Saturday, July 16, 2016

Terror in France and the Annals of Willful Blindness

By failing to take the jihadists’ ideology seriously, we refuse to understand the breadth of the threat we face.

By Andrew C. McCarthy — July 16, 2016
Flowers and candles placed near the site in Nice where a gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day, killing at least 84 people
Flowers and candles placed near the site in Nice where a gunman smashed a truck into a crowd of revellers celebrating Bastille Day, killing at least 84 people (Getty Images)

Well into year eight of Obama, with the prospect of years nine through twelve hanging heavy in the candidacy of Hillary Clinton, it feels like I write the same column every few weeks now. How could it not? Fort Hood, Detroit, Times Square, Portland, Cairo, Benghazi, Boston, Garland, Paris, Chattanooga, Paris again, San Bernardino, Philadelphia, Brussels, Istanbul, Orlando, Istanbul again, Dhaka, and now, Nice. Even if we leave out the more overt war zones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Egypt, and Israel, the jihadist attacks targeting the West are coming in more rapid succession: iconic targets, dates of commemoration, diplomatic outposts, tourists, and citizens just going about their lives.

It is easy to grasp why this is the case. Willful blindness has metastasized from a dangerous dereliction of duty to a system of governance.

It was the wee hours of Friday morning, just after the Bastille Day jihadist mass-murder of at least 84 people. For Mrs. Clinton, that seemed the perfect time to take to Twitter and set the tone of the American response — the kind of resolve we can expect in a third Obama term. So as France retrieved the dead, dying, and maimed from the Promenade des Anglais, where Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had barreled over them in his truck, she unloaded with the concern foremost in her mind:
Let’s be clear: Islam is not our adversary. Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.
I know, I know: you’re just relieved that she didn’t find a video to blame this time. Still, Clinton’s remarks are criminally stupid. So much so, they overwhelm even the criminal recklessness for which the FBI has just given her a pass on felony charges. She clearly mishandled mounds of classified information, but it appears doubtful that she read much of it. Or maybe she did read it but learned nothing from it, since politicizing intelligence and purging the Islam from Islamic terrorism is strict Obama-Clinton policy.

Even to one so superficial as Clinton, it should by now be perfectly obvious that that there is no “Islam,” at least not if we are talking about a monolithic belief system. There are sects of Islam, all vying for supremacy in what is, in the main, a conquest ideology — with the various splinters having very different ideas about what conquest entails, and with no papal analogue to impose order by decreeing orthodoxy and condemning heterodoxy.

Clearly, some of these sects are our enemy. And just as clearly, these sects also have a legitimate claim on the designation “Islam.” That does not mean they have a monopoly on the interpretation of Islam (there, again, being no such monopoly). But it does oblige government officials responsible for national security to deal with jihadists and other sharia supremacists on their own terms.

Why? Because the objective is to defeat our enemies, not redefine them. To defeat the enemy still requires knowing the enemy. Try as he might, Obama is unable to fundamentally transform Sun Tzu.

Obama-Clinton policy is to deny Islamic standing to jihadist terrorists. To be fair, it is an exacerbation of Bush policy. More importantly, it is pointlessly suicidal.

First the pointless part: The enemy derives legitimacy from his own literalist interpretation of Islamic doctrine. Thus, he is utterly indifferent to what the Westerners he seeks to conquer think of him or say about him. We non-Muslims cannot broker the competing doctrinal claims of internecine Islamic conflict.

Jihadists care neither about what Washington thinks “the true Islam” is, nor about the counterfactual “peace” and “tolerance” rhetoric in which this “true Islam” is swaddled. Our enemies’ Islamic legitimacy was not granted by us, and we are powerless to take it away from them. That’s for Muslims to figure out. Our enemies, moreover, know a good deal more about the subject than we do, their highly influential scholars having spent lifetimes steeped in sharia jurisprudence. They shred Washington’s imaginary “true Islam” with their own informed Islam, making us a laughing stock. I hate to be the bearer of (more) bad news, but, yes, the Blind Sheikh actually does know a tad more about Islam than Hillary Clinton.

Now for the suicidal part of denying the Islamic moorings of jihadism: Contrary to White House blather, people do not commit mass-murder attacks because of economic privation or over trifling slights. They commit it because they are seized by commands that they take to be divine injunctions rooted in scripture, their devotion to which will determine whether paradise or eternal damnation awaits.

You may be a haughty American progressive, but not everybody is. You may roll your eyes over quaint notions like religious obligation, but not everybody is equally evolved. Not everybody is convinced that bloody sectarian conflict — the norm of history — is just as obsolete as the rule of law in the age of Obama.

