The First 'War on Terror' Was a Failure - Do We Really Need a Sequel?

Mehdi Hasan   |   September 18, 2014   12:09 PM ET

It's difficult to disagree with the verdict of Barack Obama. The Isis terrorists, the US president declared in a televised address on 10 September, "are unique in their brutality... They enslave, rape and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists - Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff." (On 13 September, they also beheaded the brave British aid worker David Haines.)

Isis, in other words, is evil. Scum. The worst of the worst. Unique, to borrow Obama's phrase, in its brutality. Nevertheless, it isn't difficult to disagree with the solution proffered by the president and his new neocon pals. "We are at war [and] we must do what it takes, for as long as it takes, to win," declaimed Dick Cheney, the former US vice-president. "What's the harm of bombing them at least for a few weeks and seeing what happens?" asked the pundit William Kristol.

Forget for a moment the legality of bombing Iraq without congressional approval, or bombing Syria without UN approval. Put to one side, also, the morality of dropping bombs from 5,000 feet on towns in northern Iraq that are full of civilians.

The bigger issue is that military action might make us feel better about ourselves and it might even "degrade" Isis but it won't "destroy" it (to use Obama's preferred terminology). How will dropping bombs destroy the hate-filled ideology behind the terrorist group? How will air strikes prevent foreign fighters returning home to the west to carry out revenge attacks? How will killing innocent Iraqi Sunnis "in the crossfire" stop Isis from recruiting new and angry fighters from inside Iraq's Sunni communities? How will cruise missiles produce an inclusive government in Baghdad, one that heals the long-standing rifts between Kurds, Shias and Sunnis and encourages the Sunnis to turn their backs on Isis, as they did on al-Qaeda in 2006 and 2007? How will despatching drones help generate a national civic identity that makes Iraqis feel united as a single people, rather than part of a patchwork of warring tribes and sects?

If bombing "worked", Iraq would have morphed into a Scandinavia-style utopia long ago. Remember, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Obama is the fourth US president in a row to appear live on television in order to announce air strikes on Iraq.

Remember also that the US and its allies have been dropping ordnance on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Libya, among other countries, since 2001. Yet, today, the Taliban is resurgent in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, while al-Qaeda is opening new branches of its terror franchise in India; Libya is in chaos, with Islamist militias vying for control and the government in exile hiding out on a Greek car ferry; and US air strikes in Yemen, according to a former US embassy official in Sana'a, generate "roughly 40 to 60 new enemies for every [al-Qaeda] operative killed by drones".

"It's hard to think of any American project in the Middle East that is not now at or near a dead end," said Chas Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in July. Why? "The United States seldom resorts to diplomacy in resolving major differences... Coercive measures like sanctions and bombing are much more immediately satisfying emotionally than the long slog of diplomacy." Or as the economist and senior UN adviser Jeffrey Sachs recently tweeted, "US has a one-note foreign policy: bomb."

Once again, we are confronted with the myth of redemptive violence, the belief that the application of superior western air power is ultimately just, noble and necessary. Wanting vengeance for Foley, Sotloff and Haines, not to mention the thousands of unnamed Syrians and Iraqis slaughtered by Isis, is understandable. Vengeance, however, is no substitute for a viable strategy.

As Richard Barrett, the former MI6 head of counterterrorism, warned me in a recent interview, it's a mistake to see air strikes as a "tool that is going to solve the [Islamic State] problem... It's just reaching for a hammer because it is a hammer and it's to hand."

So what's to be done? First, just because there are no good options in Iraq doesn't mean we have to pick the worst option: a tried, tested and failed option. Yes, air strikes can keep Isis fighters away from Erbil but they cannot eradicate Isis.

Second, there is a range of political steps that must be taken - from guaranteeing Sunni participation in the new Iraqi government to cracking down on the oil sales worth $100million a month that fund the Isis reign of terror. Then there is the regional cold war that has helped fuel the hot wars in Iraq and Syria. Getting Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran to a negotiating table, Richard Barrett explained, would have "much more impact [on Iraq] than flying out and dropping bombs".

We can't talk to Isis but we can talk to Saudi Arabia (and, for that matter, to Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates). And, yes, to Iran, too. The Iranians can put pressure on the dysfunctional Shia-led government in Baghdad; the Saudis can do the same with the disaffected Sunni tribes that have allied with Isis.

Instead, Obama, with David Cameron in support, prepares for a new, US-led, three-year military campaign, across two countries, against the thugs and gangsters of Isis, even though 13 years of the so-called war on terror - stretching from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Iraq to Yemen, Libya to Somalia - have produced only more war and more terror. Do we really want a sequel?

Mehdi Hasan is the political director of the Huffington Post UK and a contributing writer for the New Statesman, where this article is crossposted

''ARGHHHHHHHH! '' What Are You Getting So Annoyed About?

Paul Marshall   |   September 17, 2014    4:08 PM ET

The Ferrari Temper. The Fiat temper. The Ford Temper (enhanced by Cosworth of Northampton and beloved by boy racers everywhere and probably, Jeremy Clarkson). Not forgetting the Volvo Temper.

Before you ring your local dealership asking about any of the aforementioned models, they don't actually exist. The Swedes in particular are far too composed and self-controlled to ever produce a Temper. When you think about it though, isn't Temper a great name for a car? Beats the pants off Punto.

You can imagine the ads shot entirely on location in the bowels of hell; Ridley Scott behind the camera and the Devil himself behind the wheel. The name suggests a fiery and blistering performance. 0-62 in 1.4 seconds. God! that's slow, I reckon my temper goes from standstill to all out ballistic in a fraction of that . And I don't have the turbo version. Not yet. Maybe one day.

