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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Merkel, While Refusing to Halt Migrant Influx, Works to Limit It

From The New York Times:

BERLIN — With as many as one million refugees having arrived in Germany this year, Chancellor Angela Merkel has found herself increasingly isolated in Europe and markedly less popular at home than she was during the crisis over the euro this spring.

So far, she has rejected all requests — the loudest from her own conservative bloc — to limit the influx of newcomers. Even as Germany runs short of physical shelter, she argues that it is both uncharitable and physically unworkable to halt the human flow into a country with thousands of miles of land borders and a post-Nazi obligation to liberally offer asylum.
Yet what she and other European leaders have quietly done over recent weeks is tighten asylum policy, restrict family reunions for refugees and mount campaigns to keep people from setting out for Europe. Balkan nations on the migrant trail that leads north from Turkey and Greece to Germany and Sweden have been encouraged to bar all but Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees.
The new policy of steering or reducing the human flow culminates in a summit meeting of the 28-nation European Union with Turkey on Sunday. A measure of Ms. Merkel’s need to ease the refugee burden is that European leaders called the meeting in Brussels despite the terror alerts in that city after the deadly attacks in Paris on Nov. 13.
In exchange for better patrolling its Aegean coastline with Greece and cracking down on human smuggling, Turkey seeks three billion euros, about $3.2 billion, to help care for the 2.2 million mostly Syrian refugees it now houses. In addition, Europe is likely to pursue stalled negotiations on Turkish membership in the European Union and extend visa-free travel to many Turks.
Ms. Merkel used to oppose European Union membership for Turkey, and Europe has had many misgivings about human rights under Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But the expected agreement with Turkey — still being haggled over — is a measure of Ms. Merkel’s pursuit of pragmatic goals no matter how contradictory her policy appears.
“They urgently need Turkey, and without Turkey, they cannot possibly reduce the pressure on their borders,” said Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe, a think tank in Brussels. Germany and the European Union are “playing nice” with Mr. Erdogan, Mr. Techau said, “when they pretty much all disdain him. It is an enormous political compromise. It is not pretty at all. But in the end, there really is not much else left.”
Ms. Merkel has also shifted on the refugee issue, said Daniela Schwarzer, director of the Europe program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“Definitely, she is changing the very liberal and nonconditional stance that she took in the summer, when she said we will take in the Syrians, we need to,” Dr. Schwarzer said. “The rhetoric has changed.”
Beyond the shortage of physical shelter and needing to use volunteers to provide refugee care that was once regarded as a state task, Ms. Merkel is keenly aware not just of the slide in her approval ratings — from 75 percent last spring to about 50 percent now — but also of the rise of the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party.

The party now regularly polls above the 5 percent hurdle any party must clear to get into state or federal parliaments. In eastern Germany, the anti-Islam Pegida movement, once fading from view, draws thousands to weekly marches in Dresden.
Ms. Merkel’s stance on refugees has scrambled German politics. Leftists who have criticized her last week praised her steadfastness in sheltering the needy. In a speech to Parliament, the chancellor said that it would be a “gigantic mistake,” and that history would not forgive Germans, if they gave up on the refugee crisis after just a few months.
Conservatives have called ever louder for a limit, and — less publicly — muttered about replacing Ms. Merkel, who just completed a decade in power.
Yet there are few if any alternatives, and there is little sign so far that Ms. Merkel will face much overt hostility at the December congress of her Christian Democratic party, after a public scolding from her conservative Bavarian partner at his party’s congress in Munich this month.
Even after the Paris attacks, older Germans in particular fear a shift to the right in their country more than Islamist terrorism, from which they have so far been spared a large attack.
“My great fear is that there is a big lurch rightwards,” said Dietrich Roth, 63, a retired official from Aachen who was in Berlin to attend a seminar. Another attendee, Dieter Wittig, 74, of Cologne, noted — as many Germans currently do — that the country “is split into two camps.” One camp, susceptible to rightist scaremongers, already fears “that the influx is not stopping, and that millions more are just sitting on packed suitcases,” he said.
A greater influx would most likely strengthen nationalist and populist tendencies in countries like Poland and France, Germany’s most important neighbors.
In France, the National Front of Marine Le Pen is likely to do well in regional elections in December. Poland has already elected a conservative government, which has broken its predecessor’s promises of accepting a few thousand refugees, Dr. Schwarzer said.
An agreement to distribute 160,000 refugees among European Union countries is foundering, although Ms. Merkel has repeatedly cast it as essential.
This week, what has become a familiar ploy played out. Ms. Merkel rejected quotas for refugees. A day later, her interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, contradicted her, telling the Austrian daily Der Standard that Europe should set an annual intake per country and bar new entries once those quotas were met.
Mr. de Maizière’s suggestion “is clearly a way to introduce the notion of upper limits,” without appearing to cave to Bavaria, Dr. Schwarzer said.
Consensus will become ever more vital as Europe wrestles with the multiple challenges of refugees, Islamist terror and war in Syria and Ukraine. Germany, still wary of military engagement abroad, took almost two weeks after the Paris attacks to offer air surveillance, a frigate and refueling aircraft for the French assault on the Islamic State, Dr. Schwarzer said.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

How Many Refugees the U.S. Takes In and Where They Go - This year’s number would include 10,000 Syrians

From TheWall Street Journal:
The U.S. government accepts thousands of refugees each year and provides cash, medical and rental assistance to them through nine nonprofit resettlement agencies.

The number of refugees accepted, which is set annually by the president, reached a peak of 142,000 during the Balkan wars in 1993.

It was 80,000 between 2008 and 2011, dropped to 76,000 in 2012 and has been at 70,000 since 2013.

This fiscal year, the U.S. plans to accept 85,000, including 10,000 Syrians. That is a fraction of the more than four million Syrians displaced by war since 2011.

Most refugees are referred to the U.S. by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The screening process—involving the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the State Department and Defense Department—is more rigorous than that for the millions of foreign visitors and thousands of foreign students who come to the U.S. each year, advocates say.

For Syrians, the vetting period on average has taken 18 to 24 months.

Since October 2011, California has received the most Syrian refugees, 257, followed by Texas, with 240, and Michigan, with 210, according to the State Department.

Resettlement agencies place the arrivals in clusters in areas where the cost of living is low and jobs are available, or where they already have family.

“All Syrian refugees who do have ties in the U.S. are placed with their tie,” said Lindsey Sharp, associate director of resettlement for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

However, most Syrians who have arrived so far don’t have relatives in the U.S., agencies said. Still, some of these newcomers are happy to be safe in the U.S. and are working to adjust to life in a new country.

Ramez Aldarwish, 37 years old, arrived with his wife, Nor, and their two young children in New Haven, Conn., in August.

In Syria, gunfire and rocket attacks were erupting at night, leaving the family in a state of terror, Mr. Aldarwish said.

“They were bombing people, innocent people, women, children and kids,” he said.

Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services in New Haven helps secure benefits for the family, but that assistance eventually will end.

Mr. Aldarwish, who only speaks Arabic, was concerned about finding work, but he recently got a part-time job as a butcher.

While he is still concerned about supporting his family in America, he has faith.

“We depend on God,” Mr. Aldarwish said. “God will help.”

Americans are increasingly skeptical of Muslims. But most Americans don’t talk to Muslims

From The Washington Post:

Americans are more skeptical than ever of how Islam squares with their values and way of life -- and yet very few Americans actually seem to interact with Muslims at all.

Those are findings from separate surveys from the Public Religion Research Institute that suggest that how Americans perceive Muslims is tied more to headlines than personal experiences. The nonprofit just release its annual American Values Survey, which found that Americans' perceptions of Islam have turned "sharply negative over the past few years."