I had to fight of the urge to throw my television out the window Thursday evening. Images of bodies strewn across the promenade along the Côte d’Azur were interrupted by one vapid pol after another, brought on set to condemn the “cowardly” jihadist. Cowardly? Do you think you could drive a truck through a mass of humanity and then shoot it out with trained security personnel, knowing all the while that you were going to die? Our enemies are barbaric savages, but cowards? To do what our enemies do requires nerve, fervor — a cause they believe is worthy of the raging passion Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna called “the art of death.”

The fervor comes from their ideology. It has this terrifying hold on them because it is credibly drawn from their religious doctrine. If you don’t get that, if you think you can blithely dismiss jihadism as “cowardice” and thus avoid the unpleasant burden of understanding why it happens, you are never going to get what we’re up against. You are never going to summon the resolve it is going to take to overcome the enemy.

Because we don’t believe in much of anything anymore, we discount the pull of ideology. But everything about this enemy, from the pecking order of its leaders to its ruthless methods, from the targets it chooses to the ends it seeks, is all about ideology — fiercely held by its adherents because it is scripturally based. If we don’t face up to the fact that ideology is the core of the challenge we face — that we do not have the luxury of ignoring ideology until after it catalyzes murderous action — we cannot defend ourselves.

If we don’t grasp that the goal of our enemies is the imposition of fundamentalist sharia, we will continue to miss the breadth of the threat — the fact that the jihadists are just the front-line militants. Slipstreaming behind them, exploiting the atmosphere of intimidation they create, are the Muslim Brotherhood and affiliated faux moderates who pursue the same ends by infiltrating our councils of government policy and institutions of opinion.

These “moderates” have called the tune throughout Obama’s first two terms, and they’re banking on a third. That’s why we’re losing.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

Friday, July 15, 2016

On Terrorism and Immigration, America Is Not a Serious Nation

July 15, 2016

Forensics officers and policemen looking for evidences near a truck on the Promenade des Anglais seafront in the French Riviera town of Nice, after it drove into a crowd watching a fireworks display
Nice, France (Getty Images)

When the avowedly socialist president of France, recently pilloried in the media for spending  $11,000 a month on his haircuts, can immediately say after the horror in Nice that his nation is under attack from Islamic terrorism, but the U.S. president cannot blame anything other than  “violent extremism” for the brutal terrorist attacks on our own soil, one sees how deeply unserious a country America has become. And this is true not just among politicians, but in our entire public culture, which has ultimately permitted as dangerous, divisive, and shallow a man as President Obama to occupy the highest office in the land. 

“All of France is under the threat of Islamic terrorism,” said French president Francois Hollande in the immediate aftermath of the attack, showing more directness and forthrightness not only than the entire Obama administration, but even at many times, the Bush administration, which often preferred to talk about a “war on terror” without mentioning the source of the overwhelming majority of that terror. 

We’ve fallen so far that a French socialist dandy is teaching us about resolve in the face of terror, just as previously a bunch of French leftist cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo taught the simpering cowards in our mainstream media a lesson about the true purpose of and, sadly, the ultimate price that must sometimes be paid for, defending free speech and expression. 

Meanwhile in the U.S., how did we respond to 9/11? We dramatically increased Muslim immigration (by somewhere between 50 percent and 200 percent depending on what source one consults). Approximately 2 million Muslims have legally settled here since we were attacked by Muslim terrorists waging jihad against the U.S., to mention nothing of the huge number of illegal Muslim immigrants crossing the border. In 2014, we added an order of magnitude more immigrants from countries such as Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Somalia than we did from France. 

And the current strategy from our president is to bring in tens of thousands more Syrians and to attack the character and integrity of anyone who opposes his suicidal immigration policies. As a resident of Silicon Valley, I understand the importance of attracting highly skilled immigrants in creating jobs and prosperity in the American economy. If some of those highly skilled immigrants happen to be Muslim and they want to embrace not just our economic benefits, but our way of life that generates them, then they are welcome here. 

But is that really primarily what is largely being represented by these groups of immigrants? On the whole, is their immigration to America at anywhere near these levels in the national interest? Does our allegedly elevated and “sophisticated” public discourse even permit us to ask such questions? Does America exist for the benefit of American citizens, or does it exist to benefit whomever Obama and the Democrats feel like favoring that day? Is America a great nation or an open-borders charity ward that does a growing side business in breeding jihadis? 

Any nation that has reacted as we have after being attacked by Muslim jihadis almost 15 year ago is not a serious nation. It is not a nation with a grand strategy for remaining the world’s pre-eminent power while ensuring the life, health, and prosperity of its citizens. It is not a nation that is serious about preserving its distinctive culture, habits, and institutions. Our leadership has devolved into a pusillanimous group of virtue-signalers for whom cowardice and cant masks itself as compassion. The Democrats, of course, have been almost universally awful, if not, at times nearly treasonous, on immigration and terrorism, but sadly many leading Republicans, particularly on immigration, are hardly any better. 

