Monday, November 16, 2015

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Video Report - Syrian army pushes back against ISIS, regaining major bases

Obama’s critics should stop playing political games over the Islamic State

By Eugene Robinson

As Paris mourns its dead, critics of President Obama’s caution in the fight against the Islamic State are full of sound and fury. But those who throw around such words as “weak” and “feckless” should tell us if they support the logical alternative: Sending in tens of thousands of U.S. troops.
Clearly our nation has ample military strength to crush the murderous terrorists in Iraq and Syria. But what would be the cost in American lives? And would such action make us safer? Or would it likely have the opposite effect, guaranteeing more terrorism and strife?
Obama sounded defensive Monday as he faced reporters in Antalya, Turkey, where he was attending a Group of 20 summit that ended up being dominated by the Paris attacks. All weekend, commentators had mocked his recent declaration that the Islamic State was “contained.” There was little anyone could have done, the president argued, to prevent something like Friday’s rampage.
“If you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” Obama said, stating the tragically obvious.
The president’s approach — U.S. airstrikes plus support of friendly ground forces in Iraq and Syria — clearly has not worked, at least to this point. The Islamic State is no longer gobbling territory and in fact has lost a bit, but its leaders can still claim to have established and defended an Islamic “caliphate” that serves as magnet and inspiration for jihadist militants around the world.
Moreover, as we have seen in recent weeks, the Islamic State has expanded its focus to include targets abroad. The group has claimed credit for the downing of a Russian airliner in the Sinai, deadly bombings in Beirut and, of course, Friday’s merciless killings in and around the French capital.
Obama’s tone in addressing the Paris atrocity was all wrong. At times he was patronizing, at other times he seemed annoyed and almost dismissive. The president said, essentially, that he had considered all the options and decided that even a large-scale terrorist attack in the heart of a major European capital was not enough to make him reconsider his policy.
He is usually more skillful at conveying empathy, but it’s not hard to understand his frustration. No, his course of action hasn’t produced the desired results. But that is no reason to do what critics advocate, which the president summed up concisely: “Shoot first and aim later.”
Establish no-fly zones? That would have little effect on the Islamic State, which does not have an air force. It would have an impact on the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, so maybe this is something Obama could have done before Russia intervened with air power to support Assad’s regime. But creating a no-fly zone would have plunged the United States headfirst into the Syrian civil war.
Create safe zones for Syrian civilians and “moderate” rebels? In the absence of reliable and effective local military allies, carving out such refuges would require U.S. troops. Once again, we would be in the middle of the war.
The Republican presidential candidates talk a tough game, but only Lindsey Graham — who has so little support that he didn’t even make the last undercard debate — lays out an honest alternative to Obama’s policy. He proposes that the United States lead a coalition of up to 100,000 troops to eliminate the Islamic State and pacify Syria.
That’s a plan worth debating. My biggest question is whether this would, in the end, make the world a safer place. The experience of the past decade in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrates how good the Western alliance is at creating power vacuums in the Middle East and how bad it is at filling them. It is hard to imagine that a new generation of jihadists would not quickly emerge, with a new set of grievances against the United States and its allies.
Jeb Bush says we should “declare war” against the Islamic State, which I believe our airstrikes have already done. Ted Cruz and others rail against Obama for not more stridently defining the enemy as “Islamic,” as if fighting terrorism were a matter of semantics.
“Every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who is paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle,” Obama said. “So I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”
Critics should offer viable alternatives. Or they should stop playing their games.


In their latest attacks on Yemen, Saudi fighter jets have bombed a mosque in the northern Sa’ada Province, killing at least one civilian.

Saudi warplanes bombarded the mosque in a residential neighborhood of Sa’ada’s Kitaf district on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, several people were killed and some others injured in Saudi airstrikes on a market in the southwestern province of Ta’izz.

Yemen has been witnessing ceaseless airstrikes by Saudi Arabia since March 26. The military aggression is supposedly meant to undermine Ansarullah and bring fugitive former Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi back to power.

The Saudi aggression has reportedly claimed the lives of more than 7,100 people and injured nearly 14,000 others. The strikes have also taken a heavy toll on the impoverished country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.

Human rights groups and international organizations have voiced deep concern over the rising number of civilian casualties in Yemen, calling for an end to the conflict.

Retaliatory attacks

Meanwhile, in a retaliatory attack, Yemeni forces hit a Saudi boat off Mukha waters in Ta’izz province.