A majority of Americans (56 percent) say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life -- an uptick in recent years.

(PRRI has asked this question four times since 2010, according to polling archives. Their most recent survey was conducted in September and early October, before the Paris attacks and before GOP presidential candidates amped up their rhetoric when it comes to Islam and terrorism.)

But Robert Jones, the founder and CEO of PRRI, pointed out in an interview that aired Sunday with public radio news magazine Interfaith Voices that Americans are basing those opinions largely on people they don't interact with.

"Muslims make up only about 1 percent of the U.S. population," he told host Maureen Fiedler, "and they're also heavily concentrated in just a few cities around the country."

Before 9/11 in fact, Jones said, most Americans hadn't really thought much about Islam.

That's changed, of course. At first Americans gave Muslims what Jones called a kind of "grace period," largely thanks to President George W. Bush emphatically declaring America is not at war with Islam (a point Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton likes to make but Republican candidates have disagreed with).

But as the years in the war on terror dragged on, Americans' perceptions have soured about a culture and religion they still remain largely separate from.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Noonan: Uncertain Leadership in Perilous Times

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes—

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs—

In the days after Paris Emily Dickinson’s poem kept ringing through my mind as I tried to figure out what I felt—and, surprisingly, didn’t feel. I did not, as the facts emerged and the story took its full size, feel surprised. Nor did I feel swept by emotion, as I had in the past. The sentimental tweeting of that great moment in “Casablanca” when they stand to sing “La Marseillaise” left me unmoved. I didn’t feel anger, really. I felt grave, as if something huge and terrible had shifted and come closer. Did you feel this too?

After the pain of previous terror incidents, from 9/11 straight through to Madrid 2004 (train bombings, 191 dead), London 2005 (suicide bombers, 52 dead) and Paris 10 months ago (shootings, 17 dead), the focus was always on the question: What will the leaders—the political and policy elite—think? This attack immediately carried a different question: What will the people think, Mr. and Mrs. Europe on the street, Mom and Pop watching in America? What are the thoughts and conclusions of normal people who are not blinkered by status, who can see things clear?

I feel certain that in the days after the attack people were thinking: This isn’t going to stop. These primitive, ferocious young men will not stop until we stop them. The question is how. That’s the only discussion.

Madrid and London took place during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and could be taken as responses to Western actions. The Charlie Hebdo massacre was in its way a story about radical Islamic antipathy to the rough Western culture of free speech. But last week’s Paris attack was different. It was about radical, violent Islam’s hatred of the West and desire to kill and terrorize its people. They will not be appeased; we won’t talk them out of it at a negotiating table or by pulling out of Iraq or staying out of Syria. They will have their caliphate, and they will hit Europe again, as they will surely hit us again, to get it.

So again, the only question: What to do?

On this issue the American president is, amazingly, barely relevant. The leaders and people of Europe and America will not be looking to him for wisdom, will, insight or resolve. No commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces can be wholly irrelevant, but to the extent one can be, Mr. Obama is. He has misjudged ISIS from the beginning—they were not, actually, the junior varsity—to the end. He claimed last week, to George Stephanopoulos, that ISIS has been “contained.” “I don’t think they’re gaining strength,” he said just before Paris blew.

After the attacks Mr. Obama went on TV, apparently to comfort us and remind us it’s OK, he’s in charge. He prattled on about violence being at odds with “universal values.” He proceeded as if unaware that there are no actually universal values, that right now the values of the West and radical Islam are clashing, violently, and we have to face it. The mainstream press saw right through him. At the news conference, CNN’s Jim Acosta referred to the “frustration” of “a lot of Americans,” who wonder: “Why can’t we take out these bastards?” The president sighed and talked down to him—to us. He has a strategy and it’s the right one and it’s sad you can’t see it.

Let him prattle on about climate change as the great threat of our time.

All he can do at this point is troll the GOP with the mischief of his refugee program. If he can’t work up a passion about radical Islamic violence, at least he can tie the Republicans in knots over whether they’re heartless bigots who want to prevent widows and children from taking refuge from the Syrian civil war.

This is a poor prioritizing of what faces us. The public is appropriately alarmed about exactly who we might be letting in. It would be easy, and commonsensical, to follow their prompting and pause the refugee program, figure out how to screen those seeking entrance more carefully, and let in only the peaceable. If that takes time, it takes time.

If Mr. Obama had wisdom as opposed to pride and a desire to smack around the GOP—a visit to Capitol Hill this week showed me he’s thinking a lot more about them than they are about him—he would recognize the refugee issue as a distraction from the most urgent priorities.

Those would include planning for and agreeing on how to deal with both the reality and the aftermath of a parade of possible horribles on which we should once again concentrate—anything from shootings in Times Square to suicide bombings in Washington to a biological device in, say, Greeley, Colo. It would include planning for any military activity that might likely follow such an event or events.

If what we are experiencing now results in an epic collision, are we ready?

Deeper attention now will go to candidates for the presidency. Hillary Clinton Thursday delivered a speech on her strategy to face the current crisis; it sounded a lot like Mr. Obama’s strategy, whatever that is.

But Paris should have impact on the Republican debate that has cropped up the past month about defense policy. It’s been approached as a question of spending. That may quickly come to look like the wrong approach.

Exactly what is needed now in terms of America’s defense, what is needed to deal with a possible parade of horribles? What might be needed down the road? There is a possible grim short term, and a possible grim long term. Who is thinking all this through? Are they getting the resources they need?

The Director of the FBI, James Comey, doesn’t feel he has the manpower to do what needs to be done to find and track bad guys.

What’s going on with intelligence, what’s their need?

There will be powerful public support now for spending—wisely, discerningly—whatever is needed for the short term, and a possible long term.

Finally, continued travels through the country show me that people continue to miss Ronald Reagan’s strength and certitude. In interviews and question-and-answer sessions, people often refer to Reagan’s “optimism.” That was his power, they say—he was optimistic.

No, I say, that wasn’t his power and isn’t what you miss. Reagan’s power was that he was confident. He was confident that whatever the problem—the economy, the Soviets, the million others—he could meet it, the American people could meet it, and our system could meet it. The people saw his confidence, and it allowed them to feel optimistic. And get the job done.

What people hunger for now from their leaders is an air of shown and felt confidence: I can do this. We can do it.

Who will provide that? Where will it come from? Isn’t it part of what we need in the next president?

The War on Islamic State - To prevail, the West must settle on military tactics, cut off oil money, counter propaganda, strategists say (For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting. The problem is what do to after taking responsibility for won territory. With the recent experience of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is a job no Western leader wants.)

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian airliner have heightened determination in Moscow, Paris and Washington to defeat Islamic State, a challenge easier said than done.

Many strategists say military advances will show little progress unless more work is done to eliminate the militant group’s financing, counter its propaganda and cut a diplomatic deal among world powers on Syrian rule.

For military planners, destroying the terrorist group’s headquarters and crippling its fighting force is a relatively simple assignment, say strategists: It would require some 40,000 troops, air support and two months of fighting.

The problem is what do to after taking responsibility for won territory. With the recent experience of Afghanistan and Iraq, that is a job no Western leader wants. Many officials, especially in Europe, believe a full-scale military response would help Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, by broadcasting an image of Westerners seizing Arab lands, attracting more followers to the militants’ cause.

“Drawing us into a ground war with them is a trap,” said a French government official. “Frankly, I doubt it would go very well.”

The options short of a ground invasion are limited. After fighting Islamic State for more than a year through airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, military officers, diplomats and analysts agree there is no easy formula for victory.

