|   September 29, 2014    8:30 PM ET

Fox News are not happy that Barack Obama saluted troops while he also happened to be carrying a coffee cup.

Not happy at all.

And here's the consummate host of 'The Daily Show', Jon Stewart, to guide us through Fox's indignation at '#lattesalute'... and skewer it, in typically brilliant style:

Watch part one:


Watch part two:

'The Daily Show' airs Tuesday night at 1.10am on Comedy Central Extra.

  |   September 29, 2014   12:38 PM ET

Did you know that America recently carried out drone strikes in Waziristan and Yemen?

Don't worry if your answer is 'no' - because as John Oliver points out, you were unlikely to find out unless you were watching the Iranian government's English-language TV channel.

Check out this clip from 'Last Week Tonight', in which Oliver investigates how and why America uses its drones - including the loopholes that allow it to deploy them even if the threat isn't 'imminent' and the targets are innocent civilians. It's fascinating, funny, important and terrifying in equal measure.

SEE ALSO: John Oliver On Narenda Modi's Trip To New York

Iraq: War Without End?

Robin Lustig   |   September 27, 2014   12:00 AM ET

By the time you read these words, RAF Tornados will either have started, or will be about to start, bombing targets in Iraq. Here we go again ...

Six weeks ago, I wrote: "We should be in no doubt: we, the West, are back in Iraq." And so it has come to pass. It is difficult to see how it could have been otherwise, once the murderers of Islamic State (or Isis or Isil, take your pick) started killing American and British journalists and aid workers on video.

The primary task of any government is to defend its citizens - so once those citizens are being brutally murdered, any government would feel compelled to take action. We can debate whether dropping bombs in the desert is the right action to take, but I seriously doubt that anyone would wish to argue that there's no need for the government to do anything at all.

As always, the US is in the driving seat. But unlike his White House predecessor, President Obama has demonstrated the utmost reluctance to go to war - some would say he has been far too reluctant in the face of repeated warnings of the likely consequences of inaction - but he now says the US has a "comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy" to confront IS and allied groups in both Iraq and Syria.

I find that a deeply troubling formulation. "Sustained", as in long-lasting, implies that US policy-makers envisage this bombing campaign as open-ended. Mr Obama may talk glibly of destroying the terrorists, but he knows full well that that's a fool's mission. The UK defence secretary Michael Fallon has suggested the action could last three years. My guess is that it'll be longer.

As for "comprehensive", well, no, Mr President, it isn't. In the words of the analyst Lina Khatib, director of the Beirut-based Carnegie Middle East Center, "the strategy is a positive step forward after years of relative inaction on part of the United States, but it is far from comprehensive." The lack of any thought-out political plan for Syria is a gaping hole; what's the point of bombing jihadi rebels if you have no idea, and no plan, for what's likely to be the aftermath.

For obvious reasons, President Assad seems not to have objected to the US bombing his own country. After all, the people the Americans are attacking are the same people (some of them, at least) who are attacking him. Iran isn't complaining either, for the same reason. Any US action that weakens Assad's enemies must, by definition, strengthen him.

On Friday, it was reported that his army has already been taking advantage of the US air strikes, sweeping through several villages in the north-east of the country, and making gains around Damascus. You could call it an unfortunate by-product of having to deal with the IS threat.

So we have entered a bizarre Alice in Wonderland world in which Washington, Tehran, Damascus, Riyadh and Doha all seem to be lining up on the same side. The Saudis, Qataris and Emiratis even seem to have deployed some of their own aircraft, which I suppose at least proves that they do know what they're for.

I always try to apply a simple test when confronted with complex conundrums: is the proposed course of action likely to do more good than harm? Will bombing IS targets in Iraq and Syria destroy the murdering zealots of Islamic State? (And by the way, I fully expect the UK to be joining the Syria bombing raids before long.) Answer: no, but they may significantly weaken the group's capacity to seize new territory.

Will more Iraqi and Syrian civilians be killed as a result of the bombing raids? Answer: yes, inevitably. That's what happens.

Will the raids encourage more young fighters to join IS, emboldened by propaganda that seeks to portray this fight as one between true believers and infidels, whether Western, Shia, or fellow Sunnis? Answer: quite possibly, although by greatly increasing the odds of IS fighters being killed, the bombings may also cause at least some potential recruits to think twice before signing up.

And there's another question that needs to be answered as well: is the military action legal? In the case of Iraq, the answer is plainly yes, given that the government in Baghdad, imperfect though it be, has requested it. As for Syria, the answer has to be, at best: hmm. A case can be made, on the grounds that protecting Iraq necessitates action across the border, but it's far from clear cut.

(As for the wisdom of hitting supply lines and bases in neighbouring countries, I would have thought that the precedent from the Vietnam war, when the US pulverised neighbouring Cambodia, supposedly to neutralise the Viet Cong, should give planners much pause for thought. The prospect of a Syrian version of the Khmer Rouge is a chilling one.)

Beyond the immediate issue of to-bomb-or-not-to-bomb (I write before Friday's House of Commons vote, but it seems to be a foregone conclusion), there's a deeper and far more difficult issue that Arabs themselves will need to confront sooner or later.

The Lebanese journalist Hisham Melhem, of the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV news channel, wrote in a recent article: "Arab civilization, such as we knew it, is all but gone. The Arab world today is more violent, unstable, fragmented and driven by extremism -- the extremism of the rulers and those in opposition -- than at any time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago. Every hope of modern Arab history has been betrayed ...

"The jihadists of the Islamic State, in other words, did not emerge from nowhere. They climbed out of a rotting, empty hulk -- what was left of a broken-down civilization. They are a gruesome manifestation of a deeper malady afflicting Arab political culture, which was stagnant, repressive and patriarchal after the decades of authoritarian rule that led to the disastrous defeat in the 1967 war with Israel."