If you want to know why Donald Trump, for all of his boorishness, superficiality, and lack of conservatism will be accepting the nomination of America’s conservative party next week in Cleveland, you need look no further than the martyred dead of Nice. If we can’t bear to say for what they died, and to forthrightly name and defeat the forces that attacked them, then too many of us will ultimately suffer their fate. Our cowardice will be the wellspring of our own destruction. 

In Nice, the voice of our brothers’ blood is crying out to us from the ground.  

Is America willing, at long last, to hear it? 

Jeremy Carl is a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University

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At Least 80 Killed When Truck Plows Into Bastille Day Crowd

July 14, 2016

Police officers and rescue workers stand near a van that struck a crowd that was leaving a fireworks display in Nice, France. Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

A truck driver plowed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks on a landmark street in the city of Nice, France, killing scores of people out to enjoy the national holiday.

The mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, tweeted that a truck driver killed "dozens."

"Stay for the moment in your home," he added. "More info to come."

The Nice prosecutor's office later told local TV the death toll was estimated to be around 60. That was updated to 73 dead and more than 100 injured at about 7 p.m. EST.

There were reports on the ground of gunfire. The driver -- who was operating a large, cargo-style truck with explosives and weapons inside -- reportedly fired on the crowd, and police then opened fire to stop to the driver. Witnesses reported the driver deliberately accelerating into the crowd, making it about a mile driving up to 30 mph.

Officials confirmed the driver was "neutralized." French officials were also referring to the incident as an attack.

An Agence France-Presse reporter on Promenade des Anglais witnessed a white truck driving into the crowd at a high rate of speed near Hotel Negresco as people were leaving after the fireworks show.

Terror groups have emphasized that jihadists don't need to use guns to create carnage, but use what's at hand to commit attacks. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine has included cars among the attack means detailed in their English-language instructions.

An English-speaking jihadist in a June ISIS video out of Afghanistan titled "You Won't Dream of Being Secure" directed Muslims in the West to "try your level-best to destroy kuffar [disbelievers]."

"By any means, slaughter them -- hit them by your car, give them poison, stab them with a knife, punch them, or at least spit on them," the terrorist advises.

ISIS-affiliated accounts quickly began tweeting about the attack.

"Death trucks waiting for you," said one. "Way clever attack," admired another. Some tweeted Nice images with Quranic verses. "Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Allahu rip them to pieces," tweeted another.

One suggested that the attack was revenge for Abu Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen ISIS commander whose death during battle ISIS confirmed Wednesday.

A female ISIS group issued a lengthy statement Wednesday declaring that the Chechen's death would only inspire more Muslims to take up arms -- but the threats specifically named America. "Do not rejoice too much and stay tuned for what is to come -- you will have plenty days of horror," the statement said.

Some ISIS-supporting accounts spread the story that gunmen had taken hostages at a hotel in Nice. France's Interior Ministry said there was no hostage situation.

The Euro Cup was hosted in France with many terror fears -- as it overlapped with Ramadan -- but concluded a week ago with the only violence being fights between fans.

"The president has been apprised of the situation in Nice, France, and his national security team will update him, as appropriate," said National Security Council spokesman Ned Price in a statement released by the White House.

Mayor Estrosi issued another tweet: "This is the worst tragedy in the history of Nice with more than 70 victims already."

UPDATE 8:30 p.m.: President Obama issued a statement condemning "in the strongest terms what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack in Nice, France, which killed and wounded dozens of innocent civilians."

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and other loved ones of those killed, and we wish a full recovery for the many wounded. I have directed my team to be in touch with French officials, and we have offered any assistance that they may need to investigate this attack and bring those responsible to justice. We stand in solidarity and partnership with France, our oldest ally, as they respond to and recover from this attack," Obama said.

"On this Bastille Day, we are reminded of the extraordinary resilience and democratic values that have made France an inspiration to the entire world, and we know that the character of the French Republic will endure long after this devastating and tragic loss of life."

The U.S. Embassy in Paris issued an emergency message stating that they were "working with local authorities to determine if any U.S. citizens were injured in the event."

"We urge U.S. citizens in Nice to contact family members and loved ones to notify them that you are safe, avoid the area, to monitor local press for updates, and to exercise caution if you are in the vicinity."

UPDATE 9:50 p.m.: French President Francois Hollande said the death toll is at 77, including some children. He also said 20 of the wounded were in critical condition. He confirmed the driver was shot dead.

