a few months ago.

How many volunteers have already been enrolled is unclear, though it’s evident that the number far exceeds the 10,000 belonging to the NSR. In late September, and explicitly invoking the legendary Home Army (Armia Krajowa — AK) that resisted Nazi occupation in the Second World War, the first volunteer unit was sworn in at Świdnik, near the eastern border, with modest public fanfare, despite the fact that the MoD considers the existence of this new shadow army to be officially classified.

Advocates of the reborn Home Army speak of finding 100,000 volunteers soon, but that seems a rather long-term goal. While this project has attracted the support of some Polish right-wingers — the sort who tend to join rifle clubs — its MoD manager is Major General Bogusław Pacek, the director of the National Defense Academy, a veteran of Poland’s Cold War Communist military not known for dirigiste views. Pacek’s quiet enthusiasm for a new Home Army has been noted and it can be expected that before long “AK 2.0” may constitute more than a nuisance to any invader.

This begs that question why Poland, a leading member of the Atlantic Alliance, thinks it needs to worry about an actual Russian invasion. In the first place, the Poles have been invaded and occupied by Moscow too many times over the centuries, including twice during the last one, to think this is just a fantasy. Putin’s harsh and threatening language gets more attention in Warsaw than just about anywhere else.

The Poles also understand that Article 5 only works as a deterrent if everyone understands that NATO will actually go to war to defend a member under threat. Here, again, recent history gives room for doubt. All of Europe was happy to sit back and watch Poland fight off the Red Army in 1920, alone, while Kremlin sympathizers in Western Europe blocked desperately needed arms shipments headed to Warsaw. More germanely, the joint Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 brought none of the Allied help that Poland was obligated to receive under treaty. Although both Britain and France were supposed to come to Poland’s direct military aid, they were content to declare war on Germany and essentially do nothing, letting Hitler and Stalin dismember Poland completely. Warsaw’s war plans assumed they needed to buy time — perhaps six weeks — until the British and French arrived. That promised rescue force never came, and every Pole today knows it.

Hence NATO assurances are met with a certain skepticism in Warsaw, including — perhaps especially — in defense circles. Then there is the touchy issue of President Obama. The Polish Right was never enamored of him, noting with disgust how Obama in 2009 cancelled a US/NATO missile defense system in the country, termed “betrayal” by Poland’s president, while making the announcement on September 17, the seventieth anniversary of Stalin’s invasion, added insult to injury. More than a few Polish right-wingers have doubted the staying power of Obama, particularly given his youthful dislike of President Reagan, a revered figure to many Poles for his major role in ending the Cold War and regaining Poland’s freedom.

Obama’s talky dithering on foreign and defense issues and his rough dealings with America’s friends have led to Polish worries spreading well beyond the country’s right wing. I deal regularly with Polish defense and intelligence officials, and over the last few years their doubts about Washington, DC’s courage and wisdom have mounted steadily. Poles understand that without American leadership there is no NATO in any military sense. Since the onset of Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, those fears have multiplied and there are now many in Warsaw who wonder if Obama would really honor Article 5 in a crisis.

Yesterday I spoke with a top Polish MoD official, a man of sober and strongly pro-American views whom I’ve known for years. Referring to this week’s needless White House crisis with Israel, another American ally who has doubts about the current administration, he noted, “I didn’t need the Beltway media to tell me who the real chickenshit is.” “They really have no idea what they are doing,” he opined about Obama and his national security staff, “and we know it. You have no idea how many promises we’ve been given, even by the President himself, but there’s never any follow-up, it’s all talk. He thinks he’s on Oprah.” When I asked if he thought America would come to Poland’s aid in a crisis, he said laconically, “I’d flip a coin.”

In a similar vein, a senior Polish intelligence official, another veteran of long collaboration with Washington, DC, expressed his skepticism to me. “Is it 1939 again? I don’t know,” he explained, “but I think Obama isn’t even a Chamberlain,” citing the British prime minister who left Poland in the lurch at the beginning of World War Two. Given such doubts, combined with Putin’s obvious desire to break the Atlantic Alliance, Poland will prepare to resist the Russians alone, while hoping and praying it does not have to.