Still, there's a good reason motor manufacturers have never called and never will call one of their vehicles the Temper - any colour you like as long as it's red mist. This is because the very word also evokes anger. And as everyone knows, anger can quickly turn into rage and the last thing we need on the road, or anywhere else for that matter, is more rage.

Like a lot of people, my volatile temper - not tiny, but hardly dangerously large either - sometimes gets the better of me. I know it doesn't mean to. But occasionally (OK, slightly more than occasionally), it can't help itself. Like a recalcitrant child or a petulant pooch, it kind of flips. Definitely a case of my pan boileth over.

Why are some of us genetically hot wired to be hot-headed? Why do we suddenly fly off the handle without any provocation? What is it that makes an individual explode while others, outwardly, at least, remain an oasis of calm and tranquility?

I asked myself the very same questions the other day when I slammed down the phone- or, more correctly, the pieces of the phone that remained intact- after speaking to a supplier who'd once again fallen short in the service they afford us.

The answer is unlikely to come as any great psychiatric surprise. It's simply because we can get away with it. And the more we're allowed to get away with it, the more we play up to our irateness, without a single thought for the person or inanimate object about to be subjected to such extreme annoyance and abuse.

As with most of my work and quite a few of my personal conversations, this one started reasonably enough. Then it rapidly went downhill. To use a sporting analogy, it began as a genteel ladies bowls match, although never underestimate the steely determination of Cheltenham women over 65, and ended up as a grudge ice hockey match with me using the puck (sic) word a little too much.

Before I dialled the number, I knew in my mind what the eventual outcome would be. My brother, who I share an office with said: "Are you sure you should be calling them? Wouldn't it be better to just send an email?"

"Don't worry", I replied."I'll be fine. I won't lose it. Promise". A minute later I was inevitably ranting and screaming like a complete mad man. In my defence, I must state that I remained remarkably eloquent throughout and no expletive was mispronounced. Quite an achievement at 105 decibels with veins bulging on my forehead and flames coming out of my nostrils.

If any third world dictatorship is looking for a new leader, they could do a lot worse than to look in my direction. Those conference calls with Obama, Cameron and Putin would be interesting. "Don't they know it's the end of the world, it ended when I said *!&?@!%#*# off".

Unfortunately, the problem with having a temper is that you forever find yourself saying sorry for your behaviour. Especially galling when it's not your fault and you're not to blame - according to you.

What a sad little apology of a word 'sorry' is.

As a sentiment its overuse has almost reduced it to being practically worthless. It has no value any more. People are so sorry so often, no one really believes that they actually mean it. Despite this, the suckers I most recently said it to seemed pretty convinced. They were quite taken aback by my apparent contrition.

Far from being the hardest word to say, it is, on the contrary, the easiest. Every bit as throwaway as a tissue, 'sorry' is quickly becoming vocabulary's Kleenex.

However, it continues to be an effective way of hopefully diffusing a tricky situation. Of digging yourself out of a hole. Or of getting a person to shut up. It's hard for someone to remain livid with you when you've been so humble and apologetic.

Of course, if you don't want to constantly come over as the weaker party, the trick is to attempt to control your temper. To temper it, if you prefer.

Try soothing music, counting to 10 (I think I once managed 3) or signing up for a yoga class.

Yoga? Well, bollocks to that.

ISIS Is Trying To 'Suck The West' Into A New War

Mehdi Hasan   |   September 17, 2014   11:06 AM ET

ISIS is deliberately trying "to suck the west" into a new war in Iraq, one of the world's leading experts on Islamist terrorism has warned.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, former FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who spearheaded the bureau's hunt for Osama bin Laden in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, said he was "sceptical" of the US government plan to tackle ISIS. "Obama didn't provide a comprehensive strategy, he provided a plan which had series of tactics in it.. We're still missing a strategy to combat the roots of extremism. We've had tactics but no strategy to combat the ideology."

The American, who now runs the Soufan Group, which develops counterterrorism strategies for governments and corporate clients, said the recent beheadings of two US journalists and a UK aid worker were not aimed at deterring a Western military intervention in Iraq and Syria, but at provoking one.

"They are trying to suck the west into the war with them," he said. "Then they'll be not only the regional bad boy, but also the bad boy for the global jihadi movement. They can then claim they are in an international war - a modern day Crusade - against all the countries coming to fight them."

According to Soufan, ISIS is "fearful of Islamists within [their movement] turning against them.. They want to fight the British and the Americans.. to unify the extremists within and diminish any kind of meaningful threat [to them] within their support base. They are not fearful of secular or moderate people."

ali soufan

Former FBI agent Ali Soufan spearheaded the hunt for Osama Bin Laden in the run-up to 9/11

Soufan led the FBI's investigation into Al Qaeda's bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and has interrogated, among others, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard Abu Jandal. He told HuffPost UK that ISIS fighters would "eventually" target Western countries. "That's why they have been working hard to recruit people from the west. They were able to recruit more people from the West than Al Qaeda ever dreamed of."

Soufan made clear that he supports targeted air strikes against ISIS positions, by the United States and it allies, but only as part of a wider strategy to tackle the root causes of violent extremism in the Muslim-majority world.

"The military campaign is only a tool, it's not a strategy. The solution is not only by drones. It's not only by airstrikes. The solution is a regional solution that [is about] defeating the ideology that promotes extremist groups like ISIS, defeating the incubating factors that promote extremism, and [making] countries in the region.. understand they cannot use extremism in their proxy wars against one other."

