Did you call for genocide against Muslims? Got a lawyer for ya!

Here we go again …. Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Dooley, who was in the news a few months back for the crazy controversial things about Islam he was saying in the classroom at the Joint Forces Staff College (JFSC) in Norfolk, is now upset that all the negative press coverage – surprise! – proved less than career-enhancing for him.

Now he’s lawyering up and talking about suing the Department of Defense, and possibly the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  (CJCS) himself – stay classy, Dooley – to get his career back on track. Today, Fox News is on the case with a fawning piece about the allegedly wronged lieutenant colonel, so this story isn’t dead just yet.

To refresh, Dooley was the guy who was teaching an elective at JFSC – the lowest rung of our War Colleges, academically speaking – in which he took the “Islam is the problem” line and advocated “total war” against the Muslim world, including Hiroshima-style “solutions” to the “problem” of Islam. In other words, genocide on an unprecedented level. Be sure to see his PowerPoint, it’s … special.

It should hardly need stating that Dooley’s content was completely opposed to any and all existing U.S. policies towards the Muslim world. Unsurprisingly, the course got the attention of the Pentagon and, eventually, CJCS General Martin Dempsey, who put an end to this sort of nonsense, calling out LTC Dooley directly and ordering a thorough scrub of U.S. military education on this important and sensitive topic. Media coverage was not flattering to Dooley and those of his ilk. He was pulled from the classroom, JFSC was humiliated, and the whole saga had a negative impact on Dooley’s career.

As for academic background to be discussing Islam at the (alleged) graduate level, LTC Dooley had none I am aware of. This incident raises all sorts of troubling questions about academic quality control at our War Colleges, as my colleague Tom Nichols and I have both elaborated on: the issue ought to be discussed and opened up for some debate.

Now, Dooley is falling back on the “academic freedom” excuse. That is a hill that I, for one, am prepared to die on at least in theory, since if our War Colleges cannot maintain academic freedom, especially on touchy subjects of high interest in the real world, what is the point of having them? That said, I am not aware that Dooley is an academic, rather an armor officer who was given a graduate-level teaching job he does not appeared to be prepared for. (Why the U.S. military is pretending that officers without appropriate education and background ought to be teaching anyone at the graduate level, least of all on touchy subjects requiring tact as well as deep knowledge, is a related and important question.)

Dooley is said to have an excellent military record, pre-JFSC, and I’ve never met the guy so I cannot speak to his character. His lawyer has posted several years’ worth of his OERs (annual reviews, in Army-speak) and they mention a lot about how great an armor/cavalry officer Dooley is and that he should get battalion command and promote to colonel …. yet nothing about any advanced knowledge of Islam. He is now claiming to be a victim of political persecution, citing an alleged conspiracy by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to shut him down, as well as other “truth-tellers” about Islam in the U.S. Government.

I’m no fan of CAIR – they are pretty much a front for the Muslim Brotherhood, and I’m sure they don’t like me and my work either – and I certainly don’t appreciate any ability they may have to influence the way matters Islamic are handled in the Department of Defense. However, LTC Dooley could have done himself, and all of us who teach and write on issues relating to Islam and Islamism at our War Colleges, a huge favor by laying off the crazy talk in the classroom.

P.S. The opinions expressed here are mine alone, and certainly not those of the Naval War College or Department of Defense.

“Unusual”: the new intel-speak for “Iranian”

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the HPSCI (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, for those who aren’t reading my blog enough), yesterday said that “unusual” new cyberthreats pose a major threat to the U.S. financial sector. Although Rep. Rogers did not formally connect this super-scary new threat with a particular country in his talk at a cybersecurity event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the number of times he mentioned Iran otherwise left little doubt that he was talking about Friends of Ahmedinejad.

Based on IC secret-squirrel briefings in recent months, Rogers tended to alarmism here: “What people don’t realize is that we are in war today in cyberspace,” he stated, adding, “this is the biggest national security threat I can think of that we are not prepared to handle in this country today.”

He’s the HPSCI boss, he’s getting better briefings than I am these days, so I’ll pretty much take his word for it. The almost-overt connection to Iran is interesting, politically, but the larger point is that anyone in DC should be surprised that the Iranians are going in for cyberwar against us. After all, between Stuxnet and related online nastiness, we’ve been targeting Iran’s critical infrastructure for years, in tandem with the Israelis and others, plus the sanctions we’ve gotten placed on Iran are now basically wrecking their whole economy, so what did we think Tehran is going to do? FDR’s depriving the Japanese of oil, the imported lifeblood of their economy back in 1941, encouraged a lot of moderation from Tokyo, if memory serves ….

Translation: How dare the Iranians conduct cyberattacks on us, only we (and the Israelis) get to do that!

This is going to get interesting fast …

Countering the Jihad: Agendas and Interests

This week, the Muslim Public Affairs Council published a study attacking some of America’s most prominent critics of political Islam and jihadism. With a title as subtle as the people it attacks, “Not Qualified: Exposing the Deception Behind America’s Top 25 Pseudo Experts on Islam,” is approximately as indirect as a head-butt by a drunken Glasgow football fan. Balanced assessment is neither its strong-suit, nor its point.

Instead it is a direct attack on the Who’s-Who of the country’s leading public counter-jihadists: Bostom, Geller, Coughlin, Spencer, Pipes, Phares, Yerushalmi, et al. If you know this topic, you will recognize every name. MPAC’s point – and, like Ellen, they do have one – is that these are people who speak and write a great deal about Islam and Islamism (in some cases it’s a lucrative gig) without being constrained by knowing what they are talking about.