Yemeni Ansarullah fighters, backed by allied forces, also struck a government building in the kingdom’s southwestern region of Asir. They also launched tens of rockets toward Saudi military bases in the southwestern cities of Jizan and Najran.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s army spokesman Sharaf Luqman on Sunday vowed to continue retaliatory attacks against the Saudi border regions of Asir, Jizan and Najran until Riyadh halts its unrelenting military campaign against its impoverished Arab neighbor.

VIDEO: Manufacturing Terror: How Saudi Arabia Helped Create Islamic State

In light of the latest terrorist attacks in Paris, we take a look back at an interview with CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who singled out Saudi Arabia for its role in creating radical extremism in the Middle East.
During the September interview with Mint Press News, Kiriakou—the 2015 winner of the PEN Center’s “First Amendment Award”—explains that the United States’ relationship with the House of Saud started with Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1943, who declared at the time that the defense of Saudi Arabia was vital for the defense of the United States. A deal was struck in which Saudi Arabia gave the U.S. control of its airspace and access to its oil fields. In return, the Saudi government gained control over the oil market and access to U.S. military hardware, Kiriakou explains.
Since the deal was made, Saudi Arabia has been behind the rise of radical groups such as Islamic State, Kiriakou says.
“I have always believed that Saudi Arabia was the primary generator and creator of radicals and radical movements in not just the region but around the world,” Kiriakou explains. “It’s not just the government that supports this extremism. It’s the entire structure of government and society in Saudi Arabia.”

Music Video - Madonna - Papa Don't Preach

The Brussels Connection: Why Belgium Keeps Popping Up in Terror Attacks

By  and 

Confirming that the building you're standing in front of is in fact one of Brussel's largest mosques requires asking a passerby. There's no minaret and not even a sign noting that the building on Rue Delaunoy 40 is an important house of Muslim worship. The roller shutters and the large aluminum doors look more like a car repair shop. But on Fridays, as many as 600 Muslims come to pray in the Al-Khalil mosque, as the janitor proudly explains.
It is believed that the mosque has ties with the Syrian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and it is considered to be one of the biggest and most influential mosques in Molenbeek, the Brussels neighborhood that seems to always be popping up when acts of Islamist violence in Europe are investigated. There was a link to the foiled terrorist plot on a high-speed Thalys TGV train bound from Paris to Brussels in August and there were links to the massacre of the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo in January. 

It has popped up in the news again following this weekend's horrific attacks in Paris. Authorities say that seven suspects have been arrested in Molenbeek and that several apartments have been searched.

On the streets here, people express shock over the attacks. "That's not Islam," says a man with a stubbly beard, cap and brown coat who is standing in front of the mosque with acquaintances on Sunday. The longer he speaks, the more worked up he gets and, in the end, there are tears in his eyes and his voice trembles. "I just don't understand it."
That's the one side of Molenbeek, a city district that could look like a working class district in any major city in Germany. For the overwhelming majority of its residents, the idea of killing in the name of Allah is inconceivable.

A Focal Point of the Islamist Scene

But there's another side to Molenbeek: The one that is considered to be the focal point of Western Europe's Islamist scene. Following Friday night's terrorist attacks in Paris, a suspect was arrested on Saturday afternoon at the Osseghem metro station in Molenbeek. A short time later, heavily armed police removed a man from a gray VW Golf not even 100 meters away who is believed to have been in Paris at the time of the attacks. A total of seven people have been arrested so far in Molenbeek.

It is estimated that Muslims make up 6 percent of the Belgian population, but that figure is 25 percent in Brussels and 40 percent in Molenbeek. The unemployment rate in the district is 30 percent, but it is believed to be even higher among immigrants. "Most of the Muslims are moderate, but there are also sharply radicalized groups with connections, for example, to the Salafists," says Brussels-based journalist Mehmet Koksal, who has been covering the Islamist scene for years. "They tell young people that they aren't European or Belgium and that it's 'us against the others.'"

The result of this can be tangible in the district. "If a person eats publicly during Ramadan or a woman doesn't wear a headscarf, they may become the subject of hostility," he explains.

'A Good Place to Hide'

Residents and politicians in Molenbeek are trying to combat any stigmatization of their community. On Saturday night, a few young people could be found standing around the Osseghem metro station after the last police car had driven away. The reporters and the camera teams have nothing left to do and a conversation between the two groups soon begins. It very quickly becomes clear that people here have had enough of the neighborhood's negative image. "Thalys? Molenbeek. Charlie Hebdo? Molenbeek," curses one of them. Each terror attack has had a connection with their neighborhood. "I have a heart just like you," says Amain, who's wearing a Chicago Bulls cap.

District Mayor Françoise Schepmans also spent her day Sunday defending Molenbeek in a series of television interviews. "They don't all come from here," she said of the men who have been arrested. "Most of the time, they are just traveling through."