The Mysterious Case of David Drugeon

Three weeks ago, McClatchy made worldwide headlines with a remarkable scoop: recent U.S. missile strikes on Al-Qa’ida forces in Syria, the so-called Khorasan Group, explicitly targeted a French national who was a defector from his country’s intelligence services. Citing unnamed European intelligence officials, the article provided considerable detail, though it did not name this mystery man (“Two people, independently of one another, provided the same name, which McClatchy is withholding pending further confirmation.”) Although sources could not agree whether this Frenchman gone rogue had belonged to the French military’s special forces or the country’s foreign intelligence service (DGSE), or perhaps both, the piece left no doubt that this was a very serious problem as the defector, said to be skilled with explosives, represents a grave threat to his former employers. Needless to add, from any counterintelligence viewpoint, such a defector into the jihadist camp — the first from the West by a bona fide intelligence officer — would be very bad news indeed. Worse, the U.S. missile strikes did not manage to kill this most wanted renegade.

While U.S. intelligence officials did not comment to McClatchy on the piece, the reaction in Paris to its publication was swift and solid. Following custom, DGSE had no public utterance on the allegations, but the French Ministry of Defense (MoD) minced no words, declaring that the story was patently false. While Paris admitted they were worried about a mysterious Frenchman, whom they did not name, who is serving Al-Qa’ida, officials stated repeatedly that the wanted man has no connection to French intelligence. One official simply derided the McClatchy report as “stupid.” Whispers followed that the piece may have been a hit job engineered by U.S. officials who are displeased with Paris of late (“Some American leaders do not welcome Paris’ criticisms of the inconsistency or errors of Washington’s policy in Iraq and Syria,” opined one French official). 

My old counterintelligence spidey sense smelled something amiss with this sensational story, so I made the usual inquiries. Old friends in European intelligence circles, including French, were adamant that McClatchy’s scoop was simply wrong, and had to be, since if a French spook had gone over to the mujahidin, European counterintelligence circles — it’s a small world actually — would have talked about little else, and none of my friends had heard any whisper of a high-placed defection. They were as surprised by the McClatchy piece as everyone else was; it was the talk of every water cooler in every European spy agency for a week or more.

Within days the true story began to emerge, and thanks to a comprehensive analysis of this sensational case by L’Express magazine, we now know the truth of the matter. The target of U.S. cruise missiles in late September was a twenty-four year-old French national named David Drugeon, who indeed did cheat death as American missiles rained down on him. His is the unlikely story of a Catholic boy from Brittany who grew up to become an important member of Al-Qa’ida, achieving the youthful success in the jihadist underworld that eluded him in normal life.

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Born in 1989 in the Breton town of Vannes, into a working class family, Drugeon’s upbringing wasnormal. While his mother was a devout Catholic, his neighborhood was ethnically and religiously diverse, with many North Africans. Close to his brother and an avid soccer fan, David seemed like a typical young French boy until 2002, when his world fell apart when his parents divorced. He was thirteen. In a pattern that’s sadly typical, David filled the void in his shattered life with extremist religion.

This was in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and Salafi radicals were in David’s neighborhood, stirring up trouble. He quickly accepted a hardline version of Islam, as did his brother, and began calling himself Daoud. One local Salafi played a father-figure role for the lonely boys, who stayed with their mother after their parents divorced.

Daoud soon had scant interest in anything not relating to extremist Islam. Soccer was in the past, as were his studies. While he had wanted to become an architect, that dream fell to Salafism, as Daoud’s hours and days became devoted to politico-religious indoctrination. As his father explained, “We gave him a choice: either study or religion. He opted for religion.” Back in the neighborhood, Daoud got on the radar of the local police for his extremist activities, while his brother, though a pious Muslim convert, eschewed violent radicalism. By his late teens, the police knew of Daoud’s tendencies, but as he was just a teenager they considered him to be of no real importance, threat-wise, evaluating his small, rag-tag group of local Salafis as “a joke,” conceded a security official.