Western allies are developing ways to escalate their operations and shift tactics. France is stepping up air attacks and bringing in 24 planes on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which will arrive in the eastern Mediterranean next week to triple French air power in the region.

The U.S. military has developed options to accelerate the fight against Islamic State, including measures designed to strengthen local partners—Kurdish forces, for example, in Iraq and Syria—against the militants.

The U.S. also is considering creation of a base in Iraq to launch raids on Islamic State leaders; tripling the number of special operation forces working in Syria; and expanding the list of Islamic State targets by risking additional civilian casualties in more aggressive airstrikes.

Derek Chollet, a former Pentagon official with the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. think tank, said taking more aggressive steps, such as sending U.S. forces to the front lines to call in airstrikes, could help in the fight but will take time. Entering into a ground war, he said, could be a mistake.

“We made a lot of decisions as a country in the wake of 9/11, in the fever of fear and the desire to do something decisive, that we are still digging ourselves out of,” he said.

Some strategists say Islamic State may be more vulnerable than it appears. The group seems to have challenged the world, said Michael Clarke, director of the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank in London. Islamic State has picked fights not only in the Middle East, but with the U.S., Russia and France. This week it baited Beijing by killing a Chinese hostage.

“They think this is their time in history, their victory is divinely assured,” Mr. Clarke said. “From a strategic point of view, they are making every mistake.”

The Paris attacks—along with the bombing of a Russian plane and attacks in Turkey—have raised the prospect of an alliance between Moscow and the West.

Whether the gestures of solidarity over the past week will continue is an open question. Russian aggression in Ukraine looms in the background. Many Western officials say Europe and the U.S. can’t ignore the annexation of Crimea or Moscow’s support for Ukraine separatists.

And, on Syria, the diplomatic rift remains between Russia, which sees the government of President Bashar al-Assad as the best bulwark against chaos in the region, and the West, which believes the Assad regime is to blame.

“There is the potential for this to work,” said a senior official in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “But you have to start any talk about any sort of coalition with a common objective, and we don’t yet have a common objective.”

European diplomats and scholars say both sides may now be willing to compromise. “This string of attacks have had a catalytic effect,” said Marc Pierini, a former European Union diplomat and scholar at the think tank Carnegie Europe. “Something is happening that is entirely new.”

 Ian Kearns, the director of the European Leadership Network think tank, said Europe must provide stepped up military support for the moderate opposition fighting the Assad regime in Syria, to both slow the flow of refugees to Europe and to increase bargaining power with Russia.
“The Europeans have to wake up and align their interest and values,” he said.

Cash-rich militants

Much of Islamic State’s strength comes from controlling vast areas of territory in Syria and Iraq, enabling a flow of taxes, oil profits and extortion money. Unlike al Qaeda, which needed foreign financing, Islamic State is largely self-sufficient.

The group doesn’t depend on the global financial system, so cutting off its money supply is difficult. Access to cash allows Islamic State to pay its fighters and bureaucrats, run municipal services, bribe tribes into cooperation and fund its global propaganda operation.

Syrian oil fields are one of its largest revenue sources. Last year, the U.S. Treasury Department estimated Islamic State earned as much as $1 million a day selling oil, which is smuggled to Turkey’s black market or sold locally to domestic refineries.

Since the beginning of its air campaign in Syria, the U.S. has struck Islamic State oil production facilities, which militants have largely been able to repair.

The Pentagon, defense officials said, has by design struck oil facilities to damage, not destroy them. The U.S. had hoped to expel Islamic State without laying waste to the economic infrastructure of Syria and Iraq. The loss of refineries and wells would make economic recovery difficult, military officials said.

Officials are now weighing more damaging attacks. The Pentagon announced this week the bombing of 116 tanker trucks near the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzour. French officials said they hoped the oil production facilities hit in their airstrikes this week won’t be so easily repaired.

The job of stopping the flow of oil revenues, officials said, is exceeded only by the task of heading off militants bound for Europe, which requires tightening borders. On Friday, the European Union ordered stricter border controls on its perimeter, a move intended to broaden the systematic police checks of EU citizens and improve the ability of authorities to track potential terror suspects.

The West also faces polished recruitment efforts by Islamic State propaganda machine, officials said. Islamic State operatives have made a big push via social media to project a positive vision of life in its so-called caliphate—both to residents of territory it controls, as well as to Muslims abroad.

U.S. and European officials say the West hasn’t been effective in countering Islamic State propaganda because, in part, it lacks the credibility and immediacy of messages relayed by friends and relatives connected to Islamic State. One way might be to have defectors tell their stories, scholars say.

“I think we are really struggling countering the narrative,” said Colin Clarke, a Rand Corp. political scientist who studies terrorist groups. “I don’t know if we thought long and hard about it, or devoted enough resources.”

Some commentators have raised the prospect of using cyberattacks to cut off Islamic State from the Internet, disrupting its ability to post videos or employ social media.

The reach of U.S. cyberweapons remain one of the military’s closest secrets, making it difficult to know how effective they would be against Islamic State’s decentralized propaganda campaign. The U.S. military is wary of deploying cyberweapons because once they are used, the Chinese and Russian military would get a good look and develop countermeasures, military officials have said.

U.S. lawmakers have pressured social media companies such as Twitter Inc.TWTR-0.19% to close accounts used by Islamic State militants or supporters. The companies have moved to block these accounts, but militants can quickly open new ones using different personal information.

Signs of success

Pentagon officials say the current U.S. military strategy shows signs of success. They cite as examples the Kurdish offensive in Sinjar—which had been held by Islamic State—and the drone strike that killed Islamic State executioner known as “Jihadi John.”

To build on that progress, U.S. defense officials said, they have developed a series of so-called accelerants with the potential to advance the fight.

Pentagon planners, for example, are looking at potentially tripling the number of Special Operations Forces in Syria from the 50 the White House has said are headed there now.

The new teams would help arm the Syrian Arab Coalition, a loose group of Arab fighters who work closely with Kurdish forces in Syria.

The new approach is what one Pentagon official described as “drop, op and assess.” Ammunition is dropped, an operation is planned and conducted, and U.S. forces assess the performance of local fighters before providing them more ammunition.

After conversations with their French counterparts, some U.S. officials believe France would be willing to contribute some special forces, particularly if troops can be freed from Africa—a decision perhaps more difficult after Friday’s attack in Mali.

The fight against Islamic State in Iraq has its own unexpected roadblocks, including ones set by Baghdad. U.S. military officials say their Iraqi counterparts are blocking the deployment of Apache attack helicopters and the establishment of a base for American special operation forces to launch raids in Iraq and, potentially, in Syria.

The base would be used for “expeditionary targeting,” Pentagon jargon for teams of commandos assigned to hunt Islamic State leaders. The Iraqi officials opposed to the deployment of Apache helicopters and the new base are also against the return of American troops, U.S. officials said, because of worries of a domestic backlash, particularly from Shiite militia groups.

The U.S. also wants Iraq to appoint a new commander to oversee its war operations and serve as a counterpart to the new U.S. three-star commander, Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland. U.S. officials say such an appointment would streamline efforts against Islamic State and make the Iraqis more focused and accountable.

Naseer Muneer, a spokesman for the Iraqi Defense Ministry, said Iraq and U.S. already work closely together. He disputed the idea that Iraqis were blocking the Apache helicopters and said no official request for a commando base had been made.

Military planners are looking at ways to increase the number of airstrikes against Islamic State by changing a policy to protect against civilian casualties in Islamic State-held territory. Currently, jets in the U.S.-led coalition won’t drop a bomb if the military believes there is any risk of accidentally killing civilians.

