Time for the US to stop Qatar’s support for terror

Donald Trump poses with retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis
Getty Images

New York Post, by Jonathan Schanzer, April 20, 2017:

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is on a Mideast tour to “continue efforts to strengthen regional security architectures.” While his meetings in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel are likely to attract most of the press coverage, his discussions in Qatar Saturday could be the most consequential.

Since August 2014, US-backed coalition aircraft have flown tens of thousands of sorties to bomb ISIS. Almost all of them are commanded out of the sprawling, high-tech al-Udeid air base in Qatar. In other words, the base is crucial to our war efforts.

But it comes with serious baggage. The Treasury Department’s top terrorism-finance official, Adam Szubin, stated last year that Qatar has demonstrated “a lack of political will . . . to effectively enforce their combating terrorist financing laws.” In February, Daniel Glaser, who had only recently stepped down as assistant secretary of the Treasury, stated that “designated terrorist financiers” are “operating openly and notoriously” in the country.

A report by my colleague David Andrew Weinberg at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies confirms this. After scouring available records, Weinberg found it “impossible to identify even a single specific instance of Qatar charging, convicting, and jailing a US- or UN-designated individual.” He further found that terror financiers, primarily those backing al Qaeda’s branch in Syria (now called Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), “enjoy legal impunity” in Qatar.

In December 2013, for instance, Treasury added Qatar-based ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi to its terrorist sanctions list, noting he “ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al Qaeda,” with the intent to send more. Meanwhile, multiple reports suggest Qatar pays ransom to al Qaeda and other groups when they kidnap Westerners. Such payments amount to terrorism finance, and also encourage continued abductions.

And it’s not just financing. Qatar harbors the bad guys, too.

In 2015, two senior Taliban officials traveled in and out of Qatar to meet members of the notorious Taliban Five — high-level prisoners from Guantanamo Bay who were traded to Qatari custody by the Obama administration for American prisoner Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. The Qataris facilitated the swap through the Taliban embassy they helped stand up in Doha. Leaked cables show US officials have long worried about how the Taliban and others may “exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale.”

There is also the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which enjoys safe haven in Qatar and also raises plenty of cash. Outgoing leader Khaled Meshal has long operated out of Doha. Hamas military official Saleh Arouri — suspected of masterminding the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens, sparking the 2014 war between Hamas and Israel — is now reportedly in Qatar after being booted from Turkey.

The Qataris don’t even bother to hide this. When I visited Qatar a few years ago, an expat told me that he attended the opening of an Ikea store in Doha and watched dumbfounded as Taliban members tested out the same couch as US servicemen. Another expat told me that locals boast of spotting Khaled Meshal around town the way that New Yorkers compare Woody Allen sightings.

Despite all this, officials in Washington often turn a blind eye. Maybe it’s the value of the al-Udeid air base. Maybe it’s Qatar’s massive foreign-investment portfolio. Or perhaps it’s some other reason.

When the George W. Bush administration launched the war on terror, it overlooked Qatar’s track record, including that 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheikh Mohammed had found shelter on Qatari soil.

Neither Bush nor Obama punished the Qataris for terrorism finance. Indeed, Qatar should have been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. It never was.

When Qatar’s new emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, took the helm three years ago, the Obama administration was optimistic the country would change. That never happened.

When he arrives in Doha on Saturday, Mattis should certainly ensure that he has the support of the Qataris for his war plans. But he shouldn’t miss an opportunity to hold Qatar to account. He should invoke President Trump’s campaign promise: Allies must pull their weight if they wish to remain allies.

