Archive

November 17th, 2015

The Islamic State's trap for Europe

    Last week, President Barack Obama said that the Islamic State is "contained" in Iraq and Syria, but the group's attacks in Paris soon afterward showed that it poses a greater threat to the West than ever. The Islamic State is executing a global strategy to defend its territory in Iraq and Syria, foster affiliates in other Muslim-majority areas, and encourage and direct terrorist attacks in the wider world. It has exported its brutality and military methods to groups in Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Now it is using tactical skills acquired on Middle Eastern battlefields to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash that will generate even more recruits within Western societies. The United States and its allies must respond quickly to this threat.

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Is posting support for Paris on Facebook narcissistic, or heartfelt?

    We were in Paris, but we were more than a mile from the attacks, enjoying a quiet Friday night dinner at an Alsatian restaurant, just as people on vacation do. Our first indication that something bad had happened wasn't the sound of gunfire or explosions, but the buzz of a text from a family member back home: "Are you ok?"

    We hurried out of there, and 15 minutes later, safe in our hotel room, my husband updated his Facebook status. I did the same.

    As the night wore on, I was prompted by Facebook's "Safety Check" feature: A message on my app asked, "Are you OK?" I marked myself safe. It got more than 100 likes. And that's when I started to feel guilty. Did broadcasting my safety imply that I had actually been in danger, inserting myself into a tragedy I didn't witness? Or was it just an efficient way to tell friends and family not to worry?

    Chatting with fellow travelers on the train from Paris to London the next morning, some told me they found such use of social media distasteful.

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Ukraine's civil (service) war

    The grim, Soviet-era concrete block that houses the regional government here has sprouted an unlikely appendage: an airy glass box crammed with gleaming new workstations and a team of lawyers. Its purpose is to field the complaints of the deeply frustrated people of this historic Black Sea port, which belongs to Ukraine but which Vladimir Putin considers a rightful part of Russia. In its first three weeks, it was swamped with 3,500 cases.

    The author of this experiment in responsive government is a still more unlikely figure: Mikheil Saakashvili, the revolutionary-turned-president of Georgia, whose decade-long drive to consolidate a pro-Western regime in that former Soviet republic made him the nemesis of Putin and a polarizing figure in Western capitals. Driven out of Georgia after a lost election, Saakashvili has installed himself and a multinational team in the middle of Ukraine's turbulent effort to fend off Putin's military invasion and create an economy and political system purged of Putin's corrupt authoritarianism.

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'Act of war' is good rhetoric, bad terror policy

    When French President Francois Hollande said Friday's attacks on Paris were an "act of war," he was following a script set by George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Rhetorically, invoking the language of war to describe a terrorist attack sends a message of seriousness and outrage. But as the United States's post 9/11 wars show, it isn't always wise to elevate a terrorist group to the level of the sovereign entities that traditionally have the authority to make war.

    This was a mistake with respect to al-Qaida, but it's a greater mistake when it comes to Islamic State, whose primary aspiration is to achieve statehood. By saying that Islamic State is in a war with France, Hollande is unwittingly giving the ragtag group the international stature it seeks.

    The consequences of Hollande's declaration go beyond the public relations boon to the Sunni militant group, which has otherwise been struggling to stay in the headlines and gain the adherents it needs to control territory. A head of state who says that war has been made against his country must have a credible response in mind.

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Choosing the right kind of war on terrorism

    Big terror attacks have a way of forcing governments into action, and so it is already proving with Friday night's slaughter in Paris. The question -- and not just for France -- is what action.

    It is so easy to get this wrong, as the United States proved with its "war on terror" in Iraq after 9/11. This isn't about the words. French President Francois Hollande said Friday's highly organized, multi-fronted terrorist operation was an act of war and it surely was. It's about what the words are used for.

    Before Hollande decides what "pitiless" response to make against Islamic State, he needs to clarify two questions: What war? And against whom is Islamic State waging it?

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Paris attacks could shift presidential election

    The tragedy in Paris is roiling U.S. politics, bolstering the Republican right's anti-immigration demands in the short run and perhaps ultimately enhancing Hillary Clinton and her credentials as the candidate with experience.

    Politicians from President Barack Obama on down expressed outrage at the attacks, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility. Several leading Republicans immediately politicized the issue. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz blamed Obama and a weak "photo-op" foreign policy, and one of the party's presidential front-runners, Donald Trump, said the tragedy reinforces the needed for "tougher" American leadership.

    "This will be exceptionally important" in shaping the presidential race, said Peter D. Hart, a prominent Democratic poll-taker, suggesting it was likely to help Clinton, the only top-tier candidate in either party with a national security background.

    In a debate of Democratic candidates on Saturday, she opened by stating that the U.S. would be electing a new commander in chief.

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The silly, distracting debate over whether to use the words 'radical Islam'

    Saturday night's Democratic debate was supposed to center on domestic policy, but after the attacks in Paris, it was altered to focus in large part on terrorism and foreign policy. On one hand, that was necessary - when sudden and important events happen in the world, the people who want to lead our country have the chance to show why they ought to be in charge and give some sense of how they'd handle crises. On the other hand, without a lot of time for reflection, chances were high that the discussion would produce more heat than light.

    And so it was that a significant portion of the debate's terrorism section centered on the question of whether the candidates, particularly Hillary Clinton, have used the appropriately belligerent terminology in discussing terrorism. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley got involved, but the critical exchange was between moderator John Dickerson and Clinton:

    DICKERSON: "Secretary Clinton, you mentioned radical jihadists. Marco Rubio, also running for president, said that this attack showed and the attack in Paris showed that we are at war with radical Islam. Do you agree with that characterization, radical Islam?"

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Free expression and anti-racism aren't mutually exclusive

    A popular misconception of Yale University students, and Yale students of color in particular, has solidified in the media this week: They're so fragile, over-sensitive and entitled that they can't handle an intense exchange of ideas or an off-hand personal slight. They've been cast as politically correct, coddled millennials -- "crybullies" who just need to grow up.

    Yes, these students -- my students -- are making demands. But not because they're pampered or looking for shelter from opposing points of view. It's because the Yale they've found isn't the Yale they were looking for.

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No city is safe while the war is on in Syria

    Although many details concerning the attacks that killed more than 120 people in Paris on Friday night remain unknown, Islamic State appears to have claimed responsibility. France and all other countries taking part in the Syrian conflict should keep in mind Russia's recent experience with this kind of terrorism: It won't cease until the epicenter is dealt with.

    French President Francois Hollande said on Saturday morning that the attacks were "an act of war" carried out by a jihadist "army." That may be true in a sense, even if it turns out that some of the attackers were untrained or French residents or citizens (eyewitnesses who saw attackers fire randomly into the crowd at the Bataclan concert venue said they spoke French without a foreign accent).

    Four of the eight known attackers -- three in the vicinity of Stade de France, where the French soccer team was playing Germany, and one on Boulevard Voltaire -- blew themselves up without causing any major damage. Only one civilian casualty was attributed to these botched attacks.

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2016 election could be shattering for Republicans

    Election Day 2016 will produce a shattering crash larger than anything the pundits anticipate because the revolutionary economic and social changes occurring in the United States have now pushed both the burgeoning new majority and the conservative Republicans' counterrevolution beyond their tipping points.

    The United States is being transformed by revolutions remaking the country at an accelerating and surprising pace. Witness the revolutions in technology, the Internet, big data and energy, though just as important are the tremendous changes taking place in immigration, racial and ethnic diversity, the family, religious observance and gender roles. These are reaching their apexes in the booming metropolitan centers and among millennials.

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