Soufan stressed, particularly, the need to "deal with the regional environment" in which extremist groups have been allowed to grow and mutate. "As long as you have a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, you have a lot of problems which allows ISIS and others to exist. You need a regional solution for a regional problem."

Military action, though, is unavoidable as "ISIS is not going to be defeated by words". However, the former FBI agent is "against putting people from the West on the ground. Because this fight is about the Muslim world, this is about the soul of Islam. The roots are not solely based in the US or the West, they're mainly based in the Muslim world."

He said the new anti-ISIS coalition that the Obama administration is trying to build in the Middle East may not be viable, given the differing agendas of the countries involve. "Unfortunately, what we see with all these nations allegedly signed up for this coalition [is that] each one of these countries - Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, etc - seems to be trying to co-opt the fight against ISIS to promote its own interests."

Soufan also highlighted the role of Gulf members of the coalition in fanning the ideological flames of what he calls "Bin Ladenism" and said some Sunni-led autocracies across the region were now "fearful of ISIS" only "because" ISIS became a tiger that they could not ride any more".

The former FBI agent, however, dismissed those in the West calling for an anti-ISIS alliance which also includes the Bashar Al Assad regime in Syria. "I don't think we should be working with Assad," he told HuffPost UK. "In the West, we think the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the Middle East, the enemy of enemy can also be an enemy."

Soufan said there was an urgent need to "establish a strategy to counter the [Al Qaeda and ISIS] narrative globally. Talking about it is one thing. But we need to focus on the ideology."

  |   September 16, 2014    4:06 PM ET

America's top military leader told Congress on Tuesday that if President Barack Obama's expanded military campaign to destroy Islamic extremists fails, he would recommend that the United States consider deploying American ground forces to Iraq.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate panel that the goal for American advisers is to help Iraqi forces with planning, logistics and coordinating military efforts by coalition partners to take out members of the Islamic State group.

"To be clear, if we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I will recommend that to the president," Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committees, using an alternative name for the group.

Pressed during questioning, Dempsey said he "would go back to the president and make a recommendation that may include the use of ground forces."

Obama has maintained that American forces will not have a combat mission in Iraq.

Dempsey and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faced multiple questions from lawmakers in the first high-stakes hearing examining Obama's expanded military campaign to counter the relentless terrorist threat from Middle East extremists.

Dempsey said Americans in Iraq are serving in a combat advisory role but not participating in direct combat. However, if the Iraqi forces took on a complex mission to retake Mosul, the general said he might want U.S. troops to accompany the Iraqi troops or provide close combat advice.

The apparent contradiction of combat-trained forces not participating directly in combat was captured in one exchange between Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Dempsey.

"Are pilots dropping bombs in Iraq a direct combat mission and will U.S. forces be prepared to provide search and rescue mission if pilots get shot down and be prepared to put boots on the ground to make that mission be successful?" Inhofe asked.

"Yes and yes," Dempsey said.

The U.S. military conducted strikes near Baghdad against the Islamic State group, which has seized large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Obama is seeking congressional support to train and equip vetted Syrian moderates fighting both the Islamic militants and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

congress

Members of the anti-war activist group CodePink interrupt a Senate Armed Services Committee

Dempsey said the United States is prepared to strike Islamic targets in Syria.

"This will not look like 'shock and awe' because that is not how ISIL is organized. But it will be persistent and sustainable," Dempsey said, referring to the air bombardment at the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

Several lawmakers have their doubts about the United States being pulled into a larger war, with increasing numbers of American troops. The president has already dispatched more than 1,000 Americans three years after combat forces left Iraq.

Many Republicans and Democrats have expressed reservations about the ability to identify moderates in a country awash with rebel formations and shifting alliances. The Islamic State grew out of the al-Qaida movement, but the two are now fighting. In some instances, the moderate Free Syrian Army has teamed with al-Qaida's local franchise, the Nusra Front.

Hagel said the U.S. will monitor them closely to ensure that weapons don't fall into the wrong hands.

"There will always be risk in a program like this, but we believe that risk is justified by the imperative of destroying ISIL — and the necessity of having capable partners on the ground in Syria," the defense secretary said.

Anti-war protesters filled the front rows at the hearing, chanting "no more war" at the start of the session and repeatedly interrupting the testimony. The protesters were escorted from the room.

Hagel said the involvement will not be "an easy or brief effort. We are at war with ISIL, as we are with al-Qaida."

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met in the Oval Office with retired Marine Gen. John Allen, who is coordinating international efforts to combat the Islamic State militants. Brett McGurk, a top Iraq adviser at the State Department, also took part in the meeting.

Racing to finish its work and leave Washington for midterm campaigning, House Republicans finalized legislation to authorize the mission to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels.

The authorization under consideration will be included as an amendment to a spending bill Congress must pass to keep the government open until mid-December. That would give lawmakers the opportunity to hold a separate debate and vote on the matter — something members of both parties want. Votes could come as early as Wednesday.

Bowing to congressional fears that any vote is tantamount to a war vote, the legislation includes a provision stating that "nothing in this section shall be construed to constitute a specific statutory authorization for the introduction of U.S. armed forces into hostilities or into situations wherein hostilities are clearly indicated by the circumstances."

The provision reflects a congressional divide between hawks seeking tougher action than that proposed by Obama and lawmakers weary from more than a decade of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The measure compels the Pentagon to present Congress with a plan 15 days before any training begins and requires ongoing updates every 90 days.

The U.S. plan is to develop moderate Syrian forces at Saudi Arabian training sites before helping them return to the battlefield. It's unclear how long they would need to be trained to be battle-ready or how the U.S. could ensure their attention remained on fighting extremists and not just the Syrian government.