If he is right, defeating Islamic State will be just the start of a far longer, far more difficult process: the rebuilding of what was once one of the world's great civilisations and the revitalising of some of the Arab world's greatest cities. Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, Aleppo were once by-words for scholarship, culture and learning. Now, they are either hollow shells where people live in oppression, fear and poverty, or they are destroyed by civil war. It will be a long haul.

ISIS Must Be Stopped But Not By the West - Arm the Kurds

Peter G Tatchell   |   September 26, 2014   12:00 AM ET

The British and US governments seem determined to repeat the mistakes of the past, with plans for Iraq war number three. The first was in 1991, the second in 2003 and now the third in 2014. It's only air strikes - for now - they pledge. And only in Iraq, not in Syria (yet). But judging from the past, this limited intervention may be hard to sustain. Mission creep tends to be norm. Have our leaders learned nothing from two decades of disastrous foreign and military policy? It seems not.

To save lives and protect human rights, the genocidal fundamentalists of ISIS must be stopped. But not by the West and not for the reasons often advanced by David Cameron and Barack Obama.

Despite the ostensibly broad-based anti-ISIS coalition assembled by Washington, it's the US that is the puppet master pulling the strings. The other partners are, to a large degree, White House proxies. This is where the whole Obama strategy falls down.

A Western instigated and led military intervention will inevitably be a propaganda gift and recruiting sergeant for ISIS. It will energise and expand the ranks of Islamist extremism. ISIS will portray it as Muslims under attack by Western crusaders and their stooges. They'll trumpet their own actions as godly self-defence against infidel imperialism. Images of western air strikes, and the inevitable civilian casualties, will be plastered across social media and cited as evidence of yet another attack on Muslim lands and people.

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ISIS will be aided by the justifications offered by Cameron and Obama, who claim that ISIS must be defeated because it poses a threat to Europe and the US. In truth, the main threat is to Muslim people in Iraq and Syria. They are already bearing the brunt of ISIS brutality and remain at gravest risk in the unfolding genocide. By comparison, the danger to Western nations is minimal. Lesson one: don't exaggerate the threat to the West and ignore the main victims in Syria and Iraq.

Further evidence of this distorted Western-centric focus is the way British and US leaders are suddenly tub-thumping that swift, strong action is needed against ISIS, while effectively ignoring that an anti-ISIS fight back has been going on for more than a year in places like Kobane, northern Syria, led by Kurdish troops. During all this time, as the Kurds led the resistance to ISIS, the Western powers looked the other way. Lesson number two: don't act like it was the West that originated the idea of action against ISIS and insinuate that the people of region haven't been resisting the so-called Islamic State.

The truth is that if the US and UK are serious about fighting ISIS they should start by aiding the people on the ground who know the region best, have local roots and who are already leading the fight against the jihadist menace - the peshmerga army of the Kurdish regional government in Iraq and guerrillas from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and allied movements in Syria. This aid could include training, weapons, military intelligence, food and medical equipment. With extra assistance and supplies, they could be a powerful, effective counter-force to ISIS. The aim would be to empower them to liberate themselves.

Kurdish protesters made this call in London during the last week. They want international military aid to enable Kurdish fighters to roll back the ISIS advance.

kurds


Belatedly, some western governments are offering to assist the Iraqi-based peshmerga but not the forces of the leftist PKK, which is still wrongly branded a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union. Yet it is the PKK fighters and their allies that are holding off ISIS in northern Syria. They are a key bulwark against the spread and triumph of the Islamic State - and deserve international recognition and support.

Sadly, the UK Stop The War Coalition (STWC) has allowed its opposition to war to trump support for democracy and human rights. It is laudable to oppose western military attacks but a betrayal to show no solidarity with the democratic, secular, liberal and left forces in Iraq and Syria who are fighting ISIS and Assad's blood-soaked tyranny.

Not backing military aid to these progressive forces, as an alternative to Western intervention, is a serious misjudgement. STWC's failure to support those fighting an emerging genocide has a whiff of de facto acquiescence and collusion.

I hate war and see it as a last resort. But to stave off a bloodbath and enslavement, the progressive anti-ISIS fighters deserve assistance from the West and the whole international community. If military aid to partisans fighting Nazi fascism was the right thing to do in the 1940s, then surely support for those opposing ISIS clerical fascism is the right thing to do today.

Attacking the Islamic State in Syria Is Justified and Right

James Snell   |   September 25, 2014   12:00 AM ET

This week, after nearly four years of civil war, the United States and her allies have finally intervened in Syria. It is far too late and, in attacking only the Islamic State and not the regime, it only deals with half of the problem. Nevertheless, barring a sudden period of rapprochement with the Assad tyranny, this move is a good one. We may only be combating some of our enemies in the region, but it is a start; and with President Obama's foreign policy history as chequered as it is - half-measures such as the disastrous failure of reconstruction in Libya and inaction have taken precedence over necessary military intervention - any step in the right direction must be welcomed. Here, I set out why, even though it is partial, and even though more will need to be done, Obama's action is the right one.

The Islamic State is a hideous organisation. That is well known to all but the most blinkered and casual of observers. The Syrian and Iraqi peoples have suffered under the heel of its potentates and acolytes for months, even years. It seemed that no one was listening then. When an American journalist, James Foley, was beheaded by IS in a video released on the internet, however, those living in the West began to sit up and take interest. He was the first victim of this new wave of violence specifically and publicly targeted at Westerners. He would not be the last.