The state of emergency that was supposed to end July 26 will be extended by three months.
"Nothing will get us to give in to our will to fight terrorism," Hollande said.

Separately, French officials said they were trying to determine if an ID found in the truck belonged to the attacker. It was that of a 31-year-old French-Tunisian man who lived in Nice.

UPDATE 10:35 p.m. EST: French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says 80 people are dead and 18 in intensive care.

Merkel Must Face Trial For War Crimes

July 15, 2016
German Chancellor Angela Merkel 
The UN Commission of Experts identified 1,600 actual cases of rape in the Bosnian War that took place in the former Yugoslavia over a period of years. In Germany, 2,000 Muslim migrants sexually assaulted 1,200 women in a single night in cities across Germany.
The former was considered one of the worst war crimes of the decade. Its perpetrators were bombed and then faced war crimes trials. The perpetrators of the latter received a slap on the wrist.
In Cologne, Hassan and Hussein were handed suspended sentences. Hassan, who had demanded that a man hand over two women to him by bellowing, “Give me the girls, give me the girls - or you're dead” was tried as a juvenile offender and was sentenced to community service and an integration course.
The integration course will no doubt try to inform Hassan that women have a right not to be assaulted even if they are outside the house and unaccompanied by a male guardian. But such “Don’t Rape” classes for Muslim migrants have had a rather shaky track record.
A 16-year-old Muslim Afghan migrant raped a catering worker in France despite receiving a course on how to treat women in Flanders. Hassan, despite being tried as a juvenile, wasn’t a teenager at the time of his offense. He was a 20-year-old. But German courts still decided to treat him as a mischievous teenager. If the “boys will be boys” excuse has fallen out of favor in Europe, the pass still holds true for Muslim rapists who will always be boys. Even when they’re fully grown men.
In the Norwegian version of the “Don’t Rape” class, Muslim migrants were trained on how not to rape by being given positive role models. There was a bad fellow named Arne, a native Norwegian, who treats everyone badly, and Hassan, a charming Muslim immigrant who gets it right.
Be like Hassan. Don’t be like Arne.
But the real life version of Hassan was a sexual predator who had walked away laughing from the court room with a suspended sentence while his victims, who had come out to testify, wept.
Now Hassan will giggle his way through yet another “Don’t Rape” class and this one may also have Hassan as a positive role model. And then Hassan will be out there for the next New Year’s Eve knowing that he will get away with it all over again. And by then he might be a slightly older “juvenile”.
The majority of the Muslim rapists came from North African countries. Half of them had been in Germany for less than one year. If there were a UN tribunal to be held for the war crimes committed by Muslim migrants against European women, Frau Merkel should be sitting in the dock.
 It was her decision to open the borders that led to the horror inflicted on 1,200 women in one night.
And 1,200 women is just a single episode. We don’t know the full total numbers. And we may never know them. Yet at this rate it’s entirely possible that the total of Merkelicide might exceed even the wildest inflated estimates from the Bosnian war. And yet it’s considered indelicate to discuss such things because this time around Muslims aren’t the victims, they are the perpetrators.
It’s not just Merkel and the German authorities who find the topic uncomfortable.
Selin Goren, a spokeswoman for a left-wing refugee group, admitted to lying that the men who sexually assaulted her were German instead of Arabs because the act of the rape had a “political dimension”. Instead of thinking of the men who had assaulted her, she thought of a pro-refugee rally in which she had called for fighting “against racism and sexism”.
 And predictably the former took a back seat to the latter.
When the police officer asked her if refugees had been responsible, she retorted that they had spoken German while resenting the officer for being so racist as to assume, correctly, that Muslim migrants were to blame.
A friend had told her that she acted like a battered wife protecting her abusive husband.
It’s an accurate description of not just her, but of the entire left which has turned its own values inside out in order to protect Muslim rapists from a theocratic culture not fundamentally different than ISIS which believes that women are fair game during their gleeful invasion of Europe.
The German Parliament’s efforts to tighten sexual assault laws, usually a cause championed by the left, has made the left very uneasy because it endangers their favorite new refugee pets whose neediness is exceeded only by their predatory behavior.
Halina Wawzyniak, a lawmaker from the Left Party, insisted that while she usually supported stronger sexual assault laws, she worried that these particular sexual assault laws would lead to a “disproportionate” effect on Muslim migrants committing minor sexual offenses who might then be deported.
And so, given a choice between protecting women and sexual predators, the left chooses rapists.
This is the simple ugly truth about their refugee policy and our refugee policy. From Cologne, Germany, where the authorities have done far more to crack down on people making critical remarks about Muslim migrants than on the Muslim rapists, to Twin Falls, Idaho, where United States Attorney Wendy J. Olson warned anyone spreading “inflammatory” statements about the Muslim perpetrators that they might be violating “federal law”, the priority is protecting Muslim rapists at any and all costs.
Two of the Cologne attackers received suspended sentences. Hamburg courts freed their suspects from pre-trial detention. Not only will the vast majority of the 2,000 attackers never even come close to facing trial, but the few who do will see small and feeble sentences.
It’s not that German authorities are incompetent. A January headline informs us, “Germany springs to action over hate speech against migrants”. Merkel forged a censorship deal with Facebook and Twitter. So that next time Muslims commit thousands of sexual assaults, it will be much harder for the populace to get the news out through the digital curtain of dot com censorship and propaganda.
With her Communist background, Merkel understands the mechanics of censorship. And that makes her an accessory to the war crimes that Muslim migrants have committed in their invasion of Europe both before and after the fact.
A 29-year-old German woman had received five months probation for her outrage over Muslim rapes of women. In today’s Germany, the sentences for Muslim sexual assaults and for denouncing them are eerily similar.