That previous administrations have tolerated Qatar’s behavior is not an excuse. Qatar must cease supporting terrorists.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury Department terrorism-finance analyst, is senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Apathy and Accessory to Genocide

Women cry during the funeral for those killed in a Palm Sunday church attack in Alexandria Egypt, at the Mar Amina church, Monday, April 10, 2017. Egyptian Christians were burying their dead on Monday, a day after Islamic State suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in coordinated attacks targeting Palm Sunday services in two cities. Women wailed as caskets marked with the word “martyr” were brought into the Mar Amina church in the coastal city of Alexandria, the footage broadcast on several Egyptian channels. (AP Photo/Samer Abdallah)

NewsBusters, by Brigitte Gabriel, April 13, 2017:

The recent Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt are part of a much larger effort to extinguish Christians from the Middle East by radical Islamists. These attacks further illustrated not only the ongoing genocide taking place, but the disgraceful efforts by the media to look the other way.

Would we do this if the religious roles were reversed? The fact is, they have never, and would never be reversed. There has never been a cohesive effort by Christians to exterminate Muslims in the name of Christ.

However, we have seen repeated efforts by those embracing Islam to commit genocide on the infidel, furthering their desire for a global Islamic caliphate.

We can go all the way back to the prophet Muhammad, who waged war as a means of spreading his message. We can look to the Crusades, the Armenian genocide, or the attempted extermination of Christians in my home country of Lebanon, which forced me to live out of a bomb shelter through much of my youth.

Still, in 2017, we see an explicit attempt by radical Islamists today to conquer by the sword, and slay the infidel in the name of Allah.

What other religion has been used to justify such organized violence against those who do not share the same faith as Islam? What other religion has been used to justify the subjugation, mutilation, and murder of women on such a massive and gruesome scale as Islam? What other religion has been used to justify the stoning of homosexuals, and tossing them off rooftops for their lifestyle choices as Islam?

Despite what radical Islamic enablers and anti-Western zealots in the mainstream media will tell you, the answer is obviously none. Spare me the idiotic and irrelevant reference to the Salem witch trials of the 17th century, we seem to have the Puritan suicide bomber threat under control.

Yet, despite reality, rather than report the news accurately and objectively, the mainstream media prefers to ignore the ongoing Christian genocide.

Why do they do this?

One can only speculate, and the answer differs based on pundit, but the most logical answer is that reality conflicts with their politically correct worldview and thus, must be hidden from the public.

The images of Syrian children who suffered horrifically, as a result of a chemical weapons attack by Assad are no doubt heartbreaking.

Why is it that a chemical weapons attack on Syrian rebels gets wall to wall coverage, when the crucifixion of Christian children by ISIS is not deemed newsworthy?

Because many in the mainstream media and anti-Western movement that engulfs it saw the chemical weapons attack as an opportunity to push their open borders narrative. They never miss an opportunity to capitalize on a crisis when it rears itself.

Yet despite the explicit extermination of Christians across the Middle East, less than one percent of all refugees taken in by the United States from Iraq and Syria have been Christian.

Think of that shameful reality. The ones who need refuge the most are shunned, yet Islamic refugees continue to pour in at an alarming rate. But apparently, this injustice isn’t nearly as appealing as one that helps paint America or its current President as “Islamophobic.”

With the way the mainstream media and politically correct politicians portray our National Security policy, you’d think the military was going around and indiscriminately rounding up Muslims for deportation.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, Christians are not only being rounded up, they’re being tortured and killed in the most gruesome fashion, regardless of age or gender. We are talking about evil being waged in the most appalling way by radical Islamists, on a mission to conquer the West by the sword of their prophet Muhammad.

Yet, our news waves are flooded with sentiments of how bigoted our President is, simply for wanting to protect our borders, and ensure proper vetting for national security purposes. Christians must band together, and stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

If the media refuses to cover the genocide taking place in the Middle East, it is even more incumbent upon us to spread the message, and demand action from our political leaders.

More to it, Christians must push back against this suicidal sentiment that their faith demands an open borders mentality. Instead, we must defend with great passion, the United States of America, and the Judeo-Christian values it was founded upon.

This is the greatest country in the world, and one that I could only dream of coming to while living in a bomb shelter as a young girl, praying that the radical Islamists would not find me. We must band together in this fight for the survival of our country, our faith, and our way of life.

The