____

AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

SEE ALSO:

Cooking for President Obama Was Food for Thought

Chef Damian Trejo   |   September 16, 2014    2:27 PM ET

2014-09-16-obama.jpg

Food is the world's most powerful leveller... and nothing cements that fact better than being asked to cook for President Barack Obama himself.

Nosh crosses boundaries of language, age, class and race and enlightens us about each of these elements.

Food has become a social glue and the TV is dominated by programmes about it. Smells and tastes have the extraordinary power to evoke visceral memories, like no other trigger.

Our existence revolves entirely around meals and our lives depend on it. It's a central ingredient for traditions like Christmas and Thanksgiving or seminal life moments, from wedding receptions and birthday cakes to religious feasts like Yom Kippur or Eid.

Food choices are the foundation of our health and teach us about different cultures, lifestyles, history and individuals.

Naturally, as Head Chef of London's Manhattan Grill, I'm passionate about food and am fascinatined by other people's relationships with it, because it's one subject that excites everybody, whether it's a fish they caught and cooked themselves, or a family recipe, proudly handed down like a treasured heirloom.

I've cooked for a galaxy of stars, from the Dalai Lama to the president, and people are always eager to find out what and how they ate. The media is increasingly saturated with photographs of celebrities eating and details about their diets.

And that's because food humanises stars and brings them down from the clouds, proving they're just like us, because it's a normal and integral part of everyday life that we all identify with.

However, as I discovered with President Obama, he may eat like the rest of us, but the planning behind each meal is an enormous task, a million miles away from the conventional sarnie cafe-run or casual restaurant nibble.

I was put on standby for an extended period, to cater for the rumblings of Obama's presidential tummy, when I cooked for him during his hotel stay in Warsaw.

Celebrities are often the only clients who see restaurants' kitchens, since they're frequently shepherded past the saucepans and ladles to avoid public areas. And this was the case with the President, who was secretly ushered from his limo in the loading bay, and into a service lift to my kitchen, before being sneaked into his room, where the floor was temporarily shut for the occasion.

Obviously, security needs to be impossibly high, when food and the world's most powerful man are concerned. There are even rumours of the White House's Chef Andrew being Obama's official food taster at public dinners, although I didn't see evidence of this when cooking for him.

And while the rest of us fill meal times with whatever culinary delights tickle our fancies at that moment, the president must decide far in advance, whether he wants a lasagne the following Monday or not. So we were given detailed instructions about what to prepare, way ahead of his visit.

And unlike many celebs, everything he chose was from our menu, with no special requirements, off-menu demands or requests that all brown M&Ms were removed from his candy bowl.

The president headed to our gym, unnannounced, to the eye-popping surprise of various residents sweating over the Cross Trainers, because he refused to have it shut down for his session.

Meanwhile, I had around 15 former Navy Seals from White House security, probing the kitchen and closely watching, as I prepared his amusingly innocuous meal of Free Range eggs, ham and chips. He's definitely a fan of a cheeky chip and snacked on them during his stay, drowned in my homemade salsa.

Of all the celebrities, people are most transfixed by Obama's meals, and that's no surprise: If you are what you eat, what must you chow down on to be 44th president of the United States?

Food is a political marketing tool he frequently uses, to endear himself even more with the world.

Who can forget the time he chest-bumped a man serving him as he collected an enormous take-away order, after the fast food worker shouted "equal rights for gay people?" Or the time he famously praised his retiring White House pastry chef Bill Yosses -- "The Crustmaster" -- for his delicious pies, saying: "I don't know what he does -- whether he puts crack in them, or what," adding "my cholesterol shot up and I thought, it's the pie! So we had to establish a really firm rule about no pie during the week."

My extraordinary experience with Obama gave me a fascinating insight into the power of food, to unite and equalise us all... whether you're a president with ham on the end of a fork which has been scrutinised by 15 guards, or a mum spooning up spuds and Yorkshire Puds on a Sunday.

And that's a truly tasty thought to digest.

Ned Simons   |   September 16, 2014    9:42 AM ET

The White House has repeated its wish that Scotland reject independence, as polls suggest the future of the United Kingdom remains too close to call.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that the break-up of the UK was a "decision for the people of Scotland to make", but indicated the United States wanted to see Britain remain unified.

"I will certainly respect their right to cast their own ballot without interference from people on the outside," he said. "But, you know, as the president himself said, we have an interest in seeing the United Kingdom remain strong, robust, united and an effective partner."

However with the vote just days away and the polls too close to call, Earnest said the White House did not want to be seen to be "improperly interfering" in the internal-affairs of the UK.

Earnest also acknowledged that the US government had been planning for the dissolution of its closet ally. “I suspect that there’s somebody at the administration who’s been thinking about that at some level,” he said. "I don’t know to what level it has risen. It hasn't risen to my level, or maybe it hasn't sunk to my level."

By contrast the British government has steadfastly insisted it has made no contingency plans for its own break-up. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and other coalition ministers have repeatedly claimed they are focused solely on winning a 'No' vote and have not directed civil servants to plan for a 'Yes' victory.

The White House's comment on Monday restatement of a view given by president Obama in June, when he said the US wanted to see the UK remain a "strong, robust, united, and an effective partner".

In August, 27 members of the US Congress, from both parties, signed a motion urging Scotland to reject independence. House resolution 713, was signed by representatives including Republican congressman Ed Royce, the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee.