 Tags: germanyLeftrefugees

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The gangster-terrorist who gave us ISIS

By Jessica Stern
October 2, 2015
Jessica Stern is the coauthor of “ISIS: The State of Terror” and a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law.
Much of the world awakened to the threat of the Islamic State in August 2014, after the organization began beheading foreign hostages on video. But ISIS, as it is also known, was not a new group, nor was it the first to use horror as a weapon. It was founded as al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2004 by an infamous Jordanian thug known by his nom de guerre, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Since its creation, the group has changed names several times, but it has retained and expanded many of the innovations put in place by its founder, who used his experience as a gangster to create an unusually wealthy, vicious and crude organization.
Zarqawi was a high school dropout, known around town as a boozer and a brawler, certainly not as a pious man, let alone a fundamentalist. He was well known to the local police for his involvement in violence and drug-dealing. His mother encouraged him to study Islam, hoping to rescue her son from a life of crime. But studying religion did not help Zarqawi find peace. The Islam that he discovered was an unusually violent one. His jihad had nothing to do with elevating himself spiritually and everything to do with justifying his preferred lifestyle — burglary and brutality.
In “Black Flags,” Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick explains the importance of this Jordanian gangster and analyzes his continuing influence on the Islamic State long after his death in 2006. There have been a number of previous biographies of Zarqawi, but Warrick takes the story much further and deeper. Most important, he shows, in painful but compulsively readable detail, how a series of mishaps and mistakes by the U.S. and Jordanian governments gave this unschooled hoodlum his start as a terrorist superstar and set the Middle East on a path of sectarian violence that has proved hard to contain.
Until 2003, Zarqawi was largely unknown outside Jordan. As Warrick recounts, in his famous speech to the U.N. Security Council in 2003, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell pointed to the obscure Jordanian as the link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden as part of the Bush administration’s justification for the invasion of Iraq. That speech, Warrick explains, which Powell later described as a blot on his record, catapulted this small-time jihadist into the terrorist firmament. Many of Warrick’s sources in the CIA describe the pressure they were under to find a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, but they kept coming up empty. Just before the 2003 invasion, Zarqawi was holed up in northern Iraq with Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group that viewed Hussein as an apostate enemy and was working on developing chemical weapons. CIA operatives were poised to take out this group, which, unlike the Iraqi president, really was linked to al-Qaeda. Most frustrating, in hindsight for those operatives, the Bush administration was determined to focus on removing Hussein instead. Ironically, it was the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that gave purpose to Zarqawi’s chosen vocation. The invasion pushed him into an alliance with bin Laden and led to al-Qaeda’s presence in Iraq, and ultimately to the emergence of the Islamic State.
The group acquired expertise, knowledge and inspiration from Zarqawi, leading it to form a hybrid of criminal organization, proto-state and apocalyptic cult that flaunts its brutality on social media. As leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi exploited smuggling routes still used by the Islamic State to trade in stolen goods and personnel. He specialized in theatrical acts of lethal violence: He was not the first terrorist to behead his captives, but he made beheadings, as well as snuff films, a signature of his organization, practices that the Islamic State has perfected. He was rabidly anti-Shiite and ardently Takfiri — prone to accusing others of apostasy — and these views led him to kill anyone who did not accept his interpretation of Islam. For this, he drew condemnation from a number of prominent jihadi fighters and ideologues, including his mentor, the famous pro-jihadi preacher Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi. Zarqawi believed that his fate was foretold in prophetic passages of the Hadith, a collection of sayings and practices of the prophet Muhammad. “The black flags will come from the East, led by mighty men, with long hair and beards, their surnames taken from their home towns,” the ancient scholars had written. The Islamic State uses a black flag and quotes Zarqawi’s predictions about the coming “final battle” with the West in every issue of its online magazine, Dabiq, named after the Syrian town where that battle is anticipated to take place.
