Antoine Audo writes: Today, the first Sunday of Lent, will see churches crowded across the globe. But here in Syria, where St Paul found his faith, many churches stand empty, targets for bombardment and desecration. Aleppo, where I have been bishop for 25 years, is devastated. We have become accustomed to the daily dose of death and destruction, but living in such uncertainty and fear exhausts the body and the mind.
“It is dangerous work. Five months ago, two rockets hit our offices, and it was truly a miracle that no one was killed.”
We hear the thunder of bombs and the rattle of gunfire, but we don’t always know what is happening. It’s hard to describe how chaotic, terrifying and psychologically difficult it is when you have no idea what will happen next, or where the next rocket will fall. Many Christians cope with the tension by being fatalistic: that whatever happens is God’s will.
Until the war began, Syria was one of the last remaining strongholds for Christianity in the Middle East. We have 45 churches in Aleppo. But now our faith is under mortal threat, in danger of being driven into extinction, the same pattern we have seen in neighbouring Iraq.
“…I have to be careful walking around the city because of the risk of snipers and kidnapping.”
Most Christians who could afford to leave Aleppo have already fled for Lebanon, so as to find schools for their children. Those who remain are mostly from poor families. Many can no longer put food on the table. Last year, even amid intense fighting, you could see people in the streets running around endlessly trying to find bread in one of the shops. Read the rest of this entry »
David Francis writes: As the eyes of the world and the media turn to Ukraine, Syrian President Bashar al Assad has quietly been making momentous gains in his three-year civil war with rebels that all but assure he will leave office on his own terms.
“He is still in power, and with negotiations stalled, it’s unlikely he’ll be removed. In short, he’s won.”
Assad’s army has taken Yabroud, the last major town held by Sunni Muslim rebels, located near the Lebanese border. On Tuesday, with support from Hezbollah fighters and local paramilitary groups, Assad’s forces bombarded the town until the rebels retreated.
Taking Yabroud is an important victory for Assad, who has been fighting for months to control the surrounding region.. He has now effectively cut off rebel supply lines from Lebanon.
If He Believes It, It Must Be So
For the Weekly Standard blog, Elliot Abrams writes: On the eve of the Netanyahu visit to Washington, President Obama gave a lengthy interview to Jeffrey Goldberg that shows a chief executive who has learned next to nothing about the world in his five years in office.
First, kudos to Goldberg: he pressed Obama repeatedly, challenging vague formulations and seeking clarity. Goldberg pushed Obama hard, especially on Iran and Syria.
Obama isn’t good off the cuff, especially when challenged; he is far better with a prepared speech. And what emerged is an awful portrait of the president and his conception of the world.
Take Syria. Here’s what Obama said:
“I think those who believe that two years ago, or three years ago, there was some swift resolution to this thing had we acted more forcefully, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the conflict in Syria and the conditions on the ground there. … Over the last two years I have pushed our teams to find out what are the best options in a bad situation. … But I’ve looked at a whole lot of game plans, a whole lot of war plans, a whole bunch of scenarios, and nobody has been able to persuade me that us taking large-scale military action even absent boots on the ground, would actually solve the problem. And those who make that claim do so without a lot of very specific information.”
Who are these people who have inadequate information, misunderstand the conflict in Syria, and think there is much more the United States could have done? They include both of Obama’s secretaries of state, Clinton and Kerry, his former defense secretary Leon Panetta, and his former CIA director David Petraeus—all of whom wanted much more U.S. support for the Syrian rebels. And perhaps more to the point, take the case of Fred Hof.
Nina Shea, co-author of Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, and director of Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom has an item in The Corner about religious persecution in Syria that caught my eye, go here for the full story. Here’s a preview:
The religious persecution in Syria deepened this week, as evidenced by a written ultimatum purportedly distributed by the rebel jihadist group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to Christians in the northern provincial capital of Raqqa. Rejecting conversion to Islam or death, some 20 Christian leaders of that city held firm in their faith and submitted to the Islamists’ demands to live by as dhimmis.
Under this arrangement, in exchange for their lives and the ability to worship as Christians, they must abide by purported seventh-century rules of the Caliph Umar. According to the Raqqa ultimatum, these include bans on renovating and rebuilding churches and monasteries, many of which need repair because they’ve been shelled and blown up over the past three years, and bans against the public display of crosses and Christian symbols and the ringing of bells. They are forbidden from reading scripture indoors loud enough for Muslims outside to hear, and the practice of their faith must be confined within the walls of their remaining churches, not exercised publicly (at, for example, funeral or wedding processions).
They are prohibited from saying anything offensive about Muslims or Islam. The women must be enshrouded, and alcohol is banned.
Senator Kelly Ayotte R., N.H. said today that President Obama’s policy of trying to “reset” relations with Russia has failed and now
“it’s time to reset the reset…”
”Putin has harbored Snowden, interfered in Syria, and armed the Assad regime… it seems the reset policy hasn’t worked.”