Steven Sotloff, another foreign correspondent held by IS, also met his grisly end at the razor edge of a ceremonial blade. He was both a Jew and an Israeli citizen. He managed to keep that secret. His fate would likely have been far worse - if that thought is possible to process - if his murderers had found out. Days before the tragedy, his mother had released a statement in which she begged for his life. Her pleas were met with silence. These are the people who decapitate non-combatants mere days after receiving emotional appeals for their release, it seems.

David Haines, a British aid worker, was the third captive Westerner to be put to death on film. There will in all likelihood be more.

The slaughter of David Haines in particular by Islamic State fighters was utterly appalling but entirely predictable. The men who carried out this monstrous deed thought the result would be to their favour: That which is laughably referred to as the 'international community'  would back off, and let them get on with terrorising Iraq and Syria - where many thousands, largely unknown to the wider world, have met fates similar to the three men I have mentioned.

Not only did that not happen, it would have been disgraceful if it had. A certain degree of callousness is to be - regrettably - expected in national leaders. Sometimes they will sit back and let horrors and outrages occur. We must not endorse this morality, but we can recognise that it happens; in Syria especially, the public and the political leadership of Western nations have been far too reluctant to act. This is not such an occasion.

When a citizen of their own nation is killed, presidents and prime ministers the world over do not let the event simply pass them by. While it is possible to turn a blind eye to the suffering of other peoples on other continents - and many in Britain and America have been doing so in the case of Syria since before the Islamic State first officially split with al-Qaeda in February of this year, and even before President Assad first began his brutal crackdown against pro-democracy protestors in March 2011 - there is still the almost familial loyalty to fellow citizens, real or imagined, that can be called upon in times such as this.

For Britain especially, the nation has more to digest than the loss of a man who was born and brought up on these islands. The killer, perhaps in all three cases, perhaps in 'only' one or two, has been identified internationally as British. This, coupled with the realisation that British jihadis constitute up to a quarter of foreigners who fight under the banner of the Islamic State, may prove difficult to treat entirely dispassionately.

This murder has elicited retaliation. It is be overdue, and the stated reason for it is narrow. That does not mean it is in anyway unjustified or wrong.

The Islamic State admitted to and, bizarrely, apologised for footage of Steven Sotloff's final moments  entering the public domain earlier than planned. This revelation is important, because it dispels the idea that these war crimes follow a perverse Newtonian model: they are not subject to the laws of cause and effect, as some witting or unwitting apologists for terror would suggest.

Rather than being the result of US airstrikes, or British support for the embattled Kurds, this execution-style barbarity needs to be shown for what it is: entirely arbitrary and terrifyingly capricious. Only when we recognise this truth about our enemies - and they are our enemies (as the old leftish slogan has it, 'Fascism Means War') - can we begin to dissociate from them a self-defeating myth. They are not rational actors with legitimate grievances; they cannot be simply spoken to, or treated better and thereby stopped.

For, despite the appearance of strength, IS has overplayed its hand. In murdering citizens of two of the world's most powerful nations, it has given shape to the coalition now ranged against it. The Islamic State is rattled; giving it space and consciously avoiding escalation, as many on the self-described 'anti-imperialist' Left suggest, would be playing into its hands.

With the weight of the world slowly but definitely gathering on the side of the Iraqi, Kurdish and Syrian peoples, that disgusting act has begun to backfire on the Islamic State. Many nations joined the United States in attacking IS positions in Syria, just as many peoples have suffered under its heel.

There are legitimate criticisms of President Obama's strategy in the region, and he must go yet further if he wants to truly combat the root causes of the horrific situation now engulfing Syria and its neighbours. However, this specific action is one undertaken in the right direction. Fighting the Islamic State is entirely necessary, both in Iraq and Syria. In this, at least, the eventual decision Obama has made is just and right.

James Snell is a Contributing Editor of The Libertarian

  |   September 24, 2014    4:02 PM ET

Declaring the world at a crossroads between war and peace, President Barack Obama vowed at the UN on Wednesday to lead a coalition to dismantle an Islamic State "network of death" that has wreaked havoc in the Middle East and drawn the US back into military action in the region.

Speaking to the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly, Obama said the U.S. would be a "respectful and constructive partner" in confronting the Islamic State militants through force. But he also implored Muslims in the Middle East to reject the ideology that has spawned groups like the Islamic State and to cut off funding that has allowed that terror group and others to thrive.

"Ultimately, the task of rejecting sectarianism and extremism is a generational task — a task for the people of the Middle East themselves," Obama said. "No external power can bring about a transformation of hearts and minds."

The president's remarks came against the backdrop of an expanded US military campaign against the Islamic State group, with airstrikes now hitting targets in both Iraq and Syria. A coalition of five Arab nations joined the US this week in the strikes in Syria: Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. The British parliament is expected to be recalled on Friday to approve UK air strikes against the Islamic State.

obama

Obama addresses the 69th session of the General Assembly

The US also opened another military front with airstrikes this week against a new al-Qaida cell that the Pentagon said was "nearing the execution phase" of a direct attack on the U.S. or Europe.

The threats have drawn Obama back into conflicts in the Middle East that he has long sought to avoid, particularly in Syria, which is mired in a bloody three-year civil war. Just months ago, the president appeared to be on track to fulfil his pledge to end the US-led wars he inherited in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama sought to distinguish this current military campaign from those lengthy wars, declaring that he has no intention of sending US troops to occupy foreign lands.

"We will neither tolerate terrorist safe havens nor act as an occupying power," he said.

Obama also singled out a group of young British Muslims who launched a powerful campaign rejecting the actions of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, citing the #notinmyname campaign started by the ACF who have come together to take a stand against brutal violence espoused by the terror group.