To tell Zarqawi’s story, Warrick turns to intelligence and military officers who spent years tracking the terrorist. One of his sources is Nada Bakos, a brilliant young CIA operative who describes her struggles to justify the invasion of Iraq as well as to hunt down Zarqawi. Perhaps the most surprising observations come from the doctor who treated Zarqawi while he was in prison in Jordan in the 1990s, where, together with his mentor, he ran a sort of jihadi university for fellow Jordanian militants. The doctor, whom Warrick interviewed, describes a very moody person, capable of horrific acts of violence but also surprising acts of kindness, especially toward those who were weak.
Jordan’s role, until now, has been largely unsung. (Jordanian officials admitted to Warrick that Zarqawi was accidentally left on a list of political prisoners to be released in 1999, as part of a general amnesty when King Abdullah ascended to the throne. Because Zarqawi was known to be trying to overthrow the Jordanian regime, he should not have been on the list.) The king comes across in Warrick’s narrative as courageous, wise and prescient. As Warrick shows, Abdullah repeatedly warned President George W. Bush that removing Hussein from power could do far more harm than good. He tried to talk Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority, out of disbanding the Iraqi army, correctly anticipating the trouble those unemployed military personnel could cause, but his warnings went unheeded. Jordanian intelligence officers were able to pinpoint Zarqawi’s location in 2006, leading to the U.S. airstrike that killed him. But his descendants joined forces with former military officers to establish a proto-state.
Both the civil war in Syria and the disenfranchisement of Sunni Muslims were critical to the Islamic State’s rise. One of Warrick’s sources, a Sunni tribesman who had participated in the 2006 Anbar Awakening, during which Iraqi tribes formed an alliance with U.S. troops against al-Qaeda in Iraq, explains that, beginning around 2010, he began to see the Iraqi government as a greater enemy than the jihadists. Over time, some of the Sunni tribesmen turned against Baghdad and joined the Islamic State, partly as protection from Iran-backed Shiite militias and partly because the group offered them good salaries.
By now, much has been written about the rise of the Islamic State. What makes Warrick’s book unique is its focus on the group’s roots, especially the evolution of its founder. Warrick provides a great deal of reason for Americans to feel remorse: shame that we lashed out at the wrong enemy after 9/11; regret that we chose to remove Iraq’s military leaders from their jobs, leaving them vulnerable to recruitment by Zarqawi and his successors; sorrow that so many American and Iraqi lives were lost in fighting the jihadists, who nonetheless rose again in a more lethal form. No one heeded the warnings that the sectarian violence unleashed in Iraq would spread throughout the region or that majoritarian rule would lead to renewed civil war. But Warrick’s is not a partisan accounting. His narrative puts equal blame on the Obama administration for doing so little to stop the resurgence of a group we spent many billions to stamp out during the troop surge in the Iraq war.
What is missing from all these accounts thus far, including not only Warrick’s, but also, I am sorry to confess, my own, is a clear strategy for going forward. It is far easier to point out the flaws in our current strategy than to suggest a better one. Americans tend to imagine that all problems can be fixed and that we ought to do whatever we can to fix them. In this case, there is good reason to feel responsible, but it’s not clear what actions we can take that won’t make the problem even worse. It is going to take a great deal of ingenuity even to contain the Islamic State that Zarqawi unleashed, let alone defeat it.
The Rise of ISIS
By Joby Warrick
344 pp. $28.95

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tim Duncan's Parting Bank Shot
July 12, 2016

The best basketball player of his generation played his final game in the N.B.A. this year. But that player was not Kobe Bryant, of the Los Angeles Lakers, who spent the season on a carefully choreographed, aggressively marketed, and statistically abysmal farewell tour. Instead, it was Tim Duncan, of the San Antonio Spurs, who quietly announced his retirement on Monday, a few weeks after the end of his nineteenth year in the league.

Duncan’s final tallies: five championships, two M.V.P. awards, playoff appearances every year of his career, and top rankings in various advanced metrics that you can parse out if you want. Duncan didn’t tweet about his retirement or sit for an interview with his favorite reporter. He didn’t write a poem for the occasion. Word came via a simple statement, issued by the Spurs. A few years ago, Duncan summed up his sense of himself to ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz: “I’m just a basketball player. I play the game. I go home.” Duncan will reportedly speak at some point this week. But, in a fitting move, he wasn’t there to bask in the praise, on Tuesday afternoon, when Gregg Popovich, the only coach he ever played for as a professional, met with reporters to talk about Duncan’s career. He’d gone home.