But if that's the case, it seems like they are often traveling through. "The Muslim community in Molenbeek is very closed," says Koksal. "Those who aren't a part of it are quickly viewed as being agents of enemy forces." That also may help to explain why terror suspects in Molenbeek have been arrested who don't live in the neighborhood. "It's a good place to hide," he says.
Police first woke up to the problems when it was learned that French Islamist Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in May 2014, had also spent time in Molenbeek. "But I also don't know what else there is they can do," says Koksal. They're already monitoring the phone conversations of pretty much all the key people in the scene, he says. And they are under strong police surveillance -- at least to the extent that resources allow.

That's why the radicalization of young men isn't taking place in the conspicuous places like the Al-Khalil mosque. The seeds of hate are growing in clandestine places, often in private homes. Security authorities estimate that in small Belgium, around 500 men have gone to Syria as jihadists. One hundred and thirty of them have since returned, said Belgian Police Chief Catherine De Bolle on Flemish television on Sunday.

And it appears that Belgian security agencies are helpless in addressing the problem. Brussels has only 1.2 million residents, Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon stated on Sunday. "But we have six different police authorities and 19 different city districts." New York, by comparison has 11 million residents. "And how many police authorities do they have? One."

News Analysis: Foreign policy to take center stage in U.S. elections after Paris massacre

By  Matthew Rusling

Last week's terror attacks on Paris have pushed U.S. foreign policy and the fight against terrorism to the forefront of U.S. elections, and candidates will have to show they are tough on terror in the lead up to the 2016 presidential race.

On Friday, terrorists launched multiple simultaneous attacks in several locations in Paris, killing 132 people and wounding 352 others, 99 of them critically. The Islamic State (IS), a violent terror group that has overtaken vast swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attacks.
While the U.S. continues to conduct a bombing campaign against IS, critics have blasted the U.S. efforts as ineffective, and as more of a public relations campaign than a serious strategy to destroy IS. They said the U.S. attacks on IS targets are too few and far between, falling short of bombing campaigns unleashed from previous U.S. administration.
All this means that U.S. presidential candidates will need to show they are much more serious about the threat of international terrorism than the current administration is -- rightly or wrongly -- perceived to be.
"The Paris attacks will focus further attention on foreign policy issues and where candidates stand. There will be special attention on how candidates discuss countering Islamic State and dealing with the situation in Syria," Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, told Xinhua.
"I think the GOP (Republican Party) candidates will definitely push to contrast their own, more muscular proposals for countering Islamic State and dealing with Syria compared to Obama and (former Secretary of State Hillary) Clinton," he said.
"I think we also saw some of it during the Benghazi hearing, but Obama (and Clinton's) policies have led to power vacuums in Syria, Libya, and other areas in the region that have allowed Islamic State to thrive," Mahaffee said.
The Paris massacre and recent IS threats to attack the U.S. soil are likely not only to draw voters to a candidate who seems resolute against the terror threat, but also toward one who is experienced.
That could spell trouble for candidates such as billionaire mogul Donald Trump and former surgeon Ben Carson, both of whom have been riding a wave of populist, anti-establishment sentiment. Trump and Carson are leading among the Republican candidates.
"I think that rather than being a boon for Trump, despite the tough guy image, there would be a trend towards more experienced candidates in terms of national security experience and experience in government," Mahaffee said.
"I also think a similar trend applies to Carson as well, though he does enjoy a consistent vein of support in the Christian evangelical community that may not be as concerned about terrorism issues as they go to the primaries," Mahaffee said.
"However, similar to Trump, his limited experience may give other voters pause as they look at terrorism issues and foreign policy," he added.
If the voters begin to pay greater attention to terrorism and foreign policy, the establishment candidates may benefit from their experience on these matters compared to outsiders like Carson and Trump, he noted.
Brookings Institution's senior fellow Darrell West told Xinhua that the Paris attacks will elevate foreign policy in the campaign, adding that how the candidates plan to deal with terrorism will be an important part of the discussion.
"(Democratic front-runner Hillary) Clinton will talk tougher on (IS) and the attacks will increase pressure for U.S. expansion in Syria," West said, referring to the ongoing U.S. bombing campaign against IS targets in Syria.
West believed that Trump will not benefit because he has talked about letting Russia handle IS.
Trump "will need to come up with a more credible policy," he said.