Easing this policy would open up more Islamic State targets for attack, officials said. But many military leaders believe it would alienate the very population the West needs to win to their side.

U.S. military officials say the overall changes under consideration so far are a refinement rather than a change in strategy against Islamic State.

“There is only one thing that is going to beat these guys and that is a ground army,” said a military official. “And there are only two ways to do that: provide one yourself or rely on someone else’s. It is either invade Syria or do what we are doing.”

A Washington Post investigation reveals how Bill and Hillary Clinton have methodically cultivated donors over 40 years, from Little Rock to Washington and then across the globe. Their fundraising methods have created a new blueprint for politicians and their donors.

See article in The Washington Post.

Democrat John Bel Edwards Upsets GOP Candidate in Louisiana Governor Race

From The Wall Street Journal:

BATON ROUGE, La.—Democrat John Bel Edwards pulled off an improbable win in the Louisiana governor’s race on Saturday, by running as a centrist who could right the state’s fiscal ship and by capitalizing on the unpopularity of Republican Sen. David Vitter.

In a Deep South state that has been solidly Republican, Mr. Edwards received 54.8% of the votes cast in the gubernatorial runoff election with 89% of the precincts counted.

Mr. Vitter conceded the election and said he wouldn’t run for re-election as U.S. senator in 2016.

Mr. Edwards, 49 years old, is the first Democrat elected statewide in Louisiana since 2008. The state representative from Amite, La., also gave Democrats a glimmer of hope after steep losses in 2014 gubernatorial and legislative races.

Mr. Vitter, one of the most powerful and well-funded politicians in the state, had seemed a shoo-in when he announced a gubernatorial run nearly two years ago. But Mr. Vitter spent much of the monthlong gubernatorial runoff talking about his past “very serious sin” rather than his conservative bona fides.

In the first majority-Muslim U.S. city, residents tense about its future

From The Washington Post:

Karen Majewski was in such high demand in her vintage shop on a recent Saturday afternoon that a store employee threw up her hands when yet another visitor came in to chat. Everyone wanted to talk to the mayor about the big political news.

Earlier this month, the blue-collar city that has been home to Polish Catholic immigrants and their descendents for more than a century became what demographers think is the first jurisdiction in the nation to elect a majority-Muslim council.

It’s the second tipping for Hamtramck (pronounced Ham-tram-ik), which in 2013 earned the distinction becoming of what appears to be the first majority-Muslim city in the United States following the arrival of thousands of immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and Bosnia over a decade.

In many ways, Hamtramck is a microcosm of the fears gripping parts of the country since the Islamic State’s attacks on Paris: The influx of Muslims here has profoundly unsettled some residents of the town long known for its love of dancing, beer, paczki pastries and the pope.

“It’s traumatic for them,” said Majewski, a dignified-looking woman in a brown velvet dress, her long, silvery hair wound in a loose bun.

Around her at the Tekla Vintage store, mannequins showcased dresses, hats and jewelry from the mid-20th century, and customers fingered handbags and gawked at the antique dolls that line the store, which sits across the street from Srodek’s Quality Sausage and the Polish Art Center on Joseph Campau Avenue, the town’s main drag.

Majewski, whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century, admitted to a few concerns of her own. Business owners within 500 feet of one of Hamtramck’s four mosques can’t obtain a liquor license, she complained, a notable development in a place that flouted Prohibition-era laws by openly operating bars. The restrictions could thwart efforts to create an entertainment hub downtown, said the pro-commerce mayor.

And while Majewski advocated to allow mosques to issue calls to prayer, she understands why some longtime residents are struggling to adjust to the sound that echos through the city’s streets five times each day.

“There’s definitely a strong feeling that Muslims are the other,” she said. “It’s about culture, what kind of place Hamtramck will become. There’s definitely a fear, and to some degree, I share it.”

Saad Almasmari, a 28-year-old from Yemen who became the fourth Muslim elected to the six-member city council this month, doesn’t understand that fear.

Almasmari, the owner of an ice cream company who campaigned on building Hamtramck’s struggling economy and improving the public schools, said he is frustrated that so many residents expect the council’s Muslim members to be biased. He spent months campaigning everywhere in town, knocking on the doors of mosques and churches alike, he said.

“I don’t know why people keep putting religion into politics,” said Almasmari, who received the highest percentage of votes (22 percent) of any candidate. “When we asked for votes, we didn’t ask what their religion was.”

Past clashes with present

Surrounded by Detroit, Hamtramck is Michigan’s most densely populated city, with about 22,000 residents occupying row after row of two-story, turn-of-the-century bungalows packed into two square miles. Polish Catholic immigrants began flocking to Hamtramck, which was originally settled by German farmers, in 1914 when the Dodge brothers opened an auto assembly plant in town.

While the city’s Polish Catholic population has shrunk from 90 percent in 1970 to about 11 percent today, in part as the old residents have moved to more prosperous suburbs, Polish American culture still permeates the town.

Labor Day, known as Polish Day here, is marked with music, drinking and street dancing. The roof of the Polish cathedral-style St. Florian Church peaks above the city landscape, and a large statue of Pope John Paul II, who visited the city in 1987, towers over Pope Park on Joseph Campau Avenue. The Polish pope’s cousin, John Wojtylo, was a Hamtramck city councilman in the 1940s and 1950s, according to local historian Greg Kowalski.

The once-thriving factory town now struggles with one of the highest poverty rates in Michigan. In 2009, American Axle shut down its plant in Hamtramck, laying off hundreds of workers. There is a new class of entrepreneurs, including Igor Sadikovic, a young Bosnian immigrant who plans to open a coffee shop with an art gallery by next summer, and Rebecca Smith, who owns a handbag store that employs Muslim women.

But the new businesses have not been enough to offset the loss of a manufacturing base and reductions in state revenue sharing. Since 2000, Michigan has twice appointed an emergency manager to the city, which has an annual operating budget of $22 million.

Hamtramck’s exceedingly low home prices and relatively low crime rate have proved especially attractive to new immigrants, whose presence is visible everywhere. Most of the women strolling Joseph Campau Avenue wear hijabs, or headscarves, and niqabs, veils that leave only the area around the eyes open. Many of the markets advertise their wares in Arabic or Bengali, and some display signs telling customers that owners will return shortly — gone to pray, much in the same way Polish businesses once signaled that employees had gone to Mass.

Tensions rise in volume

Many longtime residents point to 2004 as the year they suspected that the town’s culture had shifted irrevocably. It was then that the city council gave permission to al-Islah Islamic Center to broadcast its call to prayer from speakers atop its roof.

“The Polish people think we were invading them,” said Masud Khan, one of the mosque’s leaders, recalling that time in an interview earlier this month. “We were a big threat to their religion and culture. Now their days are gone.”

The mosque, which attracts about 500 people for its Friday prayer services, has purchased a neighboring vacant limestone building in the heart of the city that once was a furniture store. The mosque’s leaders plan to put a minaret — a spire — on the building and use it to continue broadcasting a call to prayer five times a day.

The private sale enraged city leaders, including the mayor, who sees the area as key to commercial growth. Mosque leaders estimate that the 20,000-square-foot building will hold up to 2,000 people once the renovation is finished next year.

The town’s transformation caught Mike Bugaj off guard. When the Hamtramck native left to join the Air Force in 1972, the city was widely referred to as “Little Warsaw.” When he returned from the military in 1995, “the Muslims were here,” said Bugaj, who is of Polish and Native American descent.

The new majority Muslim council has Bugaj worried that old traditions, like the Polish festival and Fat Tuesday’s paczki day, soon will be wiped away.