Duncan had a story worth telling, even if he didn’t insist on telling it. He grew up on the island of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He spent his early years as a competitive swimmer, until a hurricane destroyed the swimming pool where he trained. Rather than swim in the ocean—he was, sensibly, afraid of sharks—he quit. He only started playing basketball during his freshman year of high school. Three years later, he was good enough to attract offers from a few college programs, and he accepted a scholarship from Wake Forest, in North Carolina. By his senior year, he was unanimously considered the top college player in the country, and N.B.A. teams were racing to the bottom of the standings for the chance to take him with the first pick of the 1997 draft. News stories at the time were already stressing how normal and unassuming he was—a regular psychology major who just happened to be nearly seven feet tall. As the basketball writer Tom Haberstroh reminded people on Monday, Duncan co-authored a paper in college titled “Blowhards, Snobs, and Narcissists: Interpersonal Reactions to Excessive Egotism.” The Spurs lucked out in the draft lottery and selected Duncan; two years later, with Duncan playing beside the Hall of Fame center David Robinson, they won the N.B.A. championship for the first time. When the Spurs won their fifth and most recent title, in 2014, Duncan became the second player in history to win a championship in three different decades.

Every great basketball player has a signature move. Kareem had the skyhook. Jordan had the tongue-wagging dunk. LeBron has the full-court fast-break bull rush. Duncan, less thrillingly, had the flat-footed bank shot—not exactly the kind of thing that kids are eager to try out on the playground. That shot, and Duncan’s game generally, seemed to emerge not from some physical joy of play but instead from a studied understanding of geometry and efficiency. It was hard to resist drawing connections between his play and his personality. Duncan didn’t give himself a nickname. (The closest he got to one, the Big Fundamental, came from Shaquille O’Neal. People close to him just called him Timmy.) He wore dumpy clothes. He appeared in lame commercials at the beginning of his career, and then mostly stopped doing them. The ones he did do played on the very notion of his own lameness. Like Joe Biden, Duncan had a personality that lent itself to parody in the Onion. In dozens of fake stories over the years, he was lovingly mocked as a paragon of caution, moderation, and good sense. On Monday, the headline read, “An NBA Legend Rides Into the Sunset at a Safe and Prudent Speed.”

During postgame press conferences, which more media-attuned players have turned into runway shows and personal-brand infomercials, Duncan never had much to say. He was so reticent and mild-mannered that his mere laughter on the bench was once construed by a hotheaded referee as being enough out of character to merit an ejection. About the worst thing you could say about him, in his nearly twenty years as a professional basketball player, is that he never once seemed to think that a foul called on him had, in fact, occurred. After every whistle, Duncan’s eyes would go wide as saucers, and he’d open his mouth in an expression of outraged disbelief. This foible was reassuring—a sign that he was, after all, a human being.

Sportswriters might, at times, have resented Duncan’s one-sentence answers and limited availability, but his detachment also afforded them the chance to do some real work. Over the years, many writers made the case for Duncan’s greatness with special zeal and often from a particular angle—praising his effort and consistency, while often underselling his immense physical talent. (Young Duncan was a marvel.) He and the Spurs were vigorously defended against charges of boringness. Pick and rolls, subtly great defense, head fakes, and bank shots, we were told, should be recognized by real connoisseurs as things of beauty. (It helped that the Spurs’ most recent championship team, in 2014, actually did play an especially beautiful version of the game.) The fact that Duncan played his whole career for a single team, in the comparatively sleepy city of San Antonio, has been taken as evidence of moral superiority. This argument—that Duncan and the Spurs did things “the right way”—has always been heavy-handed, as Duncan might himself have pointed out, if he had ever bothered to address it.

Still, it’s tidy and comforting that Duncan played for just one team, like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and even Kobe Bryant. For the fans in San Antonio, it must have been a gift to see their star player age before their eyes, always in black and silver—to allow for the fiction that favorite players are like family members. Duncan’s retirement has, because of its timing, been discussed in connection with Kevin Durant’s recent departure from Oklahoma City for the hipper pastures of the Bay Area. But prizing and praising a certain notion of loyalty among professional athletes risks ignoring the financial realities of sports, which no player can transcend: Duncan himself, in the early two-thousands, nearly bolted for the Orlando Magic. Instead, he stayed, which makes him a rarity, and perhaps among the last of a certain kind of athlete that sentimental writers and fans—nostalgic for the era of restricted employment—have chosen to valorize.