Royce told The Huffington Post at the time: "Our ‘special relationship’ with the United Kingdom is unparalleled. It is crucial for both our nations to continue our close cooperation on key diplomatic, security, economic, and human rights concerns. A strong, unified United Kingdom has been a leader in the world and I look forward to continuing our valuable partnership."

ISIL - Winning the War

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   September 15, 2014    4:39 AM ET

This week once again, the world witnessed another barbaric act by ISIL- the execution of British aid worker David Haines.

It is important to keep in mind, ISIL is not just another rag tag group of terrorists.

They are a well organised, well financed and sophisticated media savvy operation with a clear set of objectives - taking territory, military and financial assets and creating a Caliphate to support their own extreme brand of Islam.

It is now well documented that their intent is to shock the conscience of the West by spreading their message of hate to the disenfranchised and alienated worldwide by using our 'very own' 24 news cycle and social media.

Each of these horrific murders - filmed beheadings - have been carefully produced and distributed by ISIL to guarantee maximum free media attention.

Unfortunately, the West is caught between providing information to our citizens in line with our commitment to freedom of the press and being duped into becoming an unwilling participant by spreading their evil and distorted message.

These videos are gruesomely compelling and manipulative since they place the viewer where they can easily identify with the victim and his family.

These up close and personal brutal executions are in stark contrast to the sanitised concept of airstrikes and bombing seen on TV monitors from Defense Department's Headquarters both here and abroad.

Not at all shocking to anyone, these highly produced videos are clearly being used as a PR recruiting tool by ISIL.

This is far from the first time an evil and twisted group has used the "media tools" of the their time to spread a message of hate and destruction.

A similar operational plan was put in place by the Fascist Powers during World War II, glorifying their cause as they sought world domination.

The only question here is have we learned the lessons of the past? If so where is our sophisticated, Hollywood and London produced counter-propaganda campaign to expose the ISIL diabolic plot?

Where are the studio heads in Great Britain and in the US supporting our anti-ISIL message.

Hitler and Goebbels 'wunderkind' Leni Riefenstahl and her "Triumph of the Will" was no match for the real defenders of our democratic way of life on the silver screen - Noel Coward, John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, George Stevens and Frank Capra.

Last week in a dramatic prime-time address to the nation president Obama used the skill of a lawyer selecting his words with great care. With each word the president sent a clear message to both his domestic and international audience.

The president said that ISIL is not Islam - he made it clear that this group was killing Muslims, Christians and other minorities and committing acts that were not in any way condoned by Islam.

His message was intended for moderate Muslims worldwide - that America and its Allies understand that ISIL does not represent the view of all Muslims.

It was also intended to invite those moderate Islamic countries to join the coalition against ISIL since the US and its Allies must tread very carefully here.

Some part of the war that ISIL is waging is in fact a war over Islam. Not only do they want to rid the world of those they consider "non-believers" they also want to eliminate all other forms of Islam.

This is in some sense a war between Sunni and Shia and it is critical that the US and it's Allies cannot be seen taking sides in this struggle.

The president also went to great pains to say that ISIL was not a state - this too had great significance since it does not recognise or acknowledge the territory they hold.

Perhaps more important, the president cannot declare war on his own - this is for Congress alone to do.

The president said he was engaging in a "counterterrorism offensive" intent on degrading and destroying ISIL. Although he did not mention it in his speech, the president is relying on an Authorisation for Use of Military Force passed by the George W Bush Administration as his legal authority to undertake military action.

In a poll taken after the speech, the American public seemed almost evenly split on whether this plan will work. Perhaps this is because after spending so many billions of dollars and so much precious human treasure in Iraq, Americans cannot see how it can be different this time.

The US and its Allies clearly have the capacity to wage a successful military mission - if they choose. What is also clear is that after so many years in Iraq this is simply not enough.

What is needed is much more - "nation building" - and this is something that no Western democracy seems inclined to do.

The US and its Allies defeated Saddam Hussein and then realised there simply was no real government to take his place.

In the first Gulf War, president George H W Bush and his Secretary of State James Baker assembled a true coalition of 38 nations who contributed 200,000 troops in addition to the 500,000 US forces to drive Iraq and Saddam Hussein's elite guard from Kuwait.

And on top of that, they convinced some of these nations to pick up the tab.

After the first Gulf War, the George H W Bush Administration was criticised for not marching into Baghdad and taking out Saddam Hussein.

Perhaps now we know why. Once the US and its Allies defeated Saddam Hussein during the G W Bush Administration and tipped the balance of power in this region, it seemed we opened a Pandora's Box setting off a chain of reactions - the outcome of which might be felt for generations to come.

Now the US and it's Allies are contemplating how best to fight ISIL and re- establish some sort of order and stability in this region.

It seems both president Obama and prime minister Cameron are faced with the same dilemma - war weary citizens looking for a quick fix to this complex problem.

Fighting ISIL in Iraq and fighting them in Syria does not pose this same challenge or present the same risks.

Fighting ISIL in Iraq is an easier proposition since there is now some form of government in place that is eager for any help the West can provide in their struggle against ISIL.

However, the success of any mission in Iraq will not only depend upon the ability to retake territory but also upon the ability of this new government to win the confidence of its people.

Fighting ISIL in Syria, is another story. Syria is in the middle of a civil war where it is not so clear who the "good guys" are and how best to ensure their success.

To add to the complexity and danger, Syria and Assad are backed by Russia - so there will be no invitation coming from the Assad government to the US and its coalition partners.

Despite its bloody and brutal civil war Syria is a sovereign nation which is still run by Assad and interfering with its territorial integrity may have many unintended consequences.