The militant threat in the Middle East is just one in a series of global crises that have tested Obama this year. Russia has repeatedly flouted warning from the U.S. and Europe to stop its threatening moves in Ukraine. And leaders in West Africa have criticized Obama for not doing more to help combat an Ebola outbreak that is believed to have infected more than 5,800 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal.

Obama took on Russia directly in his remarks, accusing Moscow of sending arms to pro-Kremlin separatists, refusing to allow access to the site of a downed civilian airliner and then moving its own troops across the border with Ukraine.

"This is a vision of the world in which might makes right, a world in which one nation's borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed," Obama said. "America stands for something different."

Still, Obama held open the prospect of a resolution to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. While he has previously expressed scepticism about a fragile cease-fire signed earlier this month, he said Wednesday that the agreement "offers an opening" for peace.

If Russia follows through on the agreement, Obama said the US will lift economic sanctions that have damaged Russia's economy but so far done little to shift President Vladimir Putin's approach.

As Obama spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sat in the audience at the U.N., staring down at a stack of papers without glancing up at Obama.

obama

The President promised to dismantle the 'network of death'

The chaotic global landscape Obama described Wednesday stood in contrast to his remarks at the UN one year ago, when he spoke of diplomatic openings on multiple fronts. At the time, the US was embarking on another attempt to forge an elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians and there were signs of a thaw in the decades-old tensions between the US and Iran.

The Mideast peace talks have since collapsed, though the president said Wednesday that "as bleak as the landscape appears, America will never give up the pursuit of peace." And while the U.S., Iran and world powers are now in the midst of nuclear negotiations, the talks are deadlocked and there is scepticism about whether a deal can be reached by a Nov. 24 deadline.

"My message to Iran's leaders and people is simple: Do not let this opportunity pass," Obama said. "We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful."

Charlotte Meredith   |   September 24, 2014    3:38 PM ET

President Barack Obama today singled out a group of young British Muslims who launched a powerful campaign rejecting the actions of Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.

Activists led by Britain's Active Change Foundation have been spreading a message of peace online, using the same social media platforms that the terrorist group are using to propagate hate - and it hasn't gone unnoticed by the President of the United States.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly, Obama cited the #notinmyname campaign started by the ACF who have come together to take a stand against brutal violence espoused by the terror group.

In a powerful speech, Obama declared the world was at a crossroads between war and peace as he vowed to lead a coalition to dismantle the group's "network of death" that has wreaked havoc in the Middle East and drawn the US back into military action in the region.

Speaking to the annual gathering, Obama said the US would be a "respectful and constructive partner" in confronting the militants through force. But he also implored Middle Eastern nations to take the lead in addressing the conditions that have sparked the rise of extremists and to cut off funding to terror groups.

Speaking during a visit to New York, David Cameron said there was a "very clear" threat to the UK and other Western states, and warned about IS - also known as Isis or Isil: "These people want to kill us - They've got us in their sights."

Back in the UK young Muslims are doing what they can to show �ISIS is hiding behind a false Islam�, with the members insisting ISIS' beliefs are �nothing to do with what we stand for".

Hanif Qadir, founder of Active Change Foundation, previously explained to The Huffington Post UK the reason behind the #notinmyname movement, which has taken the internet by storm.

"Young British Muslims are sick and tired of the hate-filled propaganda the terrorists ISIS and their supporters churn out on social media,� Qadir said. �They are angry that the criminals are using the platforms to radicalise young people and spread their poisonous words of violence in the name of Islam."

One member of the youth group added: "Islam teaches us respect, mercy, peace and kindness, a faith we strongly believe in and one we want to protect from radicals and fanatics whose very existence threatens our religion.�

The Muslim Council of Britain roundly condemned the Islamic State�s actions and called for Henning�s release.

Here's how young Brits are fighting back:

Chris York   |   September 24, 2014   10:37 AM ET

Twitter on the other side of the Atlantic has gone into meltdown after President Obama did something unspeakable with a coffee cup on Tuesday.

#LatteSalute, as the gesture is being called, was captured on a White House Instagram video when Obama disembarked his Marine One helicopter in New York City on his way to the United Nations.

But saluting marines whilst holding a coffee cup is serious business in the US, with Obama's act prompting claims of pure disrespect and anti-America significance verging on treason.

The U.S. Navy manual on customs and courtesies does state that saluting is "the most important of all military courtesies" and recommends not saluting when one is "carrying articles with both hands or being otherwise so occupied as to make saluting impractical.

But some took it very personally indeed, a definite sign the US president hates America.

Obviously ol' Trump and Hannity had an opinion.

They were really, really mad.


Dan even came armed with a Wikipedia entry to back up his bluster.

Bush did send quite a few of them to war though...

This person even thought Nick Clegg was to blame.

And then the conspiracy grew even bigger.

But the calmer people out there saw it as an opportunity to rattle off a good pun or two.

And others sought to add a little perspective.

Then Sally Kohn blew the thing right out of the water...

But of course, some still had an answer for it no matter how ridiculous and petty it made them sound.

And let us not forget the time last year when Obama actually went back and apologised to a Marine he'd forgotten to salute.

Jack Sommers   |   September 24, 2014    8:07 AM ET

A little-known terrorist group that the US bombed in Syria was in the advanced stages of a plot to blow up airliners with explosives concealed in toothpaste, it has been reported.

The Khorasan Group, a relatively unknown Al Qaeda offshoot, was among the groups targetted by the attacks on Syria on Tuesday, that also hit Islamic State's enclave in the country.

One of the Khorasan Group's plots was to smuggle bombs on planes with non-metallic devices, including toothpaste tubes. It was in the final stages of planning the attack, a military source told CNN.

