This week in terrorism history: Nov. 13-19

French fire brigade members tend to victims of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris, Nov. 13, 2015.
French fire brigade members tend to survivors of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris, Nov. 13, 2015. Nearly 100 were killed.

 

It is impossible to know right now what the election of Donald Trump to the White House will mean for US terrorism policy, but one thing is already certain. His victory at the polls has been hailed by al Qaeda propagandists as a blow to Western democracy and a step on the road to America’s ruin.

The Lebanese news site Now Media rounded up some of those reactions here. ISIS-affiliated jihadis also applauded the last week’s presidential election:

Islamic State jihadis have hailed the victory of Donald Trump while claiming the billionaire “fool” will ruin America himself allowing terror groups to take control of the country.

The Republican was branded a “donkey” by militants who warned his election is “an indication of the end of the American empire”.

 “It is either them or us. We ask Allah to make their destruction caused by their own plans and their death come among themselves.”The world is going to experience a change and this change will put Islam in the leadership position as the end result.”

One ISIS jihadi said: “What we want is their country be delivered to a donkey like Trump who will destroy it.

“In the end, they are all our enemies and we will only meet them on the battlefields.

Now on to this today’s look back at the week in terrorism history.

  • Nov. 13, 2005 — France: A series of attacks in and around Paris, most prominently at the Bataclan theater, kill 129 and injure more than 400. ISIS claims responsibility.
  • Nov. 14, 1991 — United Kingdom: The Ulster Volunteer Force kills two Catholics and a Protestant in an attack near Lurgan, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, as the three were returning home from work. The UVF later apologized for killing the Protestant.
  • Nov. 15, 1983 — Greece: A US Navy officer is killed in Athens by the 17 November organization.
  • Nov. 16, 1970 — United Kingdom: The Irish Republican Army kills two men in Northern Ireland, accusing them of involvement in “anti-social” behavior. This was the first time the IRA killed anyone alleged to have been involved in criminality.
  • Nov. 17, 1997 — Egypt: Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya attack at the Temple of Hatsheput in Luxor kills 71, mostly foreign tourists.
  • Nov. 18, 2000 — Philippines: Car bomb explodes in Carmen, killing one and wounding two; grenade attack wounds three more in Isulan. Moro Islamic Liberation Front is suspected of responsibility.
  • Nov. 19, 1995 — Pakistan: Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad is bombed by Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Seven things (revisited)

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Almost exactly a year ago (July 9, 2015 to be precise), I posted a little piece called “Seven things I want to believe.” These weren’t predictions, per se, more like short observations, hopes, and expectations.

Even so, I thought it was worth it to look back and see how these panned out. In case you don’t want to read any further, here’s the short take:

I got some right (Clinton-Sanders and the Iran nuclear deal), I got some incredibly wrong (Trump and the Grateful Dead), some partly right but wrong in tragic ways (Confederate flag and dialogue on race, ISIS sympathizers and domestic terrorism), and one (Han Solo origin pic) where it’s too soon to tell but the signs are promising.

On to the original list, with an update for each.

1) Republican voters are not so completely alienated from the political process that they will actually cast their ballots for Donald Trump.

Wow, did I get that one wrong. It’s some comfort knowing that virtually everyone else got it wrong too, but still. Come next week the billionaire (maybe) blowhard (definitely) with authoritarian tendencies will officially go from presumptive to official Republican nominee for the White House. Who saw that coming a year ago? I sure didn’t.

2) The chances of reaching a deal with Iran on its nuclear ambitions are better than 50/50.

This one did pan out, despite intense political opposition in Congress. But in the end, Iran agreed to terms, it’s nuclear weapons program has been almost completely dismantled, most economic sanctions have been lifted, and the way is clear for the country to re-enter the international community.

It also represents an impressive diplomatic victory for Obama’s legacy which will make the US safer and the region more stable. Assuming some psycho blowhard doesn’t become the next president and tear the thing up.

3) Removing the Confederate battle flag from the lawn of the South Carolina statehouse will be the start of a meaningful national dialogue on race.

We’re having dialogue, that’s for sure. But black men are still dying at the hands of police, protests are still roiling American cities in ways reminiscent of the late 1960s, and racial politics still seem paralyzed. And we still have Rudy Giuliani.

4) The Grateful Dead are done.

Dear God, they’re actually on tour. Well, at least the creaky remnants.

5) Bernie Sanders will force Hillary Clinton to actually compete for the Democratic nomination.

Nailed this one. Not only did Clinton have to compete, she had to compete all the way into June before locking up the nomination. Sanders has dragged his feet on endorsing Clinton for the last month, trying to use every last ounce of the influence he won during the primaries to try to push her and the Democratic Party as far to the progressive left as possible.

And it has worked. Clinton has embraced a number of the proposals he championed, like a $15 national minimum wage and free (public) college education. Tomorrow Sanders and Clinton hit the campaign trail together.

6) FBI arrests of supposed ISIS sympathizers actually foiled July 4th terror plots.