From Ukraine to Syria to the Pacific, a hands-off foreign policy invites more trouble
Niall Ferguson writes: Since former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke uttered the word “taper” in June 2013, emerging-market stocks and currencies have taken a beating. It is not clear why talk of (thus far) modest reductions in the Fed’s large-scale asset-purchase program should have had such big repercussions outside the United States. The best economic explanation is that capital has been flowing out of emerging markets in anticipation of future rises in U.S. interest rates, of which the taper is a harbinger. While plausible, that cannot be the whole story.
“Mr. Obama’s supporters like nothing better than to portray him as the peacemaker to George W. Bush’s warmonger. But it is now almost certain that more people have died violent deaths in the Greater Middle East during this presidency than during the last one.”
For it is not only U.S. monetary policy that is being tapered. Even more significant is the “geopolitical taper.” By this I mean the fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the U.S.—and like the Fed’s tapering, this one also means big repercussions for the world. To see the geopolitical taper at work, consider President Obama’s comment Wednesday on the horrific killings of protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The president said: “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”
No one took that warning seriously—Ukrainian government snipers kept on killing people in Independence Square regardless. The world remembers the red line that Mr. Obama once drew over the use of chemical weapons in Syria . . . and then ignored once the line had been crossed. The compromise deal reached on Friday in Ukraine calling for early elections and a coalition government may or may not spell the end of the crisis. In any case, the negotiations were conducted without concern for Mr. Obama.
“Syria has been one of the great fiascos of post-World War II American foreign policy. When President Obama might have intervened effectively, he hesitated. When he did intervene, it was ineffectual…”
Krauthammer on Hillary’s Achievements as Secretary of State: ‘The U.S. antagonized Canada, for God’s sake. Canada, of all people…’Posted: February 19, 2014
Appearing on on Tuesday’s Hugh Hewitt Radio Show Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Charles Krauthammer declared that Hillary Clinton did not have one achievement in her four years running the State Department, and further, the U.S. position in the world actually went backwards during her tenure…
… Look, you know, when people talk about Hillary being a superb Secretary of State, I just ask one question. Name me one thing, just one, not three, give me one thing she achieved in her four years as Secretary of State. I have yet to hear an answer…
…I think she is the frontrunner. I don’t think the convention will be a coronation. It’s going to be a worship service. But that’s not exactly why we have a Secretary of State…
[Order Charles' book: Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics from Amazon]
…I do think it’s really awful that you can have a four year term, achieve nothing, and as you say, go backwards with Russia, backwards on Iran, backwards on Syria, backwards on Venezuela, backwards in relation with just about all of our allies, including, I would add, Keystone, which sits on the President’s head, and antagonizing Canada, for God’s sake. Canada, of all people…
The nuclear issue may be defused for now, but multiple factors could continue to undermine relations.
Robert Mason writes: The permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran hammered out an interim nuclear deal (the so-called Joint Plan of Action) which entered into force on January 20. The Joint Plan of Action will involve Iran eliminating stockpiles of its more highly enriched uranium, dismantling some its enrichment related infrastructure, agreeing to more inspections and not to activate any more centrifuges. In return, Iran gets some sanctions relief. However, given the poor history and number of irritants in each bilateral relationship between Iran and the West, it is likely that a broader politico-security deal with Iran, if there is to be one, will still be in the process of being negotiated a couple of years from now.
“They will note the breathtaking naiveté of American and European officials who let a brutal theocracy undermine Western interests throughout the Middle East”
“They will note the breathtaking naiveté of American and European officials who let a brutal theocracy undermine Western interests throughout the Middle East,” he writes for The Daily Beast:
At one of Iran’s most vulnerable moments, America threw the mullahs a life-line; an ill-conceived nuclear deal coupled with a complete inability to stop Syria, Iran’s closest ally, from continuing to slaughter en masse. Western diplomats speak optimistically of a deal with Syria in Geneva, while the region’s thugs use force of arms to impose their will.
Lions have been replaced by firing squads and concentration camps as record numbers of Jesus’ worshipers are persecuted from Syria to North Korea.
Kirsten Powers writes: The concept of Christian martyrdom may seem like something from a bygone, uncivilized era when believers were mercilessly thrown to the lions. Not so. This week, Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that Christian martyrdom has grown into a pervasive and horrifying human rights crisis.
In their annual report of the worst 50 countries for Christian persecution, Open Doors found that Christian martyr deaths around the globe doubled in 2013. Their report documented 2,123 killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. In Syria alone, there were 1,213 such deaths last year. In addition to losing their lives, Christians around the world continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, harassment, sexual assaults, and expulsion from countries merely for practicing their faith.
Given that Israel has a profoundly democratic political system, the freest press in the Middle East, a fiercely independent judiciary and astonishing religious and racial diversity within its universities, including affirmative action for Arab students, the charge is rather strange.
Made more so when you consider the state of human rights in Israel’s neighborhood. As we speak, Syria’s government is dropping “barrel bombs” filled with nails, shrapnel and other instruments of terror on its own cities. Where is the ASA boycott of Syria?