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As well as airstrikes, the US fired Tomahawk missiles against the Khorasan Group

The group's plot was the reason behind the sudden decision to ban uncharged mobile phones and electronic devices on flights in July this year.

This followed the intelligence that the group was working with Yemeni bomb-makers to target airliners.

William C. Mayville Jr, director of operations for the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the group was in the “final stages of plans to execute major attacks against Western targets and potentially the US homeland”.

James R Clapper, the US Director of National Intelligence, said last week that Khorasan were more dangerous than IS "in terms of threat to the homeland".

They are described as hardened jihadis from Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria who are not interested in seizing land but carrying out major attacks on the West.

Its members travelled to Syria but intelligence agencies believe they were sent by al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to recruit Westerners already fighting there who could be more likely to get through airline and immigration security, rather than to fight Assad's forces.

“They’re in Syria but they’re not really fighting in Syria,” Michael Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told NBC News.

“They’re using it as a place to find Western recruits.”

SEE ALSO:

Barack Obama called them "seasoned al Qaeda operatives."

"Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and try to do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people," he said.

As well as around 200 air strikes launched with Arab allies on Tuesday morning against IS, the US, on its own, launched around 20 Tomahawk cruise missiles against eight Khorasan Group targets near Aleppo in the north west of the country.

These targetted “training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communications building and command and control facilities,” the Pentagon said.

US Attorney General Eric Holder told Yahoo News: "We hit them last night out of a concern that they were getting close to an execution date of some of the plans that we have seen.

"And the hitting that we did last night, I think, will probably continue until we are at a stage where we think we have degraded their ability to get at our allies or to the homeland."

Kuwaiti Muhsin al Fadhli, a long-term Al Qaeda member, is the leader of the group.

muhsin al fadhli

Muhsin al Fadhli

He has been tracked by intelligence services for nearly a decade.

In 2012, the US State Department put up a $7 million reward for information that led to the capture of the "senior facilitator and financier" who was, it said, based in Iran at the time.

Air Strikes, Hypocrisy and the Money Trail

Oggy Boytchev   |   September 23, 2014    1:23 PM ET

The chilling image of 'Jihadi John', the man in the Syrian Desert with a black scarf wrapped around his face, a glistening knife and a south London accent sent shock waves through Western capitals. Coupled with the prospect of a military and political collapse in neighbouring Iraq politicians from both sides of the Atlantic were unanimous: 'We must do something!'

But what should we do?

This morning we woke up to reports of the first air strikes against positions of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) in northeast Syria around the group's stronghold of Raqqa. The aim was to degrade ISIL's military power and stop its advance. The air strikes, supported by a coalition of Sunni Arab states, were in effect carried out over a sovereign country, Syria, without UN authorisation. But leaders like David Cameron have already unilaterally decided that the Assad government has lost its legitimacy 'because of its use of chemical weapons against its own citizens'.

The fact Syria's military ally Russia, who earlier this month warned that such strikes would be a violation of international law, has not condemned them outright, and the Syrians have said that their UN representative was informed about them, suggests that it was somewhat a coordinated affair despite US protestations to the contrary. Russia will remain silent for as long as the US does not bomb Syrian government positions.

The official reason why the West decided not to support, at least not openly, the government of President Assad against ISIL was 'it's violent suppression of the pro-democracy movement, which started as part of the Arab Spring.'

The electorate in the Western democracies might be confused by our governments' selective criteria. On the one hand, we tolerate repressive regimes in our allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf Kingdoms, or even Egypt, where there is no meaningful opposition. On the other, Obama and Cameron have decided that they don't like Assad's treatment of the Syrian opposition.

We are grown up enough to understand if we are told that Assad has to be removed because that would degrade Putin's military power. At a stroke, that will get rid of Russia's only naval base in the Mediterranean set up under a deal with Bashar's father, Hafez, in 1971.

Getting rid of Assad will also diminish Iran's influence in the region. Iran has been supportive of Assad because the Alawite sect, from which he and most of the Syrian leadership descend, follows Shia Islam and thus forms a natural alliance with Iran in the Muslim world. Hezbollah, Iran's protege in the region, has been instrumental in reversing the tide against Assad in the earlier stages of the civil war in Syria.

With taking part in the air strikes Saudi Arabia is keen to get in on the act before the West enlists the help of its archenemy Iran in the fight against ISIL. That will be an anathema for the Saudis who fear that Iran will emerge stronger from the current crisis, like it did after the West's unfortunate Iraq adventure in 2003.

The question I would like to ask is why it seems easier to launch air strikes and even put boots on the ground than starve ISIL of money? Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who willingly took part in the airstrikes this morning albeit in unknown capacity, have been the prime funders of ISIL. Although not officially, the allegations are that they have allowed wealthy private individuals, so called 'Angel Investors' to channel money into ISIL's coffers.

There's another source of income, too. If the current going rate for hostage ransom is $5m per head, the Turkish government must have given ISIL at least a quarter of a billion dollars, if some reports are to be believed, for the recent release of their hostages. Why can't we, with all our sophisticated eves-dropping technology and computer whizzkiddery, follow the money trail and seize it?

Why can't we find those who bankroll ISIL, punish them and put them out of business? You can do that under most countries' anti-terror laws.

The Financial Times reported that a sanction-busting network created in the 1990s to sell Saddam Hussein's oil avoiding the embargo at the time has been revived in order to sell oil on behalf of ISIL from the captured oilfields and refineries. The allegations are that elements in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan knowingly facilitate this illegal trade, which is worth up to $5m a day. In a bizarre twist, it appears that Iraqi Kurds are putting money in ISIL's coffers while their forces are fighting the group on the ground. Why can't we invest a fraction of what we spent on air strikes to dismantle these mechanisms?