Who knows if they did or didn’t. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. After all, we still got San Bernardino and Orlando. Given the nature of domestic terrorism and patterns of radicalization, we would be foolish to assume that those will be the last.

7) The Han Solo origin movie will be awesome.

This one is too soon to call. But based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the trailers for the upcoming Rogue One, I am more than cautiously optimistic.

Hell, I’m downright giddy.

I read Ben Carson’s plan to defeat global jihad so you don’t have to

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson attends a 'Building the New Puerto Rico' event in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, November 8, 2015. Carson said he supports Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state in Fajardo on Sunday. REUTERS/Alvin Baez - RTS61WA
That’s how I feel about it too.

Thanks to the miracle of social media I learned today that Ben Carson has rolled out a “comprehensive plan” to defeat ISIS and rid the world of the scourge of ISIS and global Islamic jihad once and for all. Given that foreign policy is widely considered Carson’s weakest of weak points, I figured I would give it a read to see if he’s stepped up his game any.

Yeah, not so much.

I could go through it all for you (all six pages, two of which are full-page portraits of the humble doctor), picking each bit apart and showing that his ideas are: 1) impossibly vague; 2) uninformed by any knowledge of the region, its history, or cultures; 3) disconnected from any understanding of military strategy or actual diplomacy; 4) vows to do what the Obama administration is already doing; 5) empty platitudes; or 6) some combination of all of the above.

Why though? If you’re inclined to vote for him for president because he seems to be a nice guy who isn’t tainted by politics then nothing I write here is going to change your mind. You’re also highly unlikely to be reading my blog …

If you care about having a serious debate about American foreign, the unseriousness of Carson’s big strategy reveal will just frustrate and annoy you.

But if the masochist in you wants to check it out to take in the sheer audacity of its badness, then by all means, click away.

Congress and the art of the empty gesture

Mitch McConnell has introduced a measure authorizing the use of force against ISIS.
Mitch McConnell has introduced a measure authorizing the use of force against ISIS. No, he really did.

 

Congress may, just may, finally take up a joint resolution authorizing President Obama to use military force against ISIS.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quietly introduced just such a measure on Wednesday, and with so little fanfare that the move surprised even his own colleagues:

When the National Journal asked Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn to comment on the fact that McConnell had introduced the resolution, he replied, “He did?”

Here’s the text of the operative part of the proposed authorization. The full resolution can be read here:

The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force in order to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, its associated forces, organizations, and persons, and any successor organizations.

But look what’s missing here:

  • There’s no expiration date for the authorization.
  • There are no imposed geographical limitations in terms of authorized theater of operations.
  • There’s no limitations imposed in terms of states, groups, or individuals who can be targeted militarily.
  • And most importantly, there are no limits placed on the extent of military force that the president can employ, including as many American “boots-on-the-ground” as this, or any future president, thinks is necessary.

In short, under the McConnell proposal, this president, and his successors, will be authorized to use any level of force, anywhere in the world, for as long as he or she wants, so long as a link to ISIS can be asserted. It’s the 9/11 authorization all over again, just with the names changed.

As I wrote back in November, up until now the Obama Administration had been relying on that post-9/11 authorization to use force against Al Qaeda for the legal authority to drop bombs on ISIS and to assist local forces in Iraq and Syria, including with special forces units. And Congress, until now, had shown no appetite for putting itself on the hook by giving the president a new authorization, despite Obama’s explicit request for one back in February 2015.

So this new measure is a step in the right direction in terms of assigning real responsibility for policy toward ISIS and creating a framework of accountability for its outcome. All of which is why its not likely to make any real difference.

Because one thing that we have long known is that Congress really doesn’t like having to answer for military operations. If they authorize something and it goes disastrously wrong they don’t want the blame. If they tie the president’s hands by refusing to authorize and something catastrophic happens later, they don’t want to have to explain that either.

Congress wants to be able to hold presidents accountable for how they use military force, but doesn’t want to take responsibility itself. From Congress’ perspective it’s just easier, and safer, to let the president go his own way so that they can cheerlead or snipe as they see fit and as the political winds blow.

So it is unsurprising that McConnell, having introduced a joint resolution, seems in absolutely no hurry to schedule a vote. The Atlantic report cited at the top of this post sums the situation up nicely:

The president’s undeclared war on ISIS puts Republicans in an awkward spot. GOP leaders don’t want to look as though they have ceded authority, a perception Republicans risk if they fail to act as a check on the administration’s power to deploy military force. But if Congress does authorize military force, such an action might be construed as a stamp of approval for the president’s broader foreign-policy objectives, making it harder for the GOP to credibly level criticism against the administration as it fights the Islamic State.

For now, McConnell can point to the resolution as evidence that Republicans are working to hold the president accountable, and perhaps convince the administration to take a harder-line in the fight against ISIS. The measure also gives the majority leader a chance to paint a picture of a more assertive brand of Republican foreign policy compared to a more constrained approach from the administration.