Off the bat, I am sympathetic to MPAC’s viewpoint here since, as a scholar myself, there are few things I like less than self-styled “experts” who attack others based on flimsy evidence. And the “terrorism studies” field, particularly when it goes into matters Islamic, is chock-a-block with self-declared “experts” who are not infrequently charlatans without any real grounding in the subject.

MPAC takes aim at Stephen Coughlin, whom I’ve also taken down as emblematic of the self-proclaimed doyen of Islamic studies who really has no business being considered an expert in anything but his own, rarified opinions, since he has zero scholarly grounding in the study of Islam, yet feels himself eminently qualified to make sweeping judgements on the meaning of the Koran and the Hadiths (which he, like most of these “experts,” cannot read except in translation).

Ditto on Dr. Andrew Bostom, whom the MPAC study lambastes justly. Bostom – he’s an M.D., not a Ph.D., much less one in anything remotely relating to Islamic studies – has created a nice side career, next to his real job as a professor of medicine at Brown University, as a loud denouncer of Islam in all its forms. Suffice to say that he has as much business being taken seriously as a commentator on Islam as I do as a commentator on connections between homocysteine and cardiovascular disease (his actual field of expertise). 

The list goes on, and many of the targets of this MPAC paper are, in the opinion of this scholar of terrorism (especially its Islamist variant), guilty as charged. One would have to be blind not to note that many of MPAC’s “Bottom 25” made the list for their undisguised advocacy for a militantly Likudnik vision for Israel and the entire Middle East, to which the anti-Islam aspect is only a necessary adjunct. In the eyes of some of them, believing that Palestinians are actually people too is mere steps away from strapping on a suicide bomb vest in the name of Allah – all, of course, with ample Koranic sanction, since there is nothing the unsavory element of the counter-jihad crowd loves more than citing the alleged “real truth” about the Koran and the Hadiths.

As an aside, this historian cannot help but notice the creepy similarities between the analysis of Islamic holy texts done by today’s (mostly unqualified) counter-jihadists and similar efforts made by the Nazis to uncover the alleged “real truth” about Jewish texts, the Talmud in particular. There was nothing which delighted the Streichersphere more than explaining how the Talmud told Jews to lie, cheat, steal, rape, and even murder, as long as the victims were goyim. This was not a figment of hateful imagination altogether, as leading scholars have elaborated, and, Nazi exaggerations aside, the Talmud indeed includes passages about Jesus and the Virgin Mary which are vile to any Christian (not to mention far worse than anything about Christianity to be found in the Koran). Yet nothing written in any centuries-old text can justify persecution of real-live humans today, much less the genocide which the Nazis perpetrated. Given how many of the “Bottom 25” are Jews, they should be more sensitive to the fire they are playing with.

And yet, and yet … It needs to be said that the MPAC study shows its considerable biases when it elaborates the stringent qualifications one must have to be a halal commentator on Islam in America. As it explains:

For the purposes of our study’s research focus, an expert on Islam is defined as an individual who has formal academic qualifications in Islamic Studies from an accredited institute of higher education in the West or those institutes of higher education in Muslim-majority countries that rank among the world’s top 500 universities. In order to be classified as “expert”, as defined above, one’s credentials must also be publicly verifiable.

Such a high standard of expertise seems reasonable for anyone making detailed pronouncements about Islamic foundational texts – which, MPAC concedes, exactly one person among the 25 profiled, Daniel Pipes, does possess – yet it is absurd to suggest that you need a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies to comment intelligently about the challenge of political Islam today. Somehow, Raymond Ibrahim is deemed by MPAC to be insufficiently qualified, despite the fact that he holds a couple degrees in the history of the Near East and speaks fluent Arabic, as the son of Egyptian immigrants. One suspects that Ibrahim’s real sin, in the eyes of MPAC, is that he has fallen in with the counter-jihadists. Similarly, MPAC’s condemnation of Andrew McCarthy is revealing. McCarthy, best known for his op-eds at National Review, is a pretty hardline right-winger and a former Federal prosecutor with experience in terrorism cases, most famously the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Which, given the fact that McCarthy writes mainly about the political – not theological – activities of Islamists in America, would seem to be an ideal background.

McCarthy’s real sin seems to be that he previously called out MPAC as a front, or at least fellow-traveller, of the Muslim Brotherhood in America. It cannot be denied that MPAC’s founders included Brotherhood activists, some with direct links to Hassan al-Banna, the Egyptian schoolteacher who established the Ikhwan (as they are known worldwide) in 1928. Exactly what MPAC’s relationship is with the Brotherhood is less than clear, presumably by design, yet it is not a “hate crime” to note that the Ikhwan are a conspiratorial organization with a far-reaching political agenda which cannot be considered compatible with post-modern Western concepts of secular democratic governance.

MPAC and related organizations in America and beyond work hard to stigmatize and marginalize those who point out that Islamists have a political agenda which most Westerners would find unacceptable if they knew its details. This study is a clever piece of propaganda which aims at further limiting debate on the political role of Islam in the West. It is unfortunate that parts of the MPAC study are accurate, and it is even more unfortunate that small-minded people in the United States, often in the furtherance of their own ethnic agenda or merely for personal profit, give the Islamists powerful ammunition.