Video - First Lady Michelle - Broadway at the White House Workshop with the cast of "On Your Feet"

Video - Kerry calls Paris attackers "psychopathic monsters"

President Obama Defends ISIS Strategy, Rejects Blocking Muslim Refugees

President Obama declared on Monday that his strategy for defeating the Islamic State is working despite last week’s horrific attacks in Paris, forcefully rejecting calls for escalating the use of military force in the Middle East or turning away Syrian refugees at home.
At a sometimes tense news conference at the end of an international summit meeting here, Mr. Obama said he would intensify targeted airstrikes and assistance to local ground forces in Syria and Iraq, but it will take time to cripple the terrorist group. He dismissed critics who faulted his approach, accusing them of trying to profit politically from the episode.
“We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through,” Mr. Obama told reporters before heading to the Philippines and Malaysia for summit meetings there. He said he planned to intensify his current approach but not fundamentally alter it. “What I do not do is take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough or make me look tough.” Mr. Obama grew especially animated in rebuffing suggestions by some Republican presidential candidates, governors and lawmakers that the United States should block entry of Syrian refugees to prevent terrorists from slipping into the country.
“The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism; they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife,” Mr. Obama said. He added: “We do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.”
Without naming him, Mr. Obama singled out a comment by former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, one of the Republicans seeking to succeed him, for suggesting the United States focus special attention on Christian refugees. “That’s shameful,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not American. It’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.” Mr. Obama sounded weary and defensive as he repeatedly rejected criticism of his yearlong strategy in Syria and Iraq to combat the Islamic State, also called ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Wrapping up a whirlwind 48 hours of diplomacy in this Turkish resort community on the Mediterranean Sea, the president seemed frustrated by being second-guessed.
Pressed several times to explain his resistance to a broader war against the Islamic State, Mr. Obama twice chided reporters for asking the same question in slightly different ways.
Each time, he appeared to take pains to navigate a narrow path — expressing his personal outrage at the “terrible and sickening” Paris attacks by calling the Islamic State “the face of evil,” while at the same time standing firm on a strategy that he acknowledged will take time to produce the results sought by the public. Mr. Obama’s aides have been making that case on his behalf since the attacks on Friday. But Monday’s exchange with reporters was the first time the president directly confronted the criticism that his policies failed to stop the carnage in the city and it seemed to weigh on him.
Republicans quickly pounced on the remarks as defeatist. “With his excuse-laden and defensive press conference, President Obama removed any and all doubt that he lacks the resolve or a strategy to defeat and destroy ISIS,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Never before have I seen an American president project such weakness on the global stage.”
Mr. Obama said the United States did not receive any concrete indications in advance of the Paris attacks that could have provided early warning to prevent them. “There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves,” he said. He said there have been concerns about the danger of Islamic State attacks in the West for more than a year. But he added that “some of it is extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and there’s no clear timetable.”
Mr. Obama announced a new agreement between the United States and France to share more intelligence information, saying that new arrangement would “allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often.” He said the United States was seeking to persuade other allies to engage more deeply in the fight against the Islamic State, and he said the American effort to find more partners on the ground in Syria and Iraq was accelerating.
But he said large numbers of American troops on the ground would repeat what he sees as the mistake of the Iraq invasion of 2003 and would not help solve the terrorism problem around the globe.
“That would be a mistake, not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before,” Mr. Obama said. Victory over terrorist groups, he said, requires local populations to push back “unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.” Moreover, he added that sending large-scale ground forces into Syria would set an untenable precedent. “Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria,” he said. “What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else in North Africa or in Southeast Asia?”
Mr. Obama rejected the idea that the administration had underestimated the capabilities of the Islamic State, saying that the group’s attacks have not been particularly sophisticated.
“If you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weaponry that they possess. But it is the ideology they carry with them and their willingness to die.” And he insisted that he has not shown any hesitation to act militarily, citing his approval of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and his first-term decision to send tens of thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan. But he said he would not be pressured into “posing” as a tough president by doing things that will not make the situation better to satisfy his critics.
“Some of them seem to think that if I was just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference,” he said. “Because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough.”

Video - Canada to pull out of Islamic State bombing mission

Video - ISIS financed from 40 countries, including G20 members – Putin (FULL SPEECH)

Israeli ambassador to Washington: Confront ISIS in Syria or face consequences in Europe, US

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer links Paris attacks to the terror that Israel has been combating from Palestinian adversaries like Hamas.

  If Islamic State terror is not confronted in Syria, the spillover into Europe will continue and could reach the United States, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said Monday.
Referring to the terror attacks in Paris over the weekend, Dermer said, “I’m sure that President Obama and President Hollande are thinking very clearly what they have to do now because this is a pretty dramatic attack and it may be the first of many attacks that are coming. And there’s no question that the United States, France and its allies have the power to defeat this. I think they just have to have the will and the right strategy to do it.” 