Russia is supportive of Assad and has interests of its own in Syria including its own naval base. If the West engages in Syria in a way that tips the balance against Assad, Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin might weigh in. This is clearly the last thing needed in this explosive region.

Fighting ISIL on the homefront is perhaps the most challenging mission of all.

We have already seen that both American Citizens and British Subjects have not only been the victims of ISIL, some have left their homes and joined the fight on the side of ISIL.

Both president Obama and prime minister Cameron are feeling the public pressure to respond to this home grown threat.

The prime minister has already begun a plan to rout out potential ISIL recruits. He has announced a comprehensive strategy to deal with the threat they pose to the UK - taking away passports of those who have left the UK to join ISIL, etc. Other European countries have taken similar actions.

President Obama has not yet announced a similar plan in the US although some Members of Congress are following the UK lead with a variety of proposals.

How we choose to carry out this fight against ISIL both abroad and at home, using not only our military might but also our moral convictions, will determine just how we continue to live in an open and multi-cultural society.

Why Obama's Strategy Against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Is Likely to Fail

Dr Johan Franzén   |   September 12, 2014    4:25 PM ET

President Barack Obama recently announced a new American campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (al-Dawlah al-Islamiyyah fi al-'Iraq wa al-Sham; ISIS). This campaign, in Obama's words, is designed to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS (or IS as they have chosen to call themselves since declaring a "Caliphate"). This is unlikely to happen. While an aerial campaign against IS targets in Iraq and, controversially, Syria, might "degrade" the organisation, it cannot "destroy" it this way.

Obama's strategy of aerial strikes follows a long-established Western pattern of dealing with "insurgents" in Iraq. Almost a hundred years ago, the British introduced the strategy of using the RAF to bomb intransigent tribes and rebels into submission. In one of the first missions of its kind (air warfare had only just been invented), the RAF was employed to bomb Kurdish tribal fighters in the north of Iraq and nationalist rebels in the Arab parts throughout the 1920s. Echoing present arguments about the efficacy of "precision bombing", Sir John Salmond, the Air Officer Commanding British Forces in Iraq at the time, noted that "air action" was "so much more humane than a column".

Then, as now, rebellions and insurgencies were seen as military problems that required military solutions. Through aerial bombardment the problem could be made to go away. And it did - for a while. In the 1920s, Britain saw the north of Iraq as an area that needed to be subdued militarily and brought under the control of a centralised Baghdad government. In 2014, the US sees the north of Iraq in very much the same way: a military problem that requires a military solution and the area needs to be brought back under the Baghdad government's control.

But while the British strategy in the 1920s temporarily subdued Kurdish aspirations in the north and nationalist aspirations elsewhere, in the long run the strategy was disastrous, resulting - directly or indirectly - in the emergence of a powerful Kurdish nationalist movement bent on secession, and the overthrow of the British-installed monarchy and loss of British influence with the 14 July 1958 Revolution. If Obama repeats the mistake of not combining a military strategy with a political one, he too risks the overthrow of the Baghdad regime.

The problem of ISIS needs more than a half-hearted military response. ISIS is an Iraqi political problem that requires a political solution. The origins of the group dates back to the overthrow of Saddam Husayn's regime during the American invasion - which in effect turned Iraq into a "failed state". The dismantling of Iraq's security apparatus, military and large swathes of its civil service in the name of "De-Ba'thification" laid the foundations for the proliferation of Islamist terror groups in the years to come. Disgruntled Sunnis who felt let down by the new American-sponsored, Shi'i-dominated state allowed for the establishment and rapid growth of al-Qai'dah in Iraq - ISIS' forerunner.

Much like ISIS today, al-Qa'idah in Iraq threatened the security of the Iraqi state - having a significant presence in much the same areas that ISIS controls today. It was only driven back through a concerted military and political strategy that significantly involved the bribing of the Sunni community to turn against the Islamists. The so-called Awakening Councils were created among Sunni tribal groups in al-Anbar province, and the scheme was later rolled out on a larger scale. Only by removing this crucial Sunni support was al-Qa'idah in Iraq checked at the time. Today, however, no appeasement of the Sunnis is currently on the table. In fact, it's the opposite.

Since the Americans withdrew from Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki's government became increasingly authoritarian, and many Sunni groups felt that they were marginalised. A political stalemate existed in the country since the elections in April. The elections produced no clear winner, and al-Maliki refused to step down. Thus, when the country was run over by ISIS in the summer, the politicians were bickering amongst themselves. There are even indications that the senior military officers commanding Mosul ordered their soldiers to lay down their weapons and run without fighting the ISIS takeover. Only a few days ago, a coalition government was finally agreed on, with Haider al-Abadi (from the once banned Islamist al-Da'wah Party) as Prime Minister.

It seems that the main reason for the rapid takeover by ISIS of large parts of northern Iraq was the tacit support it received from the Sunni population. Shi'is, Kurds, Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and anyone else who did not fit into the new "Caliphate" were decapitated, forced to pay the jizyah, or fled. An unholy alliance of former Ba'thists, Sunni tribesmen, and violent Jihadis (many of whom come from abroad) forms the basis of the "Islamic State".

Because of this support, Obama's air strike strategy is misplaced and dangerous. In reality, ISIS is quite a small organisation with a few tens of thousands fighters - but they control a population of millions. How, then, can the US decide who is a target? The "Islamic State" is not a conventional state with clearly defined military targets - it is little more than a few bases held by guerrilla groups within a largely supportive civilian population. American "precision bombing" is likely to be as "effective" as it has been in Yemen and Afghanistan where civilian casualties have been the norm rather than the exception - with a steady stream of new recruits to ISIS to follow as a result.