And finally, air strikes alone won't defeat ISIL. The organisation is clearly goading the West into direct confrontation. Once we get the first pictures of Muslim women and children killed by US missiles, no matter how isolated these incidents would be, that would up the ante in ISIL's propaganda war. This is when allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar will get cold feet.

Jack Sommers   |   September 23, 2014    8:03 AM ET

As the US Air Force began bombing Syria, Islamic State (IS) released a new propaganda video of British hostage John Cantlie claiming the West is being sucked into another Vietnam in the Middle East.

Mr Cantlie, who was abducted by the Islamist terror group, also know as ISIS, in 2012, is forced to defend them in the video and says American estimates of what it would take to beat them militarily are "laughably low." He also calls air strikes on IS "America's Gulf War Three".

It is the second video to feature the photo-journalist who has worked for the Times, Sunday Times and Sun. Last week, the first video emerged, in which he announces "a series of programmes" and claims he had "nothing to lose" in delivering the messages.

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He calls says American politicians calling IS "awful" or "vile" will not harm it.

"Such petty insults don't really do much harm to the most powerful jihadist movement seen in recent history," he says.

“The president once called George Bush’s Iraq conflict a ‘dumb war’ and couldn’t wait to distance America from it when he came into power.

"Now he’s being inextricably drawn back in. Not since Vietnam have we witnessed such a potential mess in the making.

"Current estimates of 15,000 troops needed to fight the Islamic State are laughably low. The State has more mujahideen than this.

“This is not some undisciplined outfit with a few Kalashnikovs.”

He says the "full might of the US war machine could not destroy Islamic State" and says it has grown in power since then.

john cantlie

John Cantlie as he appears in the video

Like the first, the second video also shows him with cropped hair and in an orange suit.

Though Mr Cantlie claimed in the first video that he was delivering propaganda voluntarily, few have believed this.

Other IS videos of the executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines all showed them making statements under duress, condemning their governments.

The latest video lasts six minutes and Mr Cantlie speaks in English with Arabic subtitles.

It always features high-end production values - images of public figures mentioned by Mr Cantlie are shown and he speaks with the fluent manner of a news anchor.

It appears to have been recorded before air strikes were launched.

Mr Cantlie introduces himself as "the British citizen abandoned by my government and a long-term prisoner of Islamic State".

What he says suggests the video was made before Tuesday's air strikes - saying Syrian president Assad has been "approached for permission to enter Syria".

He adds the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is decidly more pro-American than his predecessor, is keen for Western intervention to strengthen

"It's all quite a circus," Mr Cantlie says. "Airstrikes, the creation of last-minute puppet government, advisory teams on the ground, wooing previous enemies to join and trans-border incurions intoa country that's been in a state of civil war for three years.

"All while completely under-estimating the strength of fighting zeal of the opponent."

He signs off: "Join me again, for the next programme."

'It Never Happened' - US Intervention in Syria

Ian Sinclair   |   September 22, 2014   11:02 AM ET

Though it's rarely mentioned in polite company, Harold Pinter's 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature acceptance speech continues to resonate nearly ten years later.

"It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest", Pinter explained about the death and destruction caused by the United States across the globe. He went on: "The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them."

How can something not happen even while it was happening, you ask? Let me explain.

In June 2012 the New York Times, published a report headed 'CIA Said To Aid In Steering Arms To Syrian Opposition.' According to the report "a small number of CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey" coordinating the delivery of arms to rebels in Syria, including "automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons." In March 2013 the New York Times published another report, titled 'Arms Airlift to Syria Rebels Expands, With Aid From CIA'. This report noted the arms deliveries had "grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes". According to the New York Times the size of the arms transfers were such they "correlated with shifts in the war within Syria, as rebels drove Syria's army from territory by the middle of last year."

So, to summarise, in mid-2012 the most influential newspaper in the world reported the US was helping to arm the rebels - a fact confirmed by subsequent stories in the New York Times itself aswell as numerous reports in other mainstream news outlets around the world.

Contrast this publicly available, easily accessed information with these summaries from the mainstream media of the ongoing US role in Syria:

The Telegraph, 21 April 2013: "While Saudi Arabia and Qatar are both known to be
channeling arms to the rebels, there was no indication that the United States, Britain or other western allies might follow suit."

New York Times, 4 May 2013: "President [Obama] seems to be moving closer to providing
lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, even though he rejected such a policy just months
ago."

The Guardian, 8 May 2013: "The US, which has outlawed al-Nusra as a terrorist group, has
hesitated to arm the FSA [Free Syrian Army]..."

The Guardian, 23 July 2013: "Obama, who has been reluctant to engage too deeply in the
Syrian conflict, changed [his] position on arming opponents of Assad's regime last month".

New York Times, 9 September 2014: "Mr Obama has resisted military engagement in
Syria for more than three years, out of fear early on that arming the rebels who oppose Mr
Assad would fail to alter the balance in the civil war."

BBC Today Programme, 11 September 2014, Presenter Mishal Husein to US
Ambassador: "If you [the US] had helped the moderate Syrian opposition, the Free Syrian
Army, three years ago, even two years ago, we might well not be in the position that we are
now. President Obama's reluctance to intervene and to take action on Syria has contributed
to what we are seeing now." (1 hour 52 minutes in)

As Pinter said, "Even while it was happening it wasn't happening".

Why are all of these professional journalists - supposedly a profession made up of stroppy, questioning cynics - incapable of stating the most basic of facts about the US role in Syria?

The recent admission of former senior Reuters journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall may provide the answer. Describing Reuters's Iraq coverage as "pretty useless", the ex-Baghdad Bureau Chief explained "there is a certain discourse that becomes normalized, in which certain views are acceptable and others not." In this atmosphere, if you make obvious factual statements "you are often marginalised as some sort of looney figure", he notes. "It is through this process that the mainstream media basically becomes a tool of misinforming people, rather than informing people."