He and other residents are “concerned about what they would want to change, that they could mistreat women,” said Bugaj, who wore feather earrings and a T-shirt with wolves on it. “Don’t come over to America and try to turn people to your way of thinking.”

Wayne Little, who has been a pastor for nearly 40 years at Corinthian Baptist Church, said many of the city’s African American residents are also waiting to see whether the new Muslim-majority city council will represent their interests.

“They are clannish and stick together. . . . The jury is out on them.” Little said.

But Hamtramck’s Muslim population is hardly a monolith — the city is about 23 percent Arabic, 19 percent Bangladeshi and 7 percent Bosnian. The predominantly Muslim groups don’t intermingle much because of language differences, according to Thaddeus Radzilowski of the Piast Institute, a census information center.

Adding to the city’s burgeoning diversity are the young, white hipsters who have begun to migrate here from surrounding areas for the food, bars and art shows.

On a recent Saturday, about 40 people crowded into a one-room studio to sip wine from red Solo cups and enjoy a watercolor exhibition by African American artist Olayami Dabls as reggae music thumped in the background. The nudity and sexuality portrayed in Dabls’s paintings provided a startling contrast that afternoon to the handful of veil-clad Muslim women poring over produce at the Yemeni-owned grocery store visible across the street through the window.

Even some residents who are nervous about the new council speak of the city’s diversity with pride, noting the eclectic mix of restaurants and the fact that at least 27 languages are spoken in Hamtramck schools.

Frank Zacharias, an elderly Polish American usher at St. Ladislaus, the Catholic parish across the street from the mosque, is intimately familiar with life on Hamtramck’s streets, which he tromped for 28 years as a mail carrier before retiring. The changes have stunned him, he said.

“It was hard at the beginning,” he said, referring to 2004, when the mosque began the call to prayer.

But, he added: “They’re human. You gotta live with them. Hamtramck is known for diversity.”

University of Michigan at Dearborn professor Sally Howell, who has written a book on Michigan and U.S. Muslims, said that although some outsiders have equated the election results with “a sharia takeover,” that is not a fear she hears expressed by Hamtramck’s non-Muslims.

It all boils down to “a fear that this city council won’t represent the community,” Howell said. Her own sense, she said, is that it will.

The discord intensified in the weeks before the election, beginning when several senior citizens living in an apartment complex complained about the volume of the 6 a.m. call to prayer from a nearby mosque.

Susan Dunn, who was on her fifth unsuccessful run for city council, raised the issue before the governing body.

“I have my own rights, as well,” she said while baking her son’s birthday cake in her kitchen. “I’m not a hater. It wasn’t a calculated move.”

At one point as she spoke, a mosque close to Dunn’s house began broadcasting the call to prayer. “You try reading a book in your back yard while your dog is barking to that,” Dunn said, clearly exasperated.

On the eve of the vote, then-candidate Almasmari sent a photo of a flier he said he had found on the street to Majewski, the mayor, and Dunn. “Let’s get the Muslim out of Hamtramck in November 3rd. Let’s take back our city,” it read. The photo of the flier, which was illustrated with images of three white candidates, including Dunn, began circulating on Facebook. Dunn said she had nothing to do with it.

Then, after the election, a Muslim community organizer upset many residents when he praised the composition of the new council.

“Today, we show the Polish and everybody else,” said Ibrahim Algahim in an address to fellow Muslims that was captured on video.

Muslim community activist Kamal Rahman said he empathizes with the older residents’ concerns and has been working to help unify the town by meeting with city leaders.

Rahman, who in 1986 became one of the first Bengalis to attend a Hamtramck high school, said he considered moving to a mostly white Detroit suburb but decided against it once he discovered that a Ku Klux Klan group also had an address there. Instead, he built a five-bedroom home next to a Yemeni mosque just outside of Hamtramck, and sends his children to charter schools in the city.

Rahman encourages other Muslims to watch their language, because it can seem threatening.

“It sends the wrong message. If I were white, I would feel scared,” he said.

Unneighborly acts

As he sat in a Yemeni restaurant neatly dressed in a blue dress shirt and dark blue striped tie, Almasmari, the council member, recalled feeling shaken in the weeks leading up to the election, when he discovered that dozens of the yard signs touting his candidacy had been spray-painted with an “X.”

On a boarded-up building on the city’s main street, a poster to re-elect council member Anam Miah had been partially covered with big block letters — “DON’T VOTE” — and a swastika was drawn on Miah’s forehead.

But Almasmari insists that longtimers’ fears are unfounded. Already, he said he has scheduled a meeting with residents who wish to talk about their concerns — economic, educational and otherwise.

“People talk about Muslims by talking about ‘them,’ but we’re not going to be as single-minded as people think,” said Almasmari, a married father of three who covered his Facebook profile picture last week with the French flag filter.

Back in her vintage shop down the block, Majewski said she sympathizes with the stories of immigrants in search of a better life. It is a subject the mayor knows something about, having specialized in immigration and ethnicity when she earned her doctorate in American culture at the University of Michigan, said Majewski, who works at UM’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy.

A few minutes later, she pointed to a large, vacant building down the street that she said had once housed a popular department store. It was purchased by a Yemeni immigrant and has sat empty for two years, she said.

“It creates a lot of resentment and drags down the property values. That’s a real source of tension,” Majewski said. “Is that ethnic? . . . What do you call that? Can you criticize his lack of action? There’s certainly an ethnic element, the feeling that they don’t care about the city. How do you disentangle those?”

She paused to tell a shopper that the red plaid shirt he was trying on looked like a good fit before concluding aloud that the new conflicts in Hamtramck have less to do with ethnicity and religion and more about to do with what it means to be a good neighbor.

“We live on top of each other,” she said. “You can pass your plate through the window to the person next door.”

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Backlash Develops Over Student Protests - Some say protesters’ tactics are designed to suppress debate ('If you disagree with anything they’re saying, you will instantly be denounced as a bigot and attacked on social media.The most jarring part of all this is to see the administration going along with it.')

From The Wall Street Journal:

Student protests over racial grievances on college campuses gained momentum this past week, but they also generated a backlash among classmates who believe protesters’ tactics are creating an atmosphere of intimidation designed to stifle debate.

The criticism is bubbling up around the country as protesters have claimed wins in the form of resignations of senior administrators and promises for more resources and better representation for minority groups.

At the University of Missouri, where the protests climaxed two weeks ago with the resignation of the school president, Ian Paris said he was prompted to speak out when classmates told him they disagreed with some of the demands protesters had made but were afraid to speak out.

“If you disagree with anything they’re saying, you will instantly be denounced as a bigot and attacked on social media,” said Mr. Paris, a 21-year-old senior. “The most jarring part of all this is to see the administration going along with it.”

At the University of Kansas, a student group has called for impeachment of the student-body president because she didn’t stand up during a town-hall meeting when they called for support of a series of items demanding racial justice. One item was a call for a parallel student government that emphasized diversity.

Jessie Pringle, who took office in May, said she needed to think about that and hesitated to stand. Demands that she step down have prompted calls from students and even more from alumni telling her to push back, she said.

“Quite frankly, the message from alumni in particular has been to stand my ground and don’t let anyone bully you,” said Ms. Pringle. “We need to talk about racism on this campus and how to move forward, and I don’t think my resignation will help to address those issues.”

At Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., more than 300 people have signed on in support of an open letter published last weekend by junior Nathaniel Tsai, stating that they don’t endorse discrimination but also don’t condone the actions of the protest movement on that campus last week.

The dean of students resigned last week after students launched hunger strikes calling for her to step down, citing concerns about racial insensitivity.

Mr. Tsai, 19 years old, said that while he has gotten support for his comments, he also has had classmates accuse him of hurting the cause.