Daoud came to the attention of the DGSE due to three trips he made to Egypt in 2008-2010. He worked odd jobs in Vannes to finance his visits to Cairo and Alexandria, which he undertook for periods from three to six months, studying at Islamic schools in Egypt, perfecting his Arabic to boot. Yet he remained in touch with his family throughout this period, and outwardly seemed little different: “As far as I could see, he had not changed. He was still the same young man, smiling, sporty, nature-loving and fond of forest walks,” recalled his father.

At no point was Daoud engaged with the French military or its intelligence agencies, Paris has stated more than once. McClatchy made a mistake here, according to the French MoD. Daoud attended a sports training course in the Breton town of Coëtquidan, which happens to be the home of St-Cyr, France’s West Point. This apparently was misread by American reporters. An MoD source, however, was adamant about Drugeon: “He never tried to join the Army. He was never approached by our services. He trained with a civilian organization, and that is all.”

By the spring of 2010, the emerging jihadist abandoned his old life altogether, as L’Express explains:

In 2009 he worked continuously for six months, earning enough money for a visit that he told his father would be similar to his previous ones. On 17 April 2010, his father saw him for the last time.  David/Daoud set off secretly on the road to jihad. He traveled by carpool from Vannes to Brussels, where he boarded a plane. He stopped over in Rome before landing in Cairo. According to our information, he did not travel alone, but was accompanied by a close associate of the imam of the [Vannes] “mosque.”

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Where exactly he went after Cairo is uncertain, but within months Daoud (see picture) was in Pakistan, specifically in the border tribal region of North Waziristan, in the Al-Qa’ida-infested area of Miranshah. He spent the next three years there, going on active campaign with the Taliban for months at a time, gaining a reputation as a skilled bomb-maker and assuming the nom de guerre Souleiman. He was part of a French-speaking jihadist cadre, many of them from the Maghreb, becoming close to their leader, Moez Garsallaoui, a noted Al-Qa’ida fighter and fellow French speaker. In late September 2011, they were joined by a fanatic young Frenchman, Mohamed Merah, who after undergoing weapons training with this group, went back to Toulouse and engaged in a terrible killing spree.

It may not be a coincidence that Merah made his way to the back hills of Miranshah, a place few Europeans can find. Drugeon is possibly the connection between Merah and Al-Qa’ida, as it is difficult to see how the petty criminal from Toulouse could find his way to Pakistan’s wild tribal areas without a friendly sponsor; the two may have met when they were both in Egypt in 2010.

Moez Garsallaoui was killed by an American drone strike in October 2012, while Drugeon survived the attack. Not long after, he abandoned Pakistan and made his way to Syria, like much of Al-Qa’ida’s best cadres, to continue the jihad against the Assad regime. By now he was a leader of the mujahidin himself, despite only being in his early twenties. Legends of his exploits in Syria are widespread but, like nearly all such jihadist tales, impossible to confirm.

His family last heard from Drugeon in June 2010, when letters to both his parents arrived from an unknown location. He had already pressured his mother into converting to Islam, and in his final communication, he exhorted his father to do likewise, promising that the family would “meet in heaven.” Since then, his father has waited for a knock at the door by policemen to tell him of his lost son’s violent end.

Drugeon avoided that American-led end, again, in Syria a few weeks ago. The odds of war suggest that he cannot escape the long arm of U.S. drones and cruise missiles — or perhaps the savage infighting among jihadist groups in Syria — indefinitely. Until then, he will continue to rise in Al-Qa’ida ranks and burnish his legend of the convert from Brittany who led the fight against the “infidel” in several countries.