In his comments to reporters after addressing the fourth annual gathering of the Birthright Israel Foundation in Atlanta, Dermer said that Israel had offered France full cooperation in sharing its information on the terror infrastructure in Syria.

“We have very good relations with the French intelligence agencies just as we do with US intelligence agencies. And we told France that we’ll give them any help that they need. We have pretty good information about things relating to Syria because it’s a country that borders us – so anything we can do to help France to defend itself against these attacks we are doing and we will continue to do,” he said.

Dermer linked the Paris attacks to the terror that Israel has been combating from Palestinian adversaries like Hamas.

“What is Israel is facing when its citizens are stabbed or its buses blown up or rockets are fired at its cities, is the same thing that they faced in Paris,” he said, adding that ISIS, al-Qaida, Iran and Hamas are all “fired by the same sort of fanaticism.”

“It’s very important for the world to unite, and I hope that in the wake of these heinous and outrageous attacks [in Paris] that you’ll see people support Israel more in its fight against these Islamist militants – because our fight is essentially their fight.”

On Sunday, Dermer spoke at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. presided. He told the congregants that one of King’s lessons was that nothing justifies terrorism and the deliberate targeting of the innocent.

“When it comes to terror against my country, the world often forgets that lesson. When our buses are blown up, our cities are rocketed, and our citizens are stabbed, we hear leaders and diplomats around the world condemn the violence and then in the same breath make excuses for it. You have to understand, they tell us, the reason why these attacks are happening is because of the occupation or because there’s no peace process or because the Palestinians don’t have a state.”

He added that the Palestinians’ goal for decades has not been to establish a Palestinian state, but to destroy the Jewish state. And he concluded by saying that the hope for peace is that young Palestinians will emerge who dream of being their people’s Martin Luther King.

Can France’s daring move eradicate IS?

After the brutal terror attacks in Paris, France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called for the "dissolution of mosques where hate is preached." Earlier this year, French authorities said "Foreign preachers of hate will be deported [and their mosques] will be shut down." The reiteration is taken by many as a renewed demonstration of France's tough response to the attacks.

The tougher the stance France shows, the more embrace it will get from the public. Likewise, after the September 11 attacks, the US Congress rapidly passed a bill to launch war in Afghanistan and later, the ousting of Saddam Hussein won bipartisan advocacy. But reality shows that after attacks, the agitated Western society tends to overestimate the effects of fierce retaliation and underrate the complexity of the origins of terrorism.

Closing mosques where hatred is preached may be interpreted by Muslims in a way France doesn't mean. Frankly speaking, the French government is daring enough to take such a measure and it faces a smaller risk of public opposition than if China and Russia did the same. Countries with which the West has biased opinions have to consider the response from Muslims and primarily criticism from Western opinion. 

France's air strikes against the Islamic State (IS) with its Western allies can have some effects, but the IS cannot be uprooted unless the West sends large-scale ground forces or fully supports the Assad regime to fight them.  

Even if the IS could be largely crushed, it doesn't make much difference. In the Middle East, there are no political strongmen any more, and its political and social structures have been shattered. Built up by extreme forces taking advantage of the rift, the example of the IS can be repeated easily. 

More importantly, the West's bombs can destroy the encampments and ammunition depots, but cannot deal with attire like veils. Nor can the West prevent children from being sent to extreme religious schools or grapple with conservative Islam. 

Until now, Osama bin Laden is still deemed by many in the Arabic world as a positive figure fighting the West, which reflects the limitation of the war on terrorism.

Terrorism that originates in the Middle East has been embedded with unbelievable hatred. The West has no measures to counter it, nor can it form a consistent organization to take action. The West has been depressed by the consequences of the Arab Spring.

In the Islamic world, there is no figure or power of authority to advance the regional reforms, and apparently the vacancy cannot be filled from the outside. The Islamic world may be in pressing need of examples where some of its countries completely modernize so as to bring some inspiration.

But such a plan is not realistic in the current situation. In this sense, much of the West's drastic rhetoric only works to show their emotions with problems remaining unsolved. It is merely a response to public opinion.

Video - Fight against terrorism a "key theme" at G20 - Putin

Paris attacks: Islamic State rips the veil of civilization


There are few things as horrifying as a merciless fanatic willing to commit any conceivable atrocity for the sake of his religion. Nationalism, political beliefs or pure criminality can drive people to engage in extreme violence and cruelty, but religious zealotry adds a peculiar righteous frenzy that seems more difficult to counter because it is, literally, otherworldly.