For much of his career, Duncan was defined in the popular imagination by what he wasn’t: not flashy, not self-important, not entitled, not greedy. He was the star you could count on. Was it a burden—or boring, at least—to constantly be called the good guy, even if you were, in fact, a good guy? Maybe it was easier to disengage with all the storytelling, to leave writers to their plotlines, and to just do the job of preparing for and playing the games. That’s what Duncan did for nearly twenty years, until his fortieth birthday, and it’s what he should be remembered for. It will be up to those of us who saw him play to explain it. There’s got to be some way to make all those bank shots sound exciting.

Tim Duncan Departs, Brilliantly, Without Vanity

The San Antonio Spurs’ humble legend exits just as he played, despite 19 seasons of categorical success

July 11, 2016

Credit John G. Mabanglo/European Pressphoto Agency

Tim Duncan retired Monday morning, and his retirement announcement was so appropriately Tim Duncan-like it almost made one misty: not a ceremony, or a television interview, or a gooey letter in Derek Jeter’s star-cozy Players Tribune, but a 538-word press release, from the only NBA team he ever played for, the San Antonio Spurs. A press release! It was so modest and charmingly retro it may as well have arrived by fax, or better yet, snail mail.
Would anyone have wanted it any other way? Duncan’s exit was always going to happen like this. No one who loved Duncan ever thought he’d engineer a final-season vanity lap through the league, standing through awkward midcourt celebrations among opponents bearing unwanted gifts. No way. I believe Duncan would have rather spent a season curled in the baggage hold of the team bus than collecting personalized rocking chairs and electric guitars from teams he tried to bury.
He went quietly, humbly, much as he arrived, out of Wake Forest the first pick in the draft 19 seasons ago to the Spurs, who soon became a team transformed. San Antonio was a factory of consistency, winning the first of five NBA championships in 1999, a young Duncan pairing with a towering predecessor, David Robinson, and a coach, Gregg Popovich, who put himself on the bench after leaving the general manager’s office. Back then, Spurs basketball was unfairly maligned as bit of a snooze, disciplined and unflashy, a departure from a star-driven game. But nobody denied they were ruthlessly good.
Duncan’s collected numbers are just absurd. The Spurs won 71% of their games in Duncan’s near-two decades, a run of success that team retirement press release pointed out has been unmatched in basketball, baseball, hockey, or even by those Patriots. Duncan’s the only NBA player to ever be part of 1,000 or more wins with one team. He is one of only two players in league history to record 26,000 or more points, 15,000 rebounds, and 3,000 blocked shots. The other was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was pretty good himself. There are 15 All-NBA team selections, 15 All-Defensive team selections, two regular season MVPs, three Finals MVPs…
We could go on. But it would only mortify Duncan.
In an era in which the NBA expertly crafted its superstars into global celebrities, Duncan hid in plain sight. He was never a national advertiser’s dream (though those local H.E.B. supermarket spots were sublime), a blustery interview, or a style icon. If he harbored Hollywood ambitions, he never shared them. He dressed like a member of the junior high school turtle club.
He was deadset on being a brilliant basketball player, which he was pretty much the entire time he played. There are a zillion ways in which Duncan’s impact can be measured—the stats, the rings, the honors— but his true power was as a teammate. He played basketball the way your coaches always told you to play basketball: relentlessly, unselfishly, at both ends of the court. Along with teammates Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, he will be remembered as a member of a historic trio, as part of something that was bigger and even better than he was. The Spurs are a vanguard franchise that changed the way basketball teams—actually, sports teams in general—are made. Everyone knows Duncan was the foundation of the structure.
He is 40. Is he really 40? Duncan has always seemed ageless. Sure: there were a few flecks of gray here and there, and his old springiness had faded, but Duncan could still bring it from time to time, that little jump hook shot in the paint, swish, back up the court, head down, like he was ducking out of a party. Was there an athlete with more recognizable body language than Duncan—those slouchy shoulders, those incredulous eyeballs, those appeals to referees in which he looked like a guy who found an extra bottle of wine on the bill?
Toward the end, Duncan was used less, but he always mattered. He would have mattered if he played until he was 60. He was the center of that selfless Spurs universe. He fit in with whatever San Antonio wanted to do, with whomever they brought in, and he departs his franchise in very competitive condition.
It is a close-to-perfect career.
If you saw him play, it will be your job to remind the generations who did not. Basketball is a tantalizing game of individual creativity, and it is easy to get caught up in the momentary dazzle, and ignore the genius of consistency. Even if Duncan never was the flashiest or the noisiest or the most celebrated, in his play you saw true NBA greatness, for nineteen uninterrupted years. You saw history. You saw Tim Duncan.
Write to Jason Gay at