And of Iran, which hangs political, religious and even sexual dissidents and has no academic freedom at all? Or Egypt, where Christians are being openly persecuted? Or Turkey, Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, massively repressive China and Russia?
As the Arab Spring enters its third year, events in the region remain fluid. Still, enough time has now passed that some preliminary conclusions can be reached.
Zachary Keck writes: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is one institution certainly drawing lessons from the Arab Spring. It is well known that the CCP studies political unrest in other parts of the world in search of lessons it can use to maintain stability at home. The most notable instance of this was the massive study the CCP undertook into the causes of the Soviet Union’s collapse. The lessons the CCP drew from its more than decade-long study into the Soviet bloc have since been incorporated into the curriculum at party schools, and are regularly referred to by senior Chinese officials.
Although the CCP’s study of the Arab Spring won’t be nearly as massive, the events in the Arab world are of significant interest to the party for a number of reasons. The first is simply their size and magnitude. Additionally, in its early days the Arab Spring inspired some Chinese to call for a Jasmine Revolution in China. Although nothing much came from these calls, there were a tense couple of weeks in China that saw the CCP on high alert.
Finally, Chinese leaders should be particularly interested in the Arab Spring simply because it provides an excellent case study. Although the protests seemed to be motivated by similar causes, they quickly diverged in terms of how each government responded, as well as their ultimate outcomes. Thus, the protests offer valuable lessons for how the CCP can maintain power in China. Four points from the Arab Spring seem particularly pertinent:
1) Get Ahead of Events
The regimes that have best weathered the Arab Spring have gotten ahead of events on the ground. At the first sight of unrest in Egypt, Saudi Arabia sought to preempt protests by significantly increasing subsides. The Gulf Cooperation Council contained unrest in Bahrain by using overwhelming force to smother the then-nascent protests. Only after order had been restored did the government begin offering small concessions. In other countries like Morocco and Jordan, governments quickly appeased protesters by offering at least cosmetic concessions, such as removing especially unpopular leaders. The new Chinese leadership seems to be pursuing a similar course by initiating highly publicized anti-graft and mass line campaigns that are partly aimed at reducing public anger over the party’s excesses.
Memo to the Saudis: ‘Welcome to the club’.
Richard Miniter writes: Arabs don’t trust Obama either.
As 2013 ends, President Obama has lost credibility with many people who trusted him at the start of the year. Thanks to the Healthcare.gov debacle, polls find support for the president among women and independents has dropped to the lowest ebb of his presidency. Obama’s words — promising Americans they could keep their doctors under his health care plan — didn’t match his deeds.
Surprisingly, the same thing is happening on the other side of the world among Arabs in the Middle East and for the same reason.
Too often, Obama’s speeches and actions don’t match.
“We are glad the Americans are here,” said Ahmed al-Ibrahim, an adviser to some of Saudi Arabia’s royals and officials, when I met with him recently, “but we fear that the president has lost credibility after Syria.”
Astonished Saudi officials are contrasting Obama’s quick actions in South Sudan with his unwillingness to act in places like Syria or in Bahrain.
The Saudi official is referring to Obama’s “red line” vow of military action if the Syrian dictator Bashir Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. Assad did and Obama didn’t. Saudi officials were stunned.
Next came the revelation earlier this year that Obama was secretly negotiating with Iran, the mortal enemy of both Israel and Saudi Arabia. Officials in both nations have told me that they simply don’t believe that the president can sweet-talk the mullahs out of the weapons they have coveted for years.
Sorry, haters, when it comes to foreign aid — of all sorts — the United States is far and away the most generous nation on Earth.
John Norris writes: Between the steady drip of Edward Snowden leaks about the National Security Agency and Syria’s slow burn, it seems pretty easy these days to cast the United States as the villain when it comes to international affairs. That makes this holiday season an ideal one to debunk one of the longest-standing myths about the United States: that it is miserly when it comes to helping other nations through foreign aid.
Much of the myth of America’s stinginess traces its roots back to the 1970 commitment by the U.N. General Assembly that rich countries should dedicate 0.7 percent* of their gross national income (GNI) to what is dubbed “official development assistance” (ODA). Although a number of European countries have embraced the target, the United States has never done so, arguing that it is a poor measure of America’s relative commitment to helping the poor in the developed world.
Critics of the United States are quick to point out that the United States, at around 0.02 percent, has one of the lowest rates of official aid to GNI of the major industrialized countries, which is true. But this statistic says a lot more about the ridiculousness of how we currently measure ODA than it does about what the United States brings to the table.
The United States is not only the largest donor of ODA in the world, providing more than $30.5 billion toward that end in 2012, but it makes far and away the largest private contributions to development and poverty alleviation of any nation on Earth — more than 30 percent of all such giving on the planet. Because ODA only measures government spending on development, it totally ignores private giving — whether it be the year-end check you just wrote to the International Committee of the Red Cross or the billions of dollars poured into lifesaving programs by the Gates Foundation.
Those contributions deserve to count, and the United States deserves credit for setting up a tax structure that rather uniquely among nations rewards people for their charitable giving by making it routinely tax deductible.