The strategy of "degrading and destroying" ISIS this way is therefore likely to fail without a comprehensive political solution involving an equitable share of power for the Sunni population in Iraq, a withdrawal of American support for Syrian rebels, and the forcing of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and other Gulf states to stop sponsoring Islamist terrorist groups throughout the region.

Thomas Tamblyn   |   September 12, 2014    9:44 AM ET

A man wearing a Pikachu hat and a stuffed Pikachu backpack has been taken into custody after jumping the north lawn fence of the White House and walking on the lawn.

The superfan hopped over the fence and headed in the direction of the White House only to find himself being swiftly dump tackled to the ground by the Secret Service.

The event was caught by bystanders who immediately took to Twitter to share the news of the deviant Pikachu fan.

It's not yet clear why the gentlemen wanted to gain access to the White House or indeed if the bright yellow Pikachu hat is in any way connected.

Our Obligation to the Memory of the Victims of 9/11

Jon Snow   |   September 11, 2014    2:17 PM ET

Thirteen years on, have we learned from 9/11?

Could any of us have imagined that the attack on America by mainly Saudi-born radicals on this very day 13 years ago, would represent one of the most defining events of modern history?

From my own experience reporting sporadically across the region for over three decades, my fear is that we have not learned.

For most of the years since the second world war the contract has been clear: Gulf oil for the west in exchange for Western weapons, security, banking and commerce - no questions asked. Across the west our generous gates have allowed the most radical Muslim preachers to criss-cross the globe carrying their Wahabi messages of extremism.

Pakistan, once so recognisable a legacy of Empire, now represents the most unstable nuclear power in the world - its landscape dotted with radical Madrassas and Mosques. A whole generation of Muslim children far beyond Saudi borders, from Birmingham to Bombay, know no other view of the world than the Saudi-spawned Wahabi view of their faith.


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Thirteen years after 9/11, an English speaking voice articulates the beheading of an American hostage. There are hundreds of western Muslims in the ranks of Islamic State (IS).

In waging unwise and horrific war themselves in Iraq, western powers have forfeited their capacity overtly to bolster moderate regional forces in Syria and Iraq.

In spite of the warrior pose President Obama deployed on Wednesday night, his instinct is still for the regional powers around Syria and Iraq to resolve the Islamic State madness themselves.

One is tempted to ask how many of the 1,700 military jets that the collective west has sold to Saudi and Gulf states down the years, have yet left the ground in anger against IS. How many of the Sandhurst trained officers from the region have yet been spotted in the field?

We may be part of IS's target, just as New York and Washington were the targets of other regional radicals on 9/11.

But this time those same regional states from which the 9/11 gang sprang, know that they are now the targets too.

Watching regional events from Iran in the last week, I observed a quiet acceptance that the Shia forces in Iraq needed leadership, strategy, and gumption that only Iran's revolutionary guard and ancillary resources could provide - and providing it they are.

And let us not forget what a top Iranian Foreign Ministry official told me which I reported several years ago; "you think we sit here in Iran fearing Israel, or America. We don't, our fear is the radical implosion of Pakistan and nuclear implications of radical Sunni Muslims with their hands on nuclear weapons firing them at Shia Iran".

There is a fire raging in Arabia today, which we in the west are not competent to extinguish. There is regional power to do the job, and we should not interfere with them getting on with it.

But those same regional powers should know, should even be told, that they cannot enjoy our friendship, our open gates, our Mayfair Hotels, our city finance unconditionally. Our condition must surely be that they distinguish themselves from the extremist forces that some of them knowingly, or unknowingly, have spawned, and deal with the effluent that is IS.

If the 3,000 dead of 9/11 are to be remembered with honour, we have an obligation to get this crisis right this time.

This blog was originally posted on Channel Four's Snowblog, and can be read here

Fighting the Urge to Overreact

Hilary Stauffer   |   September 11, 2014   11:07 AM ET

Last night, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Obama laid out the justification for American military action against the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation.

At least in part, his address to the nation was based on the the terrible images of IS fanatics beheading American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, which spread around the world like wildfire in recent weeks. The sickening pictures prompted vigorous online debates about the most appropriate response to their transmission: to view or not to view? In viewing the videos, radical Islamists were finding a captive audience for their message of hate. But by not viewing the videos, Westerners were refusing to fully acknowledge the violent extremism in their midst.

Not surprisingly, the beheadings also prompted anguished navel-gazing among Western leaders, who yet again were forced to confront the not-insignificant question of how to best respond to radical Islam. Unfortunately, so far most of the answers have been of the fear-mongering variety. The United Kingdom is threatening to strip suspected jihadists of their passports; the White House has concluded that while there is no 'imminent danger' to the US homeland, foreign fighters returning from Iraq and Syria could pose a significant 'threat' to American interests both home and abroad.

Such sentiments by political leaders are not entirely without foundation. In the not-too-distant past, both the US and UK have been victims of terrorist attacks by those professing to adhere to an extreme interpretation of Islam. Neither country has yet found an effective response to the culture clash being foisted upon them against their will. But there is a real danger that the governments in these and other Western nations will use the menace posed by the Islamic State to further erode civil liberties and democratic values, somehow discounting the fact that the last decade of scare tactics and hysteria hasn't made their countries any safer.

We've been here before. Guantanamo Bay prison camp--festering like an open wound off the coast of Florida--is a visceral reminder of what happens when the panicked need to 'do something' overtakes common sense. But the West's collective impulse to instinctively overreact in the face of an apparent existential threat first manifested decades before Osama Bin Laden planned the 9/11 attacks. Back then, the common enemy was Communism.