Another reason is alluded to in a September 2013 New York Times article that noted "Saudi Arabia, quietly cooperating with American and British intelligence and other Arab governments, has modestly increased deliveries of weapons to rebels fighting in southern Syria". The US and UK cooperation with Saudi Arabia is covert, the report explained, because "American and British intelligence and Arab Governments... do not want their support publicly known".

By refusing to inform their readers that the US has been arming the rebels in Syria since 2012 the mainstream liberal media have done exactly what best suits the US and UK governments. And by so closely following the US and UK Governments' preferred narrative, the media continues to minimise the US's responsibility for the on-going carnage in Syria and the rise of Islamic State.

The UK is OK thanks to GB

Richard Hytner   |   September 21, 2014   10:56 PM ET

'No' to independence from the UK meant 'yes' to dependence on GB. At the eleventh hour, Gordon Brown the former Prime Minister trumped Scotland's First Minister with authenticity, humility and outstanding oratory.

The Scottish Referendum has salutary lessons for leadership. Gordon Brown's convincing contribution to the 'No' campaign offers at least one: we should pause long and hard before exiting or exiling leaders we deem surplus to our new needs.

How ironic that those withering in their assessment of Gordon Brown's performance as Prime Minister were forced to rely heavily on his excellent and impassioned advocacy to see off the SNP. Was this the same Gordon Brown whose judgement was clouded by Tony Blair's broken promise over the timing of his turn at the top? Was this the same Gordon Brown who, by his own and others' leadership standards, so badly disappointed when he eventually moved from No. 11 to No. 10 Downing Street?

To become and remain Chancellor of the Exchequer for as long as he did, suggests that Brown was a competent and credible leader if, at times, a brooding and brutal one. His punishment for failing in the highest office was the humiliation of abandonment by the party he had served for a political lifetime. Brown warned of the 'Yes' camp's appeal and the 'No' camp's complacency, and offered to help his Labour colleagues. Ed Milliband, Brown's successor and protégé, preferred to distance himself from his former boss. Forget that the man had wisdom to impart and a point to prove. Discount his passion to win this particular fight - Brown's provenance gave him a deep connection to the cause. Nope, to the party's new leaders, Gordon was an embarrassment, the guy who just lost Labour the election. One hopes that this weekend Sarah Brown treated her husband to a side of schadenfreude with his scrambled eggs.

It is not only Milliband who should now be lavishing his erstwhile leader with lashings of gratitude. Her Majesty the Queen can relax, her realm not crudely down-sized; the royal corgis can roam Balmoral as landlords not trespassers; the Governor of the Bank of England, investors and chief executives can leave both loot and business locations untouched.

David Cameron marked his Referendum relief by sharing a papadom or two with his political pals. The plot they cooked up over a curry, and the speed of the announcement that England and Wales deserved the same devolved powers as those promised to Scotland, contained more spice than most had anticipated and significantly more than Ed Milliband could stomach.

Gratitude to Gordon should endure beyond his Referendum renaissance. His stellar performance has further exposed our nation's futile obsession with failure. It also supports the idea that a life in leadership transcends title and tenure in a single role. The thought that Gordon Brown's greatest political triumph may have been won not as Chancellor, nor as Prime Minister, but as an elder statesman without office, should offer lasting hope to leaders throughout all organisations.

Why stamp those who vacate the top dog's office with a past-their-sell-by date or insist on a 'former leader' label? Once a leader, always a leader. Why the race to conclusive condemnation of a leader's credentials on the basis of just one balls-up? When our leaders overstep the mark, succumb to hubris, stop listening and become excessively narcissistic - predictably, most do - in large part we have ourselves to blame. It suits us to invest just one individual with overarching accountability. It lets the rest of us off the hook. In today's winner-takes-all popular culture, in which we celebrate the X Factor, and dismiss those without it with a Lord Sugar-coated, 'You're Fired!', we search for the charismatic, heroic leaders who can rise above, and withstand, the onslaught of social media. Look at what America has done to arguably the most promising President since JFK. Evangelised as the answer to every prevailing problem, emasculated by Republican envy and intransigence, Barack Obama has journeyed from light of the world to lame duck in the blink of an eye.

For eleven years David Moyes was universally admired as the highly accomplished manager of Everton Football Club. It took just ten months in charge at Manchester United to conclude that he was the new pin up for the Peter Principle, whereby all of us, at some stage, reach our own level of incompetence. Of course, he had a hand in the dramatic diminution of his leadership reputation, but we too quickly overlook situational context and too easily ignore other factors that mask the truth. The implausibility of Moyes' success was inked into his employment contract.

David Moyes, Philip Clarke, former CEO at Tesco, François Hollande, the currently unpopular and, one day, former President of France, will all doubtless be judged to have failed at the peak of their powers. Can historians be tempted to cut these leaders some slack? Will they record that all were willing to have a go at the top job, knowing full well that success was never a shoo-in and that humiliation in the history books was, if not guaranteed, a realistic return for their efforts? Or might they yet pre-empt the historian's damning assessment, with an unexpected, welcome leadership intervention in a new role that cements a huge, enduring impact like that of Brown? Whether sought or imposed by circumstance, time spent away from the limelight can be liberating and productive for a leader, as Nicolas Sarozy hinted recently. It has given the former French President time to reflect on what is important, 'without the weight of power that twists human interaction.'