Do you love Jesus enough to be a General in the U.S. Army?

In my work in Professional Military Education (PME), the issue of religion can be a touchy one, not least because I lecture about Islam quite a bit. This year the Department of Defense has gotten in a fair amount of hot water over the shoddy and sometimes downright stupid ways some of our PME institutions have dealt with Islam – and, as I’ve explained elsewhere, DoD’s current efforts to clean up this mess are proper, if overdue.

Religion is a touchy, and hot, topic across DoD and the U.S. military these days, also because a fair number of our men and women in uniform embrace evangelical Christianity. Some of them can be a tad dogmatic about it – it’s hard to avoid Bible study sessions at Army and Air Force bases especially – and some of the dogmatic ones can be pretty high-ranking. A few years back, Army Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin made waves with some rather pointed comments about Islam, generally of the “my God is bigger than their God” variety which are commonly heard in the military – just not usually near an open mic. Now in retirement, LTG Boykin is active in right-wing circles and has continued his controversial comments about Islam, and a lot of other things. Now that he’s out of uniform he’s free to say whatever he likes and, to be fair to Jerry, he was a legendary snake-eater and an icon in the Special Operations community, who never pretended to be anything but the Jesus-lovin’ good-ol’-boy he is.

The “my God is bigger than their God” thing has unfortunately crept into the PME world too, notably at the Air Force Academy. The issue has gotten a lot of press attention, little of it positive, and as my colleague Tom Nichols has pointed out, it raises some basic, and potentially disturbing, questions about separation of church and state, and what role overt religiosity has to play in U.S. public life, the military included.

To get my biases out front, I’m not the kind of person who lies awake at night worrying that co-workers have a too-big poster of Jesus with a rainbow on their cubicle walls. I’m of the view that, while we need to keep church and state separate, the Constitution enshrined freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. I’m a church-going guy, though I don’t advertise that fact at work too loudly; I’m not going to witness to a colleague or student on the job.

Which makes the current scandal about overt Christianity in the U.S. military all the more painful. Back in 2000, an Army lieutenant colonel did a research paper at the Army War College, that service’s premier graduate-level institution, entitled “Jesus as a Strategic Leader.” Issues of religion aside, the paper is poorly done – I would have failed it; more importantly I would never have allowed a student to submit such a biased and unscholarly thing in the first place. In terms of research, it’s derived largely from the Gospel of Mark and the writing is … well, calling it boilerplate would be kind (or, in this case, a blessing). Not to mention the fact that the Jesus my priests taught me about wasn’t someone I can really see as a “strategic leader” in the sense the Army War College teaches about; I didn’t pay a lot of attention to sermons growing up, but I do recall a fair amount of “turn the other cheek” stuff coming from the tongue of J-Boss.

The paper’s content would make anyone who’s not a hardline evangelical Christian wince, as well as make the heads of the more secular among us simply explode. In terms of academic quality, this is crap, pure and simple. You can get a sense of what it says, without torturing yourself by reading the whole thing, in the conclusion:

Jesus was a phenomenal strategic leader. He set a wonderful example to follow – especially for those who want to lead, or are charged with leading others.

As I study leadership and reflect back on all the good and bad leaders I have seen and worked with over the years, it is remarkably apparent that truly good and great leaders have followed and applied many of the principles that Jesus practiced, whether they knew it or not. On the other hand, the bad leaders I have known violated many of the leadership principles of Jesus.

This study was an incredible journey and revelation for me. I strongly recommend that any leader or aspiring leader look to Jesus as a role model of selfless, inspiring, transformational leadership. In my view, there is no better example of strategic leadership to follow and emulate than Jesus.

If a Muslim student tried to write something about “Muhammad as a Strategic Leader” and laid the fundie stuff on thick like that, he’d be written off as a loon and possible subversive. But apparently it was fine for the author, LTC Gregg Martin, and he clearly didn’t suffer any negative career consequences, since he’s now General Martin.

It gets better. Now-Major General Martin in July was appointed President of the National Defense University, after having served as President of his alma mater, the Army War College. That’s right, he’s now heading the “big dog” in our PME system, in Washington, DC.

MG Martin could be a great guy and a stellar officer, I’ve never met him. Additionally, I wouldn’t want his current gig for all the whiskey in Ireland, since NDU is in a world of trouble which has been covered painfully in the press. Its future appears less than bright. Nevertheless, I have a few questions about what made him so eminently qualified to head two PME institutions in succession, particularly given his faith-based position on the very politically sensitive issue of religion in DoD.

P.S. The opinions expressed here are my own and (obviously) not those of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.

Slovenia’s bailout, with a side of Schadenfreude

It’s not exactly front page news here, but Slovenia is on the edge of the financial cliff and may need an EU bailout due to its debt burdens. The New York Times has reported, in a measured fashion, that hard times lie ahead for the little Alpine republic, which has hardly been in the Western media since its brief, successful, and almost bloodless war for independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

In contrast, coverage of Slovenia’s financial debacle in the countries of the former Yugoslavia has ranged between passive-aggressive reporting to outright gloating. Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina deep down resent that Slovenia escaped Yugoslavia at such a low cost in life and treasure, unlike themselves, while all of ex-Yugoslavia dislikes Slovene smugness about being the most prosperous and “Central European” of all the states to emerge from the Titoist wreckage.