As I watched the Democratic presidential debate Saturday and heard the candidates lay out what they would do to defeat Islamic State in the wake of the horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris, I was not reassured. Bernie SandersHillary Rodham Clinton and Martin O’Malley each offered conventional ideas about how to combat Islamic State, but none was especially convincing — not that the Republican candidates are any better. In a meandering interview on Fox News, the GOP’s current front-runner, Ben Carson, was unable to actually name a country he would call on to help in the fight against Islamic State. The rest of the Republican pack has offered only variations of what the Democrats prescribe: airstrikes and some sort of uncertain alliance of Americans, Europeans and Arabs that would take the fight to the murderous fanatics in Iraq and Syria.

But what if conventional arms and conquest of territory are not enough to do the job? With Islamic State and the other Muslim extremist groups, the civilized world faces an enemy that seems unlike those of the last century. The Nazis were evil usurpers who governed a civilized country gone mad. It took a world war to bring them down, but it was a conventional fight ending in an occupation that was able to bring the German people back to their senses. Soviet Communism was a system that could be challenged on many fronts and contained because the men who ruled in Moscow were rational human beings who wanted to live as much as anyone else.
The jihadis of Islamic State, though, are eager to die for their god. Their religious authorities and, in particular, their leader, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, have laid out a vision of an apocalyptic confrontation pitting the forces of the infidel West against an army of "true" Muslims that will bring them total and final triumph. A steady stream of recruits has been drawn in by this ominous fairytale. The grand delusion has been especially luring to  gullible youths in the scattered Muslim communities of Europe. Callow teenagers and 20-somethings have morphed into vicious killers.
Over the weekend, a CNN report showed a troop of young Islamic State fighters, all from France, celebrating the Paris attacks by burning their French passports. One of the militants, speaking in French, pledged his “animosity and hatred until you believe in Allah alone.” Another called on the 5 million young Muslims in France to engage in more attacks. “Defend your religion where you are,” he said. “Kill them with knives. At the very least, strike them in the face. To all my brothers in France, I say to them: Start carrying out individual attacks. Be wolves on the earth.”
This is the dilemma facing European and American leaders: Will “taking the fight” to Islamic State in the territories the group now holds fix the problem? Or will it simply inspire a legion of new terrorists to join the battle in other places, such as Paris, London, Brussels, Rome, New York and Los Angeles? Chances are, the answer is the latter. Yet, how can civilized people not fight these militants wherever their deadly fanaticism arises?
There is no easy way out of this. Surrender is not an option in the war that Islamic State has declared against rational, modern societies. As yet, though, the wisest path to victory is not at all clear and any presidential candidate who claims to know a simple way forward is selling bluster, not the hard truth.

Analysis: Paris highlights Clinton's foreign policy record

How the West should respond to the threat posed by the Islamic State in the wake of the attacks in Paris appears likely to become the dominant question of the next phase of the 2016 race for president, perhaps for no one more than Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The attacks that killed 129 people, fueling a fresh wave of anxiety about the threats posed by Islamic State militants, highlight Clinton’s tenure as a former secretary of state and her argument that she is the 2016 candidate most ready to sit in the Oval Office. But in her role as President Barack Obama’s top diplomat, Clinton was deeply involved in crafting the Middle East policy that critics say contributed to the rise of Islamic State extremists.
That dual dynamic played out Saturday night during the second Democratic presidential debate, which began with a moment of silence and 30 minutes of questioning focused exclusively on the attacks and unrest in the Middle East.
Clinton cast herself as a strong leader in a scary world, attributing the chaos in the Middle East not to U.S. policy failures but a decades-long “arc of instability, from North Africa to Afghanistan.” Yet she also grappled with tough criticism of her approach to more than a decade of unrest across the region.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders blamed her 2002 vote for the war in Iraq for the rise of al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, saying the decision to invade “unraveled the region completely.” Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley offered his own condemnation, painting a picture of a world in flames and an Obama-led strategy that’s been “not so very good at anticipating threats.”
“Libya is now a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess,” he said.
While Clinton has highlighted her differences with the Obama administration on their approach to the civil war in Syria in the past, she now largely declines to criticize his strategy.
After using her opening statement to make the point that the Islamic State group “cannot be contained, it must be defeated"— a dig at Obama’s description of the group as “contained” in an interview a day before the attacks — Clinton was quick to align herself with administration policy.
She passed up opportunities to mention her support for a more aggressive strategy in Syria that includes a no-fly zone, a policy backed by her Republican rivals and opposed by the Obama administration. Disputing a charge the White House repeated the mistakes of the war in Iraq in Libya, she argued the administration had a plan for the ousting of Moammar Gadhafi. And she supported the White House’s argument that the president does not need a formal declaration of war from Congress to go after the Islamic State militants, disagreeing with some prominent congressional Democrats who’ve split with Obama over whether his constitutional powers cover the new conflict.
When asked whether Obama underestimated the threat of Islamic State militants, she dodged the question, saying simply, “what the president has consistently said, which I agree with, is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS.”
Obama remains a popular figure in the Democratic Party and Clinton’s ability to capture the White House will depend in large part on whether she can win over the coalition of minority, women and young voters that twice catapulted him to victory.
But his foreign policy remains deeply unpopular. An Associated Press-GfK poll released earlier this month found more than 6 in 10 Americans reject his handling of the threat posed by the Islamic State. Republicans are eager to tie Clinton to the legacy of her former boss.
“The president has admitted he does not have a strategy as it relates to ISIS. Hillary Clinton last night said that it’s not our fight,” said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in a Sunday morning interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ‘‘It is our fight.”
They jumped on her refusal, like Obama, to label the efforts to fight terrorism as a war against “radical Islam,” a rhetorical choice Republicans frequently cite as a sign of weakness.
“That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis, because we were afraid to offend some Germans who may have been members of the Nazi Party but weren’t violent themselves,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week.”
Republicans are in for their own reshuffling in the wake of the attack. For months, GOP primary voters have favored outsider candidates with little public policy experience, most notably billionaire businessman Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. New worries about future attacks may prompt them to reassess the field.
There’s little question the West will take a more aggressive stance against the Islamic State group, a shift described by White House national security adviser Ben Rhodes as an “intensification of our efforts” and by a stunned French President Francois Hollande as being “unforgiving with the barbarians.”
But a lot remains unknown about the exact diplomatic and military actions Obama, Hollande and their allies will take. What’s clear, though, is that Clinton — and the rest of the presidential field — will have to answer for them.

Gov. Cuomo to appear with Hillary Clinton at gun control dinner


Here is an expanded version of the lead item from my "Albany Insider" column from Monday's editions:
Gov. Cuomo is set to make a joint appearance with Hillary Clinton Thursday night at a pro-gun control gala in the city.
Cuomo will help introduce Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, when she receives a “leadership” award named after his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, at a Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence dinner at Cipriani on Broadway.
"Hillary Clinton has spent decades taking on the gun lobby and fighting in Washington for sensible gun control,” Cuomo told the Daily News. “This is a battle to save lives and I'm proud to help in any way I can."
For the governor, the event is a political twofer, giving him play at a public event with Clinton on a gun control issue he has used to raise his own national profile since the state passed the tough SAFE Act in 2013 in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
More recently, after the random shooting death of one of his aides in September and a mass shooting at an Oregon community college, Cuomo called on Congress to pass a federal gun control law and urged the presidential candidates to make the issue a priority during the 2016 campaign.
Several times in recent weeks he also has attacked Clinton’s closest Democratic primary rival, US Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, for his vote to back a bill that granted gun manufacturers immunity from lawsuits.
Cuomo, who served as federal housing secretary in President Bill Clinton’s administration, endorsed Hillary Clinton, the former New York US senator, on the day in April when she announced formally she was running.
A spokesman for the Brady Campaign didn't say why the group has named a new award after Mario Cuomo, though it comes only weeks after the New York Times reported that Gov. Cuomo would be doing more publicly to help the Brady Campaign
As for why the organization is honoring Clinton, Brady Campaign President Dan Gross  said in a statement that "throughout her career as a public servant, Hillary Clinton has repeatedly put the safety of the American people above the influence and interests of the corporate gun lobby. She serves as an example for all policymakers who truly want to serve the constituencies they are elected to represent. Mrs. Clinton was there when the historic Brady Law was signed by President Bill Clinton and she has demonstrated a clear commitment in support of our efforts to ‘finish the job’ and expand those lifesaving Brady background checks to all gun sales.”

Could Saudi Arabia or Qatar Be Behind the Crash of the Russian Airbus?

On October 31, Russian Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 passengers and crew on board. Two weeks have since passed, and some Russian experts are now coming to suspect that the crash may indeed have been an act of terror, and that the trace leads to the Gulf.

''Commenting on the theory that the plane may have been downed by terrorists, Russian business and analysis magazine Expert noted that such a theory "poses serious foreign policy implications. It is absolutely clear that Russia cannot simply passively swallow such a bitter pill, and that its next steps in the complex game in the Middle East must take account of a new kind of threat."