For showing that leadership can have a long shelf-life, even the defeated, deflated Alex Salmond may have Gordon Brown to thank. No longer burdened by the weight of power, and assuming he can soon stop sulking, the soon-to-be former First Minister has the opportunity to create a leadership legacy that stretches beyond bringing his country to the brink of independence. As for Gordon, he needs to go easy on the curtain calls and get back to the shadows. It appears that cameo not centre-stage roles suit him best.

Richard Hytner is Adjunct Associate Professor of Marketing, London Business School, and Deputy Chairman, Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. His book, Consiglieri: Leading From The Shadows, was published on 4th June 2014 by Profile Books. www.consiglieribook.com

Follow Richard @RichardHytner

The Harsh Truth: ISIL Is the Product of Iran's Theocracy and Assad's Dictatorship

Lord Maginnis   |   September 18, 2014    2:12 PM ET

There is no doubt that the Islamic State (ISIL) - the nascent caliphate being set up by ultra-extremist fighters in Syria and Iraq - is a serious threat to all Western democracies and to the peace and stability of the world. All reasonable observers, of all whatever political hue, agree upon this fact. What is nonetheless a matter of dispute is how best to meet that threat. And far too many commentators are already committed to the notion that we can drive ISIL out of existence by simply bombing its captured territory and partnering with enemies or adversaries, whatever form they may take.

The tactics of ISIL are so shocking, the content of its rhetoric so unqualified that we can't help but focus upon them. But recognizing the threat does us little good if we fail to assess it in its proper context. We can supply massive quantities of arms to the Peshmerga and bomb ISIL positions to oblivion, but we equally must confront and grapple with the root cause of this threat.

In an August 16 commentary in the Telegraph, Prime Minister Cameron, for once, touched superficially and briefly upon the reality that the current conflict in the Middle East is not merely Sunni versus Shiite, but is instead a competition between ordinary Muslims and all manner of violent extremist groups, each of whom will seek to express its ambition through whatever Islamic tradition is under the pressure of the current power - e.g. Sunnis who were under the Diktat of the incompetent al-Maliki. However, the West seems intent on seeking to exploit the idea that, somehow, Iran may be a viable partner in undermining the extremism represented by ISIL.

What they fail to recognize is that the Iranian theocratic regime is the opposite side of the same extremist terrorist coin. Its commitment to radical Shiite Islam helped to create the conditions for the rise of ISIL, by supporting an exclusively Shiite government in Iraq and a repressive dictatorship in Syria.

Others argue that UK must engage with Iran and Assad in the global fight against ISIL similar to our co-operation with Stalin against Nazi Germany during the WWII. What the advocates of this policy fail to recognise is that, whereas Stalin's dictatorship was never born in some sort of reaction to Hitler's Nazi Germany, the religious dictatorship in Iran and its puppet allies in Syria and Iraq, have paved the way for the creation of vicious terrorist groups like ISIL.

The West - Obama and Cameron - have been naïve in their lack of sensitivity for regional allies in its fight against Middle Eastern extremism. Relatively moderate Muslim countries that are traditional Western allies have a positive role to play. Their contribution to the fight against the 'Islamic State' is unlikely to take the form of direct support for alternative extremist groups. Hence Iran, shrewdly playing both sides against the middle can be no more than another adversary in the West's fight against extremism.

Should the West be more diligent in listening too, rather than dictating to, countries like Turkey and Jordan, to name but two, it could influence on a broader geographical basis a policy of working to stabilise the Middle East in a way its love/hate/threat relationship with Iran can never achieve. Unfortunately, our policy of hasty rapprochement has alienated some potential allies who simply will not be reassured by our bomb Assad/ don't bomb Assad tactics has suggested. The Obama/Cameron meddling has shamed the West's credibility because of its inconsistency and logical contradictions. Is it not frightening that 11 years after our invasion of Iraq that country has become the very base for ISIL barbarism? To date, 3,000 members of the foremost Iranian resistance group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), remain stranded in Camp Liberty, Iraq, under constant threat from both Iranian agents who totally permeate the government in Baghdad, and the encroaching Islamic State extremists.

On 27 June, British MPs from both houses of Parliament, took part in a grand meeting of 100 000 Iranians in Paris, who were joined by hundreds of Parliamentarians, dignitaries and Former State Officials from the US, Europe and other continents, to support the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Mrs Maryam Rajavi.

Mrs Rajavi, representing the broader Iranian democratic opposition coalition, announced her vision for future Iran summarised in a Ten Point Plan that envisions a free, democratic, secular and nuclear-free Iran. The UK neglects democratically-driven PMOI/NCRI seemingly for not annoying Rouhani, of all people!

Our neglect for her movement, is part and parcel of a painfully short-sighted approach to the escalating conflicts in the Middle East. The Islamic Republic of Iran with its barbaric treatment of its own people surely cannot be a credible ally in the fight against ISIL. It is, with its dominating influence in Baghdad, a major contributor to current crisis - if embraced by the West it will be the nursery for World War III.

If an endless cycle of extremism is to be avoided, the West must immediately make a stand against extremism in all its forms. In order to do so, we must extract leverage from all possible relationships with moderate, secular, and democratic players in the Middle East, from the NCRI to the Iraqi Kurds to the Gulf Cooperation Council. Our objective cannot merely be to destroy the 2014 Islamic State, but to destroy the conditions that allowed ISIL to exploit a popular uprising in Mosul against the dreadful Nouri al-Maliki. NCRI/PMOI cautioned and alerted the West for 11 years but that fell on deaf ears until reality dawned.

For the West to acknowledge that there are at least two prominent enemies to freedom and stability in the Middle East would be a start. But by embracing one and opposing the other the West may disrupt the current flow of violence, but it will never halt the growth of extremism. As long as a Shiite theocracy remains in place in Iran, new Sunni extremists will always stand ready to compete with it for control over the soul of the Muslim world.