The Cold War was used to rationalise a multitude of sins, not least among them nuclear proliferation. But successive administrations in the United States also used it to justify political witch hunts, dodgy deals with discredited authorities, and proxy wars in Asia, Africa and Latin America--all in the name of 'fighting Communism'. Untold human rights abuses were perpetuated by dictators allied with the United States, who turned a blind eye to their injustices, so long as they promised to affiliate themselves with Washington instead of Moscow. As late as the 1980s, the US government was still formally allied with the apartheid regime in South Africa, because of the suspected 'communist' leanings of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress. Mandela himself was on a 'terrorist watchlist' until 2008, in what is surely one of America's more embarrassing administrative oversights.

There is zero indication that any of the IS leadership has Mandela-like ambitions for peace, reconciliation and racial harmony. Very much the opposite, in fact--they have pledged to overrun and subjugate everyone who is not 'believer', whatever that means in their twisted notions of the Muslim faith. This unquestionably includes Americans and their allies. But cooler heads need to prevail in the War Room--because when the United States overreacts and ignores its own stated ideals in the fight against extremist political views, it gives everyone else a free pass to do so as well. Plenty of undemocratic governments are looking for any acceptable excuse to infringe the rights of their people, and 'anti-terrorism' laws are very attractive in this regard.

In his speech last night, the President stated that the United States had a 'responsibility to lead', and that the values of freedom, justice, and dignity underpin American leadership in an uncertain world. Adherence to these principles has been found wanting in recent years; let's hope that policymakers remember them while they search for a comprehensive response to the Islamic State's provocations.

*An earlier version of this article first appeared in the Express Tribune.*

Paul Vale   |   September 11, 2014    2:17 AM ET

NEW YORK -- Addressing the nation late on Wednesday evening, President Obama detailed the US strategy for "degrading and defeating" the threat of the Islamic State, formerly ISIS (ISIL), which includes the authorisation of air strikes against the terrorist group within Syria.

"We will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists," he said. "Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven."

The president, who had been roundly criticised in recent weeks for his lack of strategy to combat the growing jihadist threat across Iraq and Syria, said that an addition 475 service personnel would be sent to Iraq to assist local forces, but reassured the American people that US troops would not be returning to ground combat, following the disastrous conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking from the White House on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, Obama said: "This counter-terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists, who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years."

Without over-hyping the threat of the Islamic State – "We have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland from ISIL," he said – Obama made the point that if the militant forces were left "unchecked" they could eventually threaten Europe and the US.

"So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat," he said. "Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy."

To read the full text of Obama's address to the nation, go here.

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Paul Vale   |   September 10, 2014    7:08 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Anyone grasping for a better idea of the politics of Barack Obama should red Mein Kampf, according to one likely Republican Presidential candidate.

Speaking on the Newsmax channel, Ben Carson, a mouse-spoken former doctor, whose past hits include calling the provision of affordable healthcare "the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery" and equating gays with people who practise bestiality, advised viewers to read Hitler’s national socialist tome, as well as the works of Vladimir Lenin in reference to the current President and Attorney General Eric Holder.

The bespectacled Republican, who in recent years has criticised Obama for trying to turn the US into a Nazi state (Communism and Nazism appear to be interchangeable to the good doctor), also advocated for a book called The Naked Communist, a Cold War polemic that sets out an agenda for the Soviet Union to infiltrate and take over governments across the world.

"It shows the whole timeline of what would be necessary in gaining control of school systems, of unions and eventually a foothold in government and the executive branch," he said.

…and yes, Ben Carson really does want to stand for President.

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(H/T RightWingWatch)

  |   September 9, 2014   12:06 PM ET

We've all been there, that feeling of unadulterated boredom that comes when forced into your smartest clothes and involuntarily made to mingle with people you really don't want to.

While for most of us that experience is limited to awkward work meetings and family get togethers, this young man was seemingly driven to soul-destroying boredom by the President of the United States.

As Barack Obama chatted with the boy's parents, a departing Secret Service agent and his wife, the little boy reacted to his plight in glorious fashion - by face-planting onto a couch in the Oval Office.

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The majestic dive, captured by Lawrence Jackson, was released as the White House revealed some candid behind-the-scenes photographs from June on its official Flickr account.

In other candid photos involving the US president and other, slightly more interested-looking children, Obama recently made a family's day when he swapped "banter" with three young boys during his sightseeing trip to Stonehenge.

Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK, rushed to the famous monument with her husband and sons after hearing that the leader of the free world was paying a surprise visit.

The family, who live nearby, shook hands with the US president and chatted to him over a barbed wire fence as he toured the ancient site in Wiltshire last week.

A delighted Raffle shared the moment the family tracked down the President on Twitter.

Obama had taken advantage of his attendance at the Nato summit in Wales to visit the historic site.

Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was really sweet, he asked all our names, whether we lived in the area, which we've only just moved to two weeks ago.

"He commented on the fresh air and the beautiful countryside and also said that I was quite outnumbered because I have three little boys as well as my husband."

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President Barack Obama greets the family

She also told the BBC: "There was a bit of banter between the boys, saying boys are best and he said 'Well, I don't know if I agree with that'. He was really kind, it was a really amazing experience for all of us."

Her husband, James Raffle, said the chance encounter had been "incredible".

He told ITV News: "He was worried about the kids on the barbed wire fence. He was worried about Janice because she was overrun with boys."

Seeing Stonehenge had been on the president's "bucket list" of things to do and he stunned onlookers when he squeezed in the visit after the final day of the Nato summit in south Wales.

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