We can put to rest McClatchy’s claim that Drugeon is any sort of French super-spy gone rogue. It cannot be ruled out that, to cover up something that might look bad, Paris is leaving out parts of the Drugeon tale, perhaps even important parts. Frequently jihadists are approached by security services to cooperate, sometimes with more than a whiff of coercion, and the story that is presented to the public later is too simple (Merah’s case certainly was more complicated than initially believed). It is possible that Drugeon cooperated with French intelligence at some point, Parisian denials notwithstanding, but McClatchy’s account of a top operative, some sort of French James Bond, defecting to Al-Qa’ida is simply untrue. It belongs in the movies, not the newspapers.

Iran’s Secret New Balkan Spy-Terror Offensive

An important European security issue I’ve tried to raise awareness about for years is the nefarious role played by Iranian intelligence in Southeastern Europe, above all in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Tehran’s covert tentacles in that unfortunate country reach deep, since Iran began extending its malign influence there back in 1990, as Communism collapsed in Yugoslavia, and the mullahs dispatched spies with cash to Sarajevo to buy politicians, spread radicalism, and recruit and train terrorists. Iranian intelligence, meaning both its civilian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK) and the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran), became very influential among Bosnian Muslims in the 1990’s thanks to their secret alliance with the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which has ruled in Sarajevo for most of the post-Yugoslav period. I’ve explained this messy saga in detail in my book Unholy Terror.

When the United States and NATO intervened in Bosnia’s civil war in the latter half of 1995, the presence of hundreds of Iranian spies in the country was a major concern, and pressure from Washington, DC, forced the SDA to become more discreet about its links with Tehran. Yet these have never disappeared, and for VEVAK and Pasdaran, Bosnia remains very much “their” playground. As Sarajevo would ultimately like to join NATO and the European Union, they understand that every few years the Americans and the EU will put pressure on them to reduce their ties to Iran, particularly to its intelligence services. A sort of Balkan kabuki theater inevitably follows, with promises by the SDA to crack down hard, this time. A few Iranian “diplomats” are discreetly asked to leave the country, some of the more overt Iranian intelligence fronts in Bosnia shut their doors, usually only temporarily, and the Americans and Europeans are bought off for a couple years. And the Iranians remain.

The result of all this is that Iran has a considerable espionage base in Bosnia, which they view as a safe haven for their secret operations in the rest of Europe. Of greatest concern are the detectable ties between Iranian intelligencers and Salafi jihadist groups in Bosnia, some of which operate more or less openly (Sunni-Shia disputes notwithstanding, Tehran is happy to arm, train and equip Salafi jihadists, and nowhere more than Bosnia, where they have been doing that for over two decades). This Tehran-Sarajevo spy-terror nexus cannot be divorced from radical activities in Vienna, since Austria’s capital in many ways is the de facto capital of Salafi jihadism in Southeastern Europe, as well as a major playground for Iranian spies. These form an extended web of malevolence that stretches across Eastern and Central Europe.

Things came to a head in the spring of 2013, however, when the behavior of Iranian spies in Bosnia became so dangerous that Sarajevo was forced to do something about it. In addition to their normal sponsoring of jihadist fronts and radical NGOs in the country, Iranian operatives were visiting known jihadist training camps, distributing cash and weapons, and making little effort to hide this activity. In particular, Iranian spies were seen visiting the jihadist colony at Gornja Maoča in northeastern Bosnia which, despite occasional police raids, has operated for years as a more or less open training camp for jihad-minded radicals. Gornja Maoča has long been the base of Nusret Imamović, the leading extremist cleric in the country, who since late 2013 has been in Syria with Jabhat al-Nusra, the Al-Qa’ida faction fighting the Assad regime.

Regular visits to Gornja Maoča by Iranian intelligence officers were too much for even Sarajevo to stomach, so Bosnia’s Ministry of Security took the unprecedented step of ordering two Iranian “diplomats,” specifically Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad and Jadidi Sohrab, ostensibly the second and the third secretaries in the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Sarajevo but known by local counterintelligence to actually be spies, to leave Bosnia by the end of April 2013, or they would be officially declared persona non grata and expelled. 