“It’s disheartening,” he said of criticism of his letter. “There are people out there who believe we shouldn’t have said anything at all.”

Rachel Doehr, a senior at the school, said she had supported minority students’ efforts on campus but felt a monthslong protest was hijacked in recent weeks.

“They were asking for some really reasonable measures, like resources on campus,” she said. But once some called for the administrator’s resignation, “The middle ground started to feel alienated.”

“Nobody felt like they could speak out because they didn’t want to come off as disagreeing or being against students of color,” Ms. Doehr said.

Nadine Strossen, a New York Law School Professor and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said this swing to clamp down on ideas that the majority of protesters disagree with was just as prevalent when she was a student in the 1960s and 1970s protesting against the War in Vietnam.

“It seems to be basic human nature to want to suppress ideas that you disagree with,” Ms. Strossen said. This week it’s gotten to the point where “you’re not even allowed to suggest something is open to debate… there is a total disconnect with the idea of diversity that is their goal.”

By Friday evening, more than 500 people had signed a petition denouncing a move by Princeton University administrators to reconsider the use of Woodrow Wilson’s name on the campus and to designate campus space for cultural-affinity groups. The administrators’ moves Thursday night ended a 32-hour sit-in in the president’s office by students associated with the Black Justice League.

The petition said the students “appreciate the concerns but oppose the demands of the Black Justice League,” calling for dialogue to include all members of the university community, “not merely those who are the loudest.”

Debate was particularly sharp between black students. In one FacebookFB1.00% exchange viewed by the Journal between several African-American students, one was criticized for supporting the opposition petition.

“We gotta stand in solidarity with each other. At the end of the day, we only got us. Nobody ever loved us except for us,” wrote one student. Another said he would pray for the dissenting classmate.

The co-author of the Princeton petition asking administrators to reconsider their concessions said the loud volume of the discussion thus far was crowding out any diversity of thought.

“The discussion surrounding these issues on campus was being monopolized by a few very loud and very passionate students, but the silent majority of Princeton students weren’t being heard for fear of being called racist or another term,” said Evan Draim, a senior who co-wrote the petition.

“We see these demands as a genuine threat to academic integrity,” said Joshua Zuckerman, Mr. Draim’s co-author. Mandating cultural-sensitivity training raised concerns that people who did discuss controversial topics “will be demonized and punished.”

David Brooks: "But as long as Assad is in power, he creates a situation where you can’t get rid of ISIS, because the moderate, the normal Sunnis will not rebel against ISIS as long as they’re the victims of this horrific campaign from Assad.".

From the PBS Newshour on November 21, 2015 (the week following Paris):

DAVID BROOKS: And I think the good news is that there’s beginning to be some sort of bipartisan, cohesive thinking on this.

And so this week, Hillary Clinton, and earlier Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush gave talks. And they had different policy emphases. But they had the basic frame. And the frame is, you can’t — the tempting thing is to just say, let’s bomb ISIS, let’s bomb ISIS.

But as long as Assad is in power, he creates a situation where you can’t get rid of ISIS, because the moderate, the normal Sunnis will not rebel against ISIS as long as they’re the victims of this horrific campaign from Assad.

And so what we need is an uprising among the normal Sunnis, the way we had in Iraq starting in 2007. And Clinton emphasized this in her speech. So, you have to limit ISIS. You also have to limit Assad with sanctuaries and no-fly zones and opposition to him. And it’s a very complicated dance to be against both sides of a civil war, but, nonetheless, that is the only policy that has any prospect of success. And both parties are really orienting around that position.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you’re saying, among all — what all the candidates are saying, what Hillary Clinton is saying makes more sense, holds together?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think her speech was exceptional. It was complicated, but coherent.
She wants to do some of the things, like the sanctuaries and the no-fly zones, against Assad. Rubio would go a little further and more troops and more things against ISIS. But the basic frame is the same for both those candidates.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that?

MARK SHIELDS: I thought that Senator, Secretary Clinton made a strong — a strong statement. I thought it was coherent.

I think the argument in the debate about a no-fly zone is a real one. And I think there is a real case to be made against it. And the question of risk and reward is a very serious one, I mean, no doubt about it. The sanctuary zone, especially that embraced by Dr. Carson, which is going to be administered by local…

JUDY WOODRUFF: This is along the border between Turkey and Syria.

MARK SHIELDS: … who are going to administer this and impose it.

A beautiful safe zone, Donald Trump has endorsed, which is his consistent support of three-syllable adjectives, fantastic, successful, a beautiful safe zone. I mean, these are just — these are not serious — I don’t see an emerging consensus that David sees.

We have right now — Judy, the worst time to make policy is a week after an event like this, because there is an emotional reaction in the country. There is not a consideration, a reflection upon what we’re willing to do.

Has anybody suggested that we might have to pay another dime in taxes? We have spent $4 trillion in the last 14 years in war without paying for it, without paying for it. And now we have a big debate about the national debt. And we ask where the national debt comes from, how it grows, how it swells, when you have wars for 14 years, you deplete an army, you destroy an army.

The United States Army is hollowed out after 14 years, and it is tired. And you have these people urging, let’s go into combat. And as soon as we do and things go wrong, they are — as Bob Gates, the secretary of defense, said, they’re nowhere to be found.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let — go ahead.


I would just say nobody is in favor of the sort of action we had in Iraq in 2003. But I do think what Paris has done is, it was possible before Paris. And maybe it’s still possible, but I think it’s less — harder to make this case — to say, ISIS is so crazy, Syria is just so messed up. Let’s just let ISIS collapse under its own craziness. Let their own internal weaknesses take them down. Let Assad’s internal weaknesses take it down. It’s just some crazy Syrian thing.

What Paris has done is show that it’s not just a Syrian thing, that ISIS has now — time is not on our side. ISIS is now going off and doing this sort of activity. God knows what happens if they get their hands on biological or chemical weapons. For these people, there are no limits. And so time is not necessarily on our side anymore.

And, therefore, you have to — I don’t know what the action is. But you have to think more about the action.

MARK SHIELDS: OK, just on ISIS, I stand in total agreement with David on ISIS.

I mean, you look at 43 blown up in Beirut, a nation of four million people that’s taken a million Syrian refugees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Which we had almost forgotten about. That’s right.

MARK SHIELDS: And 200 wounded.

You have 224 blown up on the Russian plane, and you have now 130 in Paris. No, it is — it is — there is no question — unlike al-Qaida, where it was micromanaged by Osama bin Laden, this is — these are autonomous groups that are doing it and indigenous — obviously, as seen by Paris, indigenous recruits.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, one — the other thing I do want to ask you about in just a little bit of time left, and that is we are watching this debate, David, play out over refugees and what to do.

And there, you do have Republicans saying don’t let them in, and even Democrats joining in and saying hold off on any more Syria or Iraqi refugees.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I think it’s appalling. The idea we’re doing national or religious profiling or even thinking about that is wrong.

We have got — the refugees are the least likely way they’re going to get in here.


DAVID BROOKS: The perpetrators in this case were from Belgium and France. Are we going to stop the Flemish from coming in?

It’s just — it’s not a carefully thought-through reaction. The process we have to get people into this country through the refugee, it takes a long time. It’s probably the hardest way to get in. And so this is just a native reaction that has been an unpleasant one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

How to Form an Army to Fight Islamic State - Experts say a broad coalition is needed to defeat threat on ground, but assembling one is tricky

Gerald Seib writes in The Wall Street Journal:

It took French President François Hollande to flatly declare it: In the wake of the terror attacks in Paris, the struggle against Islamic State isn’t merely a fight. It is a war.