 The magazine's analysis, published as an editorial in its Monday print edition, suggests that "if the version suggesting terrorism is definitively confirmed (and the facts in favor of this theory are mounting), first and foremost it will be necessary to understand what forces may stand behind the direct perpetrators from among the Egyptian wing of the Islamic State."

"The first version," Expert notes, "is that Qatar, a country which supports ISIL, may be responsible. The emirate does have a very tense relationship with Moscow, and the parties regularly exchange insults and threats, including over Syria. Moscow's actions there are contrary to the interests of Qatar's powerful Minister of Foreign Affairs –Khalid bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, and undermine his authority in his own country."

"However," according to the magazine, "in this case, it appears unlikely to be the work of the emirate. The days of the emirate's disproportionate ambitions sank into oblivion along with the former emir, and now the ultimate goal of Qatar's authorities seems to be to maneuver between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It seems unlikely that the emirate would risk the consequences of blowing up a Russian plane."

"The Saudis on the other hand, have had every reason to lash out at the Kremlin," Expert notes. "Having begun an operation in Syria and managing to coordinate it with the Americans, Moscow did not just muddle all of Riyadh's cards in the Syrian war — it put Saudi Arabia in a desperate situation."

"If Russia cannot be convinced to immediately leave Assad in the lurch, Saudi Arabia is guaranteed to lose the Syrian hand and, as a consequence, will be defeated in its proxy war with Iran," Expert notes. "And it is unclear just how Riyadh's allies in the anti-Iranian struggle in the Gulf will react to such a defeat –it is unlikely that they will view it as simply an unpleasant embarrassment."

Expert admits that "this version has one major drawback: ISIL is not a Saudi project. However, the Middle East knows many examples of effective cooperation between the Kingdom and the self-declared caliphate. For example, in Yemen, the Saudis are fighting against pro-Iranian Huthis hand in hand with the local branch of ISIL –Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

"If it turns out that Saudi Arabia really is behind the attack on the Russian plane, Russia will have a number of options at its disposal. The first and most obvious is to begin an open military conflict with Riyadh; this is the most unreasonable option. The Americans have the Saudis' back, and are destined to support the Kingdom [in the event of war]. As a result, Moscow would not only be unable to achieve its goals, but also risk destroying a shaky compromise with Washington on Syria."

"But there is another possibility," Expert suggests, "via the Houthis. And Russia would not even have to supply them with weapons (the Iranians have already successfully done so). It would be enough simply to provide them with political support, and to protect them from possible sanctions."

In his own analysis of the crash, published in online analysis resource Svobodnaya Pressa, Yevgeny Satanovsky, a well-known Middle East expert, respectfully disagreed with Expert's analysis, suggesting that it the "Qatari trace which must be sought in the tragedy on the Sinai."

"In the first place," Satanovsky noted, "cash is capable of opening any door in Egypt. Secondly, Qatar is now experience a very poorly concealed sense of hostility toward Russia." 

Noting that Foreign Minister Al Attiyah "actually runs the emirate today," the analyst explained that "the war in Syria is treated by the foreign minister as a business. Al Attiyah has invested billions of dollars into this business, and if the plan to overthrow Bashar Assad fails, he stands to lose his position among Qatar's ruling elite."

"Specifically," Satanovsky explained, "Al Attiyah is the sponsor of a number of terrorist groups in Syria which have been bombed by Russian military aircraft. Yes, even the infamous Islamic State is largely a toy of the Qataris. Moreover, it is Qatar which funds all the terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula. It's simply worth recalling Qatar's use of the Muslim Brotherhood to undermine the Egyptian government, and the Brotherhood's defeat by Egyptian authorities in 2013."

In the case of the downed Russian Airbus, Satanovsky noted that "in my opinion, we really are dealing with a terrorist attack, one which could be easily organized by the Qataris. In the place of the security services, I would attempt to sniff out the Qatari trace in the airport at Sharm el-Sheikh. And if traces of explosives are found on the wreckage of the airliner, it will be necessary to look in the direction of Minister Al Attiyah, and those terrorist groups in Sinai which he finances and organizes."

Ultimately, the expert suggests that if it is a terror attack, it is worth noting that this is exactly how the Qataris would target Russia. "Organizing terrorist attacks in Russia is not their forte –but rather that of the Saudis' General Intelligence service, so long as the latter was led by Prince Bandar bin Sultan [who was dismissed April 2014]. Now the Saudis have quieted down, and have their own, separate interests in Egypt. Therefore, I have no reason to suspect their involvement in the Airbus crash."

In any case, if the theory that the Russian plane was downed by a terror attack turns out to be true, and the trace does lead to any third power, rest assured that there will be hell to pay for those responsible. 

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