Then, in a telling revelation about who really calls the shots in Sarajevo, that deadline passed and the Iranians were still in Sarajevo, an almost unimaginable breach of diplomatic protocol. Nearly two weeks late, the Iranian “diplomats” finally left Bosnia, and for a time VEVAK and Pasdaran activities in the country adopted a somewhat lower profile, in a manner that pleased Western governments as well as the many Bosnians who do not like their country being used as a spy-terror safe haven by revolutionary Iran.

Yet now the Iranians are back to their old tricks. This week the Sarajevo daily Dnevni avaz reported, based on Bosnian intelligence sources, that Tehran’s spies have resumed their old operational tempo, and their nefarious activities have been rising fast since early September. Over the last six weeks, Bosnia’s Ministry of Security has noticed a significant increase in the activities of known Iranian intelligence officers in Bosnia. Outreach to local jihadists by VEVAK and Pasdaran operatives has been observed, and visits to Gornja Maoča are happening again. Although these activities are more subtle than what Hamzeh Dolab Ahmad and Jadidi Sohrab had been doing, namely driving up to the jihadist camp in their car with Iranian diplomatic tags, Bosnian officials are nevertheless deeply worried. As an anonymous Bosnian security official explained:

There have been a number of contacts with individuals from the Wahhabi community in Gornja Maoča. In recent months, associates of this [Iranian] service have been crossing the border frequently. Many of them use identification documents from Bosnia-Hercegovina, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Israel, which they received via HAMAS and the Palestinian Authority in Gaza.

Worse, many top Iranian intelligence officials have been visiting Bosnia in recent months, including Abolghasem Parhizkar, one of the most senior VEVAK officials, who has visited Bosnia twice in 2014 on a diplomatic passport. Pasdaran officers have also been showing up, customarily including a visit to Vienna along with their drop-in in Sarajevo, as the Bosnian security official explained: 

Nasrolah Pezhmafar and Mohamad Mahdi Fadakar Davrani have used their diplomatic passports to enter Bosnia, while Vahid Hozouri and Sorouh Jusefi have been using their official passports.  During entry, particular attention was paid to one suspect “diplomat,” who came to Sarajevo, having previously spent time in Thailand, India and Georgia, where [Iranian-backed] terrorist attacks had been carried out previously.

Of particular concern is the large number of Iranian intelligence fronts operating in Bosnia that provide cover for operations and funding of terrorists and radicals: NGOs, charities of various sorts, and schools. For the Pasdaran, its most important cut-outs in Bosnia are the “Ibn Sina” Research Institute and the Persian-Bosnian College, but there is a long list of Iranian-linked fronts in the country (my analysis of these and how they provide cover for VEVAK and Pasdaran is here) that play an important role in Tehran’s secret war in Europe.

Then there is the knotty question of just how many spies from Middle Eastern countries are actually in Bosnia. The Ministry of Security assesses that about one thousand secret operatives are present, counting those employed in various front organizations, with the lion’s share from Iran, but with significant representation from the secret services of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait too. (Western security agencies place the figure around 650, but this has more to do with counting methods, i.e. who is actually a spy, than disagreements about the extent of the threat.) For Bosnian counterspies, monitoring so many targets is a simply impossible task, particularly considering the country’s deep financial problems and limited budgets.

For years, Bosnian counterintelligence has been well aware of Iran’s nefarious activities in their country, but customarily there has been little political will to do much about this threat, not least because important SDA officials are on Tehran’s payroll, and have been for many years. Privately, Bosnian security officials express their exasperation to Western friends, but barring a major crackdown, which can only happen if NATO and the EU demand it in exchange for any progress on Bosnian membership in Atlantic and European institutions, nothing will change. Since Iran views Bosnia as a safe haven for its espionage and terrorist activities elsewhere, one which they have enjoyed for a generation, we ought to be asking what this current surge of VEVAK and Pasdaran activity in Southeastern Europe means for regional security. It can’t be anything good.