There’s no shortage of aggrieved or alarmed nations to engage in this war, nor of planes to do their part in waging it from the air. What is lacking is an actual army to fight it. “The fundamental problem,” says Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “is we still don’t have a ground partner.”

The principal goal of President Barack Obama as well as European and Sunni Arab leaders now has to be fixing that problem.

Certainly the elements of a real war seem to be in place. Islamic State has declared itself a nation-state. It holds territory straddling the Syrian-Iraqi border roughly equivalent to a medium-sized American state. It has a recognized leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And, if you combine the likely Islamic State role in bombing a Russian airline over the Sinai Peninsula with the terror strikes in Paris, it now has launched attacks against citizens of two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council in two weeks.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Islamic State has launched these attacks outside the territory of its self-proclaimed “caliphate” at a time when it actually is losing some ground at home. Kurdish forces have in recent days retaken the Iraqi city of Sinjar, and, with help from U.S. air power and advice, Iraqi forces and Shiite militias have retaken a large Iraqi oil refinery and closed in on the important Iraqi city of Ramadi. The terror strikes may, in that sense, represent an attempt to shift the battle elsewhere.

So, yes, there is Islamic State vulnerability amid the danger. But the forces responsible for these recent gains are limited in their power. The Iraqi army remains fundamentally weak. The “moderate” Syrian militias that exist are weaker still. The Kurdish forces that have had the most success on the ground bring problems of their own; the Kurds’ desire for independence rattles states across the region almost as much as Islamic State does. Shiite militias inevitably will be seen as stalking horses for an expansionist Iran.

This vacuum can’t be properly filled with American troops, or those from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, whose collective defense pact could be invoked now that one member, France, has been attacked. “The answer is not going to be an enormous force of Westerners,” says Mr. Haass. “That’s not an answer. A U.S. or a NATO force wouldn’t fare better in western Iraq and much of Syria than the U.S. force did in Iraq or a NATO force did in Afghanistan. We need local partners.”

Mr. Obama reiterated at meeting of world leaders in Turkey on Monday that he doesn’t intend to put large number of American troops to the fight but also declared: “I made the point to my fellow leaders that if we want this progress to be sustained, more nations need to step up with the resources that this fight demands.”

Ideally, that would mean Sunni forces from threatened states in the region—Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf states, and Turkey. But we now know such a force won’t spring up organically, or it would already exist. Instead, some kind of international umbrella under which it can be formed appears to be needed.

If the international community wants to move in that direction, there are several possible paths:

A force organized and helped by NATO, consisting of troops from the region aided by Western air power, intelligence and advisers. The problem is that this option would smack of Western colonialism, and would exclude Russia, which can and should be part of the solution in Syria.

A force organized under U.N. auspices. That would provide a politically acceptable international cover, and show a united international and not merely Western stand against Islamic State. But U.N. politics are always tricky.

An ad hoc international “coalition of the willing,” much like the one formed by President George W. Bush to fight Iraq. It could be formed by U.S., French and even Russian leadership, drawing in all concerned nations and providing funding and a support system for local forces.

Under any scenario, there still would be problems aplenty, starting with disagreement over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He’s seen by some as a part of the solution, by others as the man who single-handedly drives Syrians into Islamic State’s arms. Equally big problem: What is the role of Iran and its Shiite proxies in Syria? And can Turkey work alongside its Kurdish nemesis?

Even success wouldn’t necessarily mean victory. Ending Islamic State’s hold on territory in Iraq and Syria would hardly extinguish threats. Islamic State now has inspired cells of radicalized young Islamists across the globe, and the terrorism threat they pose will persist. A bruising fight against Islamic State’s stronghold actually may serve to anger more of those radicalized Islamists in the short run.

But in the long run, turning the tide, most experts agree, starts with eliminating the Islamic State’s headquarters in Syria and Iraq. Ultimately, it takes an army to defeat an army.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

(This is a pre-election article.) The End of the Turkish Model - Erdogan’s moderate Islamist AKP party promised reform and growth but has turned instead to consolidating power

From The Wall Street Journal:

Five years ago, Turkey was a beacon of hope for the troubled Middle East—not only one of the world’s fastest-growing economies but also the biggest success story in the Muslim world. Edging toward membership in the European Union and attracting waves of foreign investment, Turkey had a newfound swagger. Western and Arab leaders were hailing its ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for fusing Islamism and democracy inside a secular constitution.

But after more than a decade of AKP rule, the Turkish model has unraveled, giving way to increasingly violent polarization in this strategically vital country. Social tensions once muted by robust economic growth and more inclusive governance have flared anew.

“The old elite are trying to reclaim power, and we won’t allow it,” said Ali Bodur, a 38-year-old hardware store owner in Istanbul’s conservative dockside neighborhood of Kasimpasa, where Mr. Erdogan grew up. Less than a mile up the hill, in the liberal Galata district, a 24-year-old student named Ozge Ulusoy also struck an uncompromising stance: “The reality is the Erdogan era needs to end before the country goes further off the rails…He is a dictator.”

First elected prime minister in 2003, Mr. Erdogan spent most of his first two terms focused on modernizing the economy, bringing stability to Turkey’s erratic politics, taming a military that had launched four coups in as many decades and empowering the long-subjugated pious majority. As his power has grown, however—he became president in 2014, after more than a decade as prime minister—so did his ambition to create a “New Turkey” in the image of the Ottomans. He sidelined reformers and technocrats and tried to centralize authority in his own hands. When he met resistance, he used the levers of state power and loyalist media outlets to brand his critics as enemies and traitors.

At the same time, many of the sources of Mr. Erdogan’s early popularity have shrunk away. Turkey’s once humming economy has slowed sharply, and the country’s currency has lost 25% of its value since January. A three-year peace process between Ankara and Kurdish militants has collapsed, leaving hundreds dead. And Turkey is falling deeper into neighboring Syria’s civil war. Adding to the general sense of insecurity have been three suicide bombings over the past year, including twin blasts in Ankara that killed 102 people at a peace rally last month.

Meanwhile, political discourse is supercharged: Opposition parties warn that Mr. Erdogan has brought the country to the brink of civil war, while AKP officials say that only they can prevent chaos. The atmosphere is so toxic that many of the thousands of Turks who returned home from abroad in recent years are again considering an exit.

“It is becoming very difficult to breathe in this country because of the polarization,” said Okan Demirkan, who came back to Turkey from London early in the AKP era to establish his law firm, Demirkan Kolcuoglu. “We see more green-card applications than ever, and many are applying for passports in the U.K., Portugal and Spain. That’s our future walking away.”

The AKP rejects such criticism and says that Turkey remains a stable democracy, while some of its supporters see Western plots behind the country’s recent woes. But in many respects, the country has started to look more like its troubled Arab neighbors. Some observers hoped that the 2011 uprisings across the Arab world would turn those states toward the seemingly successful Turkish model. Instead, Turkey seems to be falling into Syria’s vortex of sectarianism and proxy war. Turkish broadcast news now offers a daily diet of angry commentators and scenes of conflict between Turkish security forces and both Kurdish rebels and Islamic State cells.

Mr. Erdogan’s government “wanted to be a leader in the Middle East, and so we walked the country into a burning building…Now we’re getting burned, and we’re not leading anything,” said Ceylan, a 32-year-old Istanbul lawyer who refused to give her surname for fear of retribution.
U.S. and EU officials once hoped that the example of the AKP might encourage moderate Islamist parties to emerge as democratic allies. Those hopes now lie dashed (except in Tunisia). Indeed, Turkey’s downturn has boosted those who argue that Washington should back autocratic stability in the Middle East, rather than democratic groups allied with Islamist parties.