Until recently, Slovenia had plenty to be moderately smug about, compared to its neighbors to the south: real economic growth, orderly politics, no armed militias, plus an impressive lack of mafia shootings. Not to mention that Slovenia joined NATO and the European Union in 2004, and the Eurozone in 2007: Ljubljana enjoyed all the perks of being a respectable European country. Its wealth and worldview were not too far off Austria, the neighboring country which Slovenia compares itself to. It was also the only former Yugoslav republic to have a standard of living above what it was under Communism; Croatia’s per capita GDP is about where it was in 1990, while the rest of the former Yugoslavia languishes in poverty and near-desperation with lifestyles well below what was enjoyed under Communism. Slovenia’s neighbors for years had whispered that things were not quite as neat and tidy in Ljubljana as the Slovenes presented things, amid hushed whispers of back-room deals, financial shenanigans, and political corruption. The Slovenes put on the Mitteleuropean act well, went the story, but they are more Balkan than they let on.

It seems there was something to this, as it turns out that there was plenty of dirty dealing going on in Ljubljana, where the lack of real de-Communization (as in all of the former Yugoslavia) has kept cadres in power, especially those close to Tito’s secret police, long after they should have been purged from public life. Moreover, Slovenia’s privatization was less clean than it was presented, and the political elite of a small, insular country of two million citizens turns out to be just as murky and incestuous as one would expect, and just as prone to dumb financial ideas as so much of Europe.

While Slovenia will probably muddle through the current crisis, in the manner they learned well from several centuries of Habsburg rule, with some liquidity provided by the EU, this represents a major blow to the country’s self-image. The financial fall of the most prosperous of Europe’s formerly Communist countries is a news item, and not a happy one. You can practically feel the Schadenfreude wafting up from the Balkans, and more than a few Serbs, Bosnians, and Croats are savoring watching Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Jansa – who a generation ago was publicly instrumental in the break-up of Yugoslavia – having to deal with this humbling mess.

No doubt this will give rise to awkward questions about how immaculate Slovenia’s rejoining Europe has really been; a rise in affection for Tito’s Yugoslavia seems likely. Fond remembrance of the multinational Communist state has been derided in the Balkans as “Yugonostalgia” and not without justice: for Tito’s state, while a good deal more prosperous than the Soviet bloc and in some ways freer, nevertheless had an awful human rights record. Yet even among the Slovenes some Yugonostalgia has been detectable, not for material reasons per se, but because life for average citizens was in some ways easier under Communism-Lite than in today’s freer market economy. Titoism was easy for relatively lazy average people, who didn’t care about politics and didn’t want to work too hard. Not to mention that life in independent Slovenia is, well, a tad boring.

As a form of nostalgia, affection for Yugoslavia has no program and isn’t going anywhere in political terms. Yet it’s unlikely to disappear soon either. As Slovenia muddles through its debt debacle it seems a good opportunity to come to terms with the legacies of Titoism, positive and negative. It would be a good example for the rest of Tito’s former empire too.


Welcome to the Global Intifada

Il mondo casca …

Across the world yesterday, Muslims left their Friday prayers to resume their unprecedented tantrum against America and the West with renewed fervor. What began earlier this week as a series of coordinated attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East, to coincide with the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, including most infamously the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and his retinue, has now snowballed into a global uprising.

Now is the time, at last, to shed illusions. The “clash of civilizations” pronounced nearly two decades ago by the late professor Sam Huntington, to much progressive teeth-gnashing, is now upon us, indelibly and unavoidably.

Scholars and pundits have pointed out, with wisdom and surety, that the violence we are witnessing across the world undoubtedly has a large domestic component. Rioters in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia, for instance, are making a point to their countries’ new quasi-democratic leaderships, as well as sticking it to The Man – the nebulous Crusader hate figure whom so many Muslims, and especially Arabs, blame in conspiratorial fashion for all their ills. Yet it seemingly requires a Ph.D. to miss the obvious fact that the West generally, and America particularly, feature prominently, indeed preeminently, in the vivid, burning imagination of the Arab street, regardless of what local authorities may do.

For centuries Arab popular opinion has been an also-ran, at best, due to subjugation by outsiders: mainly Ottoman, but in more recent times European, and most recently American. It should surprise no one that the sentiments of the Arab masses, when given any sort of public voice, will shout about policies which they have long detested. That the Arab vox populi is obsessed with issues of cultural humiliation which seem to Westerners at best strange and at worst reflective of mass psychosis, would be news only to those unacquainted with the Middle East.

It is easy, and hardly unfair, to throw stones at the policies of the Bush administration, which placed that biggest of all Arab bugbears – invasion and occupation by the infidel – front and center in the vague hope of long-term democratization; the best that can be said of these policies, grounded in a strange amalgam of ruthlessness and wishful thinking, is that they were sold as a decades-long proposition, and we don’t know the outcome yet. That this is a weak defense hardly needs stating.

That said, it is equally simple and just to point fingers at the current administration’s policies towards the Middle East, which are reflective of that American-as-apple-pie tendency to say one thing and do another in the belief that dim-bulb foreigners will not notice the difference. While Obama has stated many encouraging things – in Cairo most famously – about the better, democratic future of the Arabs, his actual policies include many things which Muslims despise. Perhaps Obama’s high-flair, low-content speeches worked so well at home in 2008 that the  White House presumed they could work equal magic on the Muslim world – a world which the current president possesses an unprecedented personal knowledge about. They have not.

(Inside the Beltway there will be much debate about whether the events of recent days, particularly the tragic debacle in Benghazi, represent some sort of “intelligence failure”. As we don’t yet know what warnings were given, this is unanswerable at present. Yet this seems likely to be yet another situation where mere observation – rising crime, mobs in streets, 9/11 anniversary – ought to have indicated serious risks for U.S. personnel across the Middle East, not needing sensitive intelligence. Common sense, not espionage, was lacking.)

The main irritants, not to say obsessions, of Muslims who do not like America have been stated openly for years. How Salafis – to use the proper term – think is anything but a mystery; there is much written on how Al-Qa’ida and their sympathizers view the world. Ignoring this has consequences.

The hate-based jihadist Weltanschauung towards “Crusaders” has three main components:

1. They hate our occupation of Muslim lands, especially any presence close to the Holy Places (i.e. Saudi Arabia).

2. They hate our support for the Zionist project in Israel, at the expense of the Palestinians.

3. They hate our popular culture, which they believe is part of a coordinated plot to subvert Muslim values in a pernicious fashion via the Internet and satellite TV.

About number three there is nothing we can do, and it needs to be said that many Salafi critiques of post-modern Western culture are not much different from despairing comments made by American parents, this author included, who fret about what Kardashian-centric infotainment is doing to young minds (AQ just adds an Islamist gloss).

As for number one, U.S. military presence in the Middle East and South Asia, even with the recent withdrawal from Iraq and allowing for the 2014 pull-out of Afghanistan, remains the key factor in determining any balance of power in the region. While the current administration has reduced the boots-on-the-ground number somewhat, from its Bush-era high, the increased use of drones makes Muslims feel as subjugated as ever. I am aware of no non-fringe DC discussions about changing any of this.

The matter of Israel/Palestine, and its central place in the mindset of Islamic neo-traditionalists, is something American commentators seek to avoid since it cannot fit into The Narrative – Muslims have one; so do we – that Arab rage is a matter for psychology, not geopolitics, and is based in a lack of freedom and therefore has nothing to do with Israel and its policies. This view, despite much backing inside the Beltway, is as fanciful as any Salafi dreams of a Caliphate 2.0, and needs to be critically examined in light of the current uprisings across the Muslim world.

The emerging Global Intifada ought to make clear to even the most willfully blind Americans that, whatever Presidents Bush and Obama have done or failed to do, the rage now bursting into the open is not about any one administration’s policies. Instead it is a rejection of the entire U.S. posture towards the Middle East since 1945. For over half a century, American policies in the region have been based on tight relations with two key states, Saudi Arabia and Israel, both of which are troubled and perhaps fated to extinction in the 21st century. The House of Saud has played its cynical game of managing massive domestic discontent through payoffs, intimidation, and exporting its jihad-fueled maniacs for so long that we assume it can go on forever. Similarly, that Israeli policies towards the Palestinians in recent years have killed off any two-state solution ought to cause more concern than it does; while America has become more like Israel in its foreign and defense posture, Israel has become more like apartheid-era South Africa towards the Palestinians, with results that are easily predictable. That both Saudi Arabia and Israel spend a great deal of money inside the Beltway to make these realities disappear from American public discourse does not help rational assessments.

And there is no room for complacency among the Europeans, who habitually criticize U.S. policies from a safe, and often smug, distance. The attacks on German embassies ought to bring some clarity to the public debate, long overdue, which needs to happen now in Europe as much as in America – not least because Europe is physically much closer to the Muslim heartland. Beneath the happy veneer of peaceful Europe, the public memory of fighting against militant Islam exists under the ice (in the Balkans the ice never really formed) because the events were not really so long ago. The last Ottoman siege of Vienna was lifted in 1683 – historians with a careful eye will note that the Christian relief force under the Polish King John Sobieski arrived on September 11th – at which point the city where I write, Newport, was already well established.

What, then, is to be done? A helpful first step would be dispensing with any notion that what has happened this way really has anything to do with a homemade “movie” made by idiots, for idiots. With the fall of autocratic regimes with the help, direct or indirect of the U.S. and NATO, what ought to have been expected – and was anticipated by people not enthralled by interventionist happy talk – has occurred: the Arab masses are acting out on their emotions, long suppressed, of rage and humiliation. While the Salafis are the loudest voices we hear, their views have much passive sympathy among average Muslims. This is not something better “strategic communication” by the U.S. can fix or even really ameliorate. While the Obama White House is now learning the complexities of recently friendly Arab states moving into the “frenemy” category, larger questions of how the U.S. and Europe respond to this sea change need to be addressed. For although the current outburst of Muslim street emotion and smash-ups will likely burn out, there is no reason to be optimistic that things can return to what they have been since 1945, when a powerful United States could more or less dictate terms to friendly regimes, and take out militarily those regimes which it deemed unfriendly.

Some obvious questions present themselves:

1. What do we actually want from the Middle East? The Europeans, and Asians, need their oil, but America really doesn’t.

2. How should military force be applied towards Muslim enemies? Standoff strikes seem infinitely preferable to any physical occupation of Muslim countries, which only play to the Salafi worldview. (Even Western diplomatic presence in the region may need to be severely curtailed on security grounds.) Moreover, we need to entertain the notion that while the U.S. has engaged in far too many boots-on-ground operations since 9/11, there has been too little firepower overall: those mobs seem remarkably unafraid of the alleged global hegemon.

3. Are the lynchpins of U.S. policies in the region, Saudi Arabia and Israel, viable much longer in the face of political and demographic changes? Basing our posture and assumptions on these two states perhaps made sense decades ago but may not now.

4. How can the West as a whole rise to the challenge of the Arabs, and Muslims generally, finding their voice on the world stage in this manner? A comprehensive approach embracing all means of power – preferably diplomatic over military – is needed, and quick.

5. Given the public venom and violence being displayed at present, is any Muslim immigration to Western countries a good idea?

I don’t expect many Western leaders to entertain such questions publicly yet, but the time is fast approaching when such basic queries cannot be avoided much longer, without facing dire consequences.

For now, the Europeans are focused on their financial-cum-political crisis, while the White House is playing damage-control. For his part, Governor Romney seems to be suggesting that we need more of the same – force and fanciful ideology – to fix this.

We are living in those interesting times that Chinese sages warned of.

Iran Crisis: Did Bibi just blink?

In recent weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in tandem with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have been playing a high-stakes poker game, including leaks and provocations aimed at President Obama, with the apparent intent of getting the U.S. to back attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites this autumn. It was all playing out as some members of the Israeli media had predicted eerily back in March, including a Bibi-led “conspiracy” to get the U.S. to back a war with Iran late this summer.

Yet in the last week Bibi’s machinations haven’t been working out as planned, in the face of unexpected public pushback from the Pentagon and even an apparent watering down of support for Likud positions in the revised Democratic National Committee platform. It looks like a clear setback for Bibi and his retinue of hardliners.

But has Bibi blinked? Evidence has just emerged that the tough-talking former commando has backed down, and that Obama may have pushed back Israel’s plans for war with Iran. Orly Azoulay, Washington bureau chief for Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s top daily, and a longtime Obama watcher, today ran a detailed account of what’s been going on behind the scenes between DC and Jerusalem, and how Bibi’s October Surprise has been thwarted.

Based on the accounts of unnamed U.S. senior officials, Azoulay asserts that last week, after “intense” negotiations, the Administration promised that Obama soon would publicly present the “red line” Bibi has been clamoring for, which if crossed would bring unspecified “severe consequences” for Iran. However, Obama was not willing to back Israel’s demand that the US join in an attack on Iran if the ayatollahs refuse to cease uranium enrichment. An unambiguous ultimatum from the White House, sought by Netanyahu, may not be in the offing.

A senior American official involved in the talks explained that Netanyahu had toned down his warlike rhetoric “because he realized that he cannot drag the United States into a war that it is not interested in.” The official added that Obama was personally hurt that no one in the Israeli leadership came to his defense when GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said that the president had forsaken Israel’s security and “thrown it under the bus” – when, in fact, Obama gave Israel farther-reaching military and intelligence benefits than any previous American president. Obama has realized that it was a mistake not to visit Israel when he stopped in Cairo in 2009, and if reelected he will visit the country early in his second term.

Azoulay’s account was bolstered by Ma’ariv, Israel’s other major daily, which reported that the White House and Bibi’s staff have been working towards a series of measures that will push any military solution to the Iran nuclear crisis into 2013. In addition to more advanced U.S. weapons for Israel, Netanyahu wants DC to give the Iranians an explicit ultimatum regarding talks with the international community – which, if Tehran refuses to follow, will result in the closing of any diplomatic “window of opportunity” on the nuclear issue. This would be the “red line” which Netanyahu has spoken of repeatedly in recent days as the only way to avert a preventative Israeli war on Iran.

Has that war, which could bring untold consequences for the region and the world, just been averted? Looks very possible … stay tuned.

Score one for Bibi

Israel has recently developed a serious illegal immigration problem. Given its location, Israel is vulnerable to migration flows, particularly from Africa, and uninvited visitors have been entering Israel in considerable numbers. Official estimates place the number of recent African migrants inside the country at 60,000, and rising by as much as 2,000 per month.

The Israeli media, even on the left, has been frank in its depictions of how these Africans are bringing not “diversity” to Israel, and not vibrancy and interesting ethnic food either, but rather crime and disorder. The response of many Israelis has ranged from annoyance to outrage, and the current Likud-led government has reacted quickly and decisively.

In response to protests in Tel Aviv last May by angry Israelis who fear the country is turning into a refugee camp, several Knesset members for Likud spoke bluntly. Miri Regev called the illegal migrants a “cancer in our body,” while Danny Danon was even more direct: “We must expel the infiltrators from Israel. We should not be afraid to say the words ‘expulsion now’.”

Employing language that I can’t imagine any other Western government using, Interior Minister Eli Yishai explained that the root of the problem is that the uninvited arrivals, heavily African and Muslim, “do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man.” In June, Yishai oversaw the enactment of new laws which aim at solving the problem. Now, illegal immigrants can be jailed for up to three years, pending deportation, while Israelis who assist illegals face prison sentences ranging from five to fifteen years. Yishai has continued to match tough talk with tough action, most recently announcing that Sudanese illegals have until October 15 to leave Israel – if they do not they will be rounded up en masse. Yishai’s policies have caused Israeli bleeding hearts to, well, bleed, not least because some of the Sudanese illegals claim to be survivors of the Darfur genocide, but the interior minister, who cleared failed to get the memo that “people are not illegal,” is sticking to his guns.

Meet Mr. Hadas. Somehow I just can’t see this guy working for Janet Napolitano

Despite this toughness, migrants continue to enter Israel, and many Israelis are clamoring for more to be done. In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu last week announced the appointment of a new official to seal the border and stop illegals from entering Israel. The selectee is Haggai Hadas, a fifty-nine year old career MOSSAD operative who retired as the third-highest-ranking officer in the service. Considered a badass even by MOSSAD’s high standards of badassery, he was named head of Caesarea, the super-spooky unit for “special actions” (read: assassinations), in 1997, after the embarrassingly botched attempted hit on HAMAS leader Khaled Mashal. Hadas restored morale and professionalism in the ranks of the elite unit, the pointy end of Israel’s secret spear. Later, Hadas headed efforts to recover the captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

It will be interesting to see if Hadas, who enjoys a reputation as a first-class fixer, can bring the real border security to Israel which the public is clamoring for. I’m not a big fan of Benjamin Netanyahu, whom I generally consider to be shady and insincere on a good day, but I’ll give him credit for showing that border security, an issue which effects most Western democracies at this point, is a serious matter which ought to be handled by tough-minded professionals.

If his tenure goes well, maybe we can hire Hadas to head up ICE, because I doubt the White House would dare make a former head of CIA Special Activities Division or a former JSOC commander the czar for securing the our border.

At a minimum, if Mitt Romney wins the election two months out, perhaps he can get his old pal Bibi to share some “best practices” on immigration and border security.

The spywar’s getting hot in the Middle East

While everyone in DC is obsessing about whether Israel “really” means it, this time, about bombing Iran in an October Surprise scenario which might help out Bibi’s old Boston Consulting Group buddy Mitt Romney – hint: we wont know much more until Bibi and Barak take the roadshow to caput mundi later this month for consultations with everybody who’s anybody on the Potomac – the Turks, who are pretty worried by the possibly imminent Iranian bomb too, have actually been getting busy about Iran’s asymmetric threat.

The Erdogan government has suddenly gone very public about the budding spywar between Ankara and Tehran, and the Turkish press is filled with accounts, obviously based on controlled leaks from MIT, the Turkish intelligence service, about all the nasty stuff Tehran’s spooks are up to in Turkey. Last week, MIT announced the roll-up of nine spies, two Iranians and seven Turks, who they said were helping out the PKK, Kurdish terrorists who are Ankara’s arch-nemesis. Turkish sources claim that the nine spies were working for VEVAK, the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and were surveilling MIT and Turkish military installations in Southeastern Anatolia on behalf of the PKK. MIT alleges that the spies were part of a major Iranian operation aimed at nothing less than laying the groundwork for a new Kurdish uprising against Turkish rule. Explosive stuff, if true, since Ankara until recently had been happy with the relationship between MIT and VEVAK, which had included intelligence sharing against the PKK.

Ankara is now spreading the word that VEVAK has recently boosted the number of operatives inside Turkey by a hundred, and that they are working under various covers, official and unofficial, all aimed at thwarting Turkish interests in the region, and more nefarious things. If true, this is an ominous development, given the long history of violent Iranian covert operations in the Middle East, including Turkey. Back in March, Turkish security thwarted attacks on Israeli diplomatic targets in Istanbul by rolling up four members of the Pasdaran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, who had infiltrated into Turkey for the job. Spies with long memories will recall the 1993 assassination of the prominent Turkish journalist Ugur Mumcu, which MIT blamed on Tehran.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that CIA director David Petraeus has just arrived in Turkey for a “surprise” visit for consultations with MIT and Turkish partners.

It’s probably also not a coincidence that Yemen this weekend announced the roll-up of an Iranian spy network in their country. The men arrested, four Yemenis, had been surveilling the Saudi consulate in Aden on behalf of VEVAK, which had trained them in Iran.

It’s easy to forget, when viewed from inside the US-Israel bubble, that the Iran confrontation involves many countries. If the Israelis and/or the Americans bomb Iran, the resulting conflict – which will involve a great deal of espionage, sabotage and terrorism by VEVAK, Pasdaran, and their surrogates – will engulf countries across the Middle East and possibly beyond.

The Turks are getting ready … stay tuned.

Who killed little Ivanka?

There are really two basic kinds of intelligence services in the world – those which kill people, and those which don’t.

While U.S. intelligence historically has been somewhat squeamish about assassinations, in recent years – particularly since Barack Obama came to the White House – CIA has gone whole-hog into the killing business with drones, something which I’ve already expressed my reservations about on this blog. Being Americans, the CIA and the Pentagon have opted for an expensive, technologically impressive, somewhat sanitized method of killing people (it’s sanitized when you’re the drone crew several hundred or thousand miles away; it’s a lot less sanitized when you’re within a hundred meters of the target). Nevertheless, Washington isn’t being wholly disingenuous when it uses terms like “collateral damage” to describe the effect of a Hellfire missile on bystanders, since we’re not intentionally killing civilians who – sucks to be them – happen to be in the wrong place in the wrong time.

The U.S. technology-driven approach unfortunately lends itself to killing civilians, as do Israeli methods of targeted killing, which in recent years have increasingly gone for American-style technological solutions in Gaza and the West Bank. Other countries which do wetwork – as the Russians, who nearly invented this black art, call it – are usually more in-your-face about it, which has the odd effect of reducing civilian casualties. Say what you will about the KGB’s nasty umbrella trick which killed the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in September 1978, the ricin-filled pellet didn’t harm anyone but poor, doomed Georgi.

Intelligence services which conduct assassinations abroad and don’t seem to care at all who gets in the way are in a special category all by themselves, which is mercifully rather small. One of the bloodthirstiest services of them all was UDBA, the secret police force of Tito’s Yugoslavia. As I’ve explained elsewhere, although Cold War Yugoslavia got good Western press for being a kinder, gentler form of Bolshevism, its secret police was every bit as nasty as anything in the East Bloc. Indeed, UDBA’s operations in the West against what they called the “enemy emigration” were tougher and bloodier than anything the KGB did in the West after the late 1950s.

The doomed Sevo family

UDBA methods included killing – lots of it – and sometimes they cared not a whit who happened to be in the way. In the course of whacking nearly a hundred “state enemies” between the mid-1960s down to 1990, all across Europe, North America, and beyond, Tito’s spies murdered wholly innocent people too. In August 1972, near Venice, Italy, UDBA assassins liquidated Stjepan Sevo, a member of a Croatian terrorist group fighting Yugoslavia. Gunned down alongside Sevo inside his car were his wife Rosemarie and his nine-year-old step-daughter Tatjana, both of them shot repeatedly. German police fingered as the killer Vinko Sindicic, one of the most prolific UDBA hitmen, who is suspected in a dozen murders around the world in the 1970s and 1980s. After serving a decade in a British prison for a botched hit in Scotland in 1988, Sindicic returned to now-independent Croatia a free man; several attempts to prosecute him for UDBA murders have come to naught, amid whispers that Sindicic still has protectors in high places in the Balkans.

Five years later UDBA committed an equally appalling crime in the United States. On the night of 18-19 July 1977, Dragisa Kasikovic was murdered in Chicago in the office of a Serbian emigre group. It was a brutal crime, the forty-four-year-old Kasikovic having been butchered by more than sixty knife wounds. UDBA often used pistols for hits, while sometimes preferring more direct, indeed stereotypically Balkan, methods of hands-on killing. An anti-Yugoslav activist and Serbian nationalist, Kasikovic had emigrated to the USA and had been involved in the 1960s with SOPO, a Serbian emigre terrorist group which outlandishly plotted the overthrow of the Tito regime. Many of SOPO’s operations, none of which revealed much professionalism, verged towards comic-opera affairs; in one of the group’s “spectaculars” in 1979, SOPO fighters hijacked an American Airlines Boeing 727 out of New York’s LaGuardia airport with the intent of flying it into Communist Party headquarters in Belgrade. Happily, this eerie precursor to 9/11 never came close to happening, not least because the 727 had several thousand miles too little fuel to make it to Yugoslavia.

SOPO was also deeply penetrated by UDBA agents, as were practically all Yugoslav emigre groups opposed to the Tito regime. By the mid-1970s, Kasikovic was a prominent journalist in the Serbian community in the United States, known for his pronounced anti-Communist views. Kasikovic’s circle of emigre friends in the Chicago area included several people with close ties to the Yugoslav consulate in Chicago, which hosted several UDBA officers charged with monitoring the “enemy emigration.”

Ivanka and Dragisa, in happier times

Anti-Tito activists like Kasikovic knew they were being watched and that they could be marked men, and paranoia permeated the Yugoslav diaspora worldwide as emigres were killed by the dozen in the 1970s, in many countries, in hardly-ever-solved killings that usually were the handiwork of UDBA. Tragically, when UDBA caught up with Dragisa Kasikovic that summer night in 1977, he wasn’t alone. Ivanka Milosevic, the nine-year-old daughter of Kasikovic’s steady girlfriend, was with him and was murdered by his side. Little Ivanka was stabbed more than fifty times, her body barely recognizable from the butchery.

Chicago’s stunned Serbian community had a suspect from the start, Bogoje Panajotovic, a waiter who had emigrated from Serbia and who swam in the murky waters of the radical diaspora groups. Panajotovic was believed to be an UDBA collaborator – which was common enough among emigres – and his whereabouts on the night of the murders were sketchy. Nevertheless, the Chicago police, confronted by a highly complex situation filled with immigrants who often spoke in fractured English about conspiracies, assassinations, and cunning secret police operations which seemed too bizarre to be real, made little headway in the case. Some Chicago cops felt that the FBI was less than helpful with the case from the start.

Vinko Sindicic in “retirement”

That may have been because Panajotovic, the number-one suspect, was also an FBI informant. Panajotovic was feeding the Bureau information about SOPO and some insiders in the case felt that, in exchange, he was protected. What happened to Bogoje Panajotovic is anyone’s guess. Allowed to leave Chicago, he eventually “went Elvis.” Some say he died violently, as he lived, while some Serbian sources close to UDBA hint that the FBI gave him a new identity and a new life in the Mountain West of the United States.

All that is certain is that, thirty-five years after a terrible double murder, no one has been prosecuted for the bloodbath which claimed the life of a little American girl. Last year, a documentary film in Serbia reawakened interest in the case, and the murders have never disappeared entirely from memory among Serbs at home and abroad, amid whispers that American authorities have never really wanted to get to the bottom of the case, fearing the exposure of embarrassing information regarding U.S. intelligence looking the other way about many UDBA murders, and perhaps even protecting the killer of Ivanka Milosevic. They may be right, but we won’t be able to say for sure until this terrible crime is solved – better late than never.