At the center of the shift stands Mr. Erdogan himself, who has become increasingly sectarian and intolerant in his rhetoric and actions, railing against foreign powers and domestic critics and muzzling opposition media.

Five years ago, the AKP could still be considered a conservative-dominated coalition that included liberals and technocrats. But Mr. Erdogan quietly but decisively retooled it to reflect his vision of conservative Islamism. “What started out as an impressive political journey is now heading toward disaster,” says Suat Kiniklioglu, a former AKP lawmaker. “A huge opportunity has been lost, and it didn’t have to be this way.”

Long-standing social rifts have been widened by the government’s response to perceived threats. Nationwide protests in 2013 and a corruption probe that implicated Mr. Erdogan’s family were branded as foreign plots and met with police crackdowns and wider judicial and security powers.

Paradoxically, the unraveling of the Turkish model hasn’t reduced Turkey’s role in a roiling region. Western powers still look to Ankara as a bulwark of stability, however alarmed they may be by Mr. Erdogan’s autocratic impulses.

Exhibit A is the EU’s response to the refugee crisis flooding outward from Syria. European leaders who chide Mr. Erdogan for his authoritarian rhetoric also embrace him as an ally in helping to halt the record wave of migrants. Meanwhile, U.S. war planners still see Turkey as a key actor in the battle against Islamic State, despite friction over Turkey’s targeting of Kurdish groups in Syria and Mr. Erdogan’s more accommodating stance with some radical Islamist groups.

Still, Turkey’s strategic importance can’t suppress worries over the country’s recent trajectory. The divisions were spotlighted earlier this month at a soccer match between Turkey and Iceland in the conservative Anatolian city of Konya. As the teams stood, heads bowed for a moment of silence to commemorate the victims of the recent Ankara bombings, parts of the crowd erupted in jeers and boos, shouting right-wing and religious slogans.

The attack in Ankara “was our 9/11, but it didn’t unite us,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It divided us.”

Peggy Noonan: The Not Ready for Prime Time Bush - Like Scott Walker, Jeb couldn’t rise to the demands of the national stage.

Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal:

We’ll begin with what went wrong with the Republican debate in Boulder, Colo., then look at what went wrong with Jeb Bush.

CNBC’s debate moderators have famously come under fire for questions, statements and a tone that were obnoxious. They were. The moderators seemed intent on trivializing the field. When you say, “Candidate A, you have criticized Candidates B and C, turn to them now and tell them why they’re dopes,” you are presenting yourself as the puppet master and them as puppets. They must either attack their colleagues as instructed and look weak, or push back against the moderator in a way open to charges of defensiveness and cynicism. They can’t win. (Though later one did.)

There’s nothing wrong with mischief from debate moderators, but this was dumb mischief, plonkingly obvious in its ideological hostility. What’s your greatest weakness? Should fantasy football be regulated? These questions were merely shallow.

To Jeb Bush: “Governor, the fact that you’re at the fifth lectern tonight shows how far your stock has fallen in this race, despite the big investment your donors have made.” Donald Trump uncorking a taunt, right? No! It was moderator John Harwood! He followed up: “Ben Bernanke, who was appointed Fed chairman by your brother, recently wrote a book in which he said he no longer considers himself a Republican because the Republican Party has given in to know-nothingism. Is that why you’re having a difficult time in this race?”

It is very hard to imagine a candidate in a Democratic debate being asked if he’s not doing well because his party is ignorant and vicious. Jeb’s response to being smacked around like this was some vapidity about how “the great majority of Republicans and Americans believe in a hopeful future.”

There was browbeating, and interruptions aimed at forcing a candidate’s thought-train off its tracks:

Since Chris Christie has called climate change undeniable, asked Mr. Harwood, what would he do about it? Mr. Christie said his solutions would not be the usual Democratic ones involving more taxes and more power to Washington.

“What should we do?” Mr. Harwood pressed.

“What we should do is invest in all types of energy, John—”

“You mean government?” Mr. Harwood interrupted.

Christie: “I got to tell you the truth, even in New Jersey what you’re doing is called rude.”

That was a lovely moment. The best belonged to Ted Cruz. “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media. This is not a cage match. And if you look at the questions—‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ ‘John Kasich, will you insult two people over here?’ ‘ Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign?’ ‘Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen?’ How about talking about the substantive issues the people care about?”

He continued, over a moderator/interrupter: “I’m not finished yet. The contrast with the Democratic debate, where every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and wise?’ ”

Again he barreled past an interrupter: “Let me be clear. The men and women on this stage have more ideas, more experience, more common sense than every participant in the Democratic debate.”

Pressed to answer the original question, Mr. Cruz said he’d be happy to. But Mr. Harwood turned to another candidate.

“So you don’t want to hear the answer, John?” Mr. Cruz challenged.

“You used your answer on something else,” said Mr. Harwood, curtly.

He sure did.

I don’t know if fights like this win you anything, but the pushback was deserved, and instructive for future moderators: Be tough, incisive, follow up, dig down. But don’t be a high-handed snot, don’t wear your bias on your sleeve. That helps nothing. Don’t you get that?

To Jeb. He has not succeeded this year, and there is no particular reason to believe he will. Yes, he still has money, but what has money got him so far?

You could see almost all of what wasn’t working in his exchange with Marco Rubio, whom Jeb tried to zing in an obviously prepared attack on missed Senate votes.

“I’m a constituent of the senator,” said Jeb. But he’s not showing up for work. “I mean literally, the Senate—what is it, like a French workweek? You get, like, three days where you have to show up?” He suggested Mr. Rubio resign “and let someone else take the job.”

Well, said Mr. Rubio, you’ve said you’re modeling your campaign on John McCain’s in 2008. “I don’t remember . . . you ever complaining about John McCain’s vote record. The only reason why you’re doing it now is because we’re running for the same position, and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you.”

Mr. Bush began to respond but let Mr. Rubio cut him off: “My campaign is . . . not going to be about attacking anyone else on this stage. I will continue to have tremendous admiration and respect for Gov. Bush. I’m not running against Gov. Bush, I’m not running against anyone on this stage. I’m running for president because there is no way we can elect Hillary Clinton to continue the policies of Barack Obama.”

Mr. Rubio shut him down, just as Mr. Trump had in previous debates.

It’s widely believed among high Jeb supporters that Mr. Trump—“The Gong Show,” as they call him—has kept Mr. Bush from rising. But Mr. Trump isn’t the problem, he was the revealer of the problem: Jeb just isn’t very good at this.

He’s not good at the merry aggression of national politics. He never had an obvious broad base within the party. He seemed to understand the challenge of his name in the abstract but not have a plan to deal with it. It was said of Scott Walker that the great question was whether he had the heft and ability to go national. The same should have been asked of Jeb. He had never been a national candidate, only a governor. Reporters thought he was national because he was part of a national family.

He was playing from an old playbook—he means to show people his heart, hopes to run joyously. But it’s 2015, we’re in crisis; they don’t care about your heart and joy, they care about your brains, guts and toughness. The expectations he faced were unrealistically high. He was painted as the front-runner. Reporters thought with his record, and a brother and father as president, he must be the front-runner, the kind of guy the GOP would fall in line for. But there’s no falling in line this year. He spent his first months staking out his position not as a creative, original chief executive of a major state—which he was—but as a pol raising shock-and-awe money and giving listless, unfocused interviews in which he slouched and shrugged. There was a sense he was waiting to be appreciated.

I speak of his candidacy in the past tense, which is rude though I don’t mean it rudely. It’s just hard to see how this can work. By hard I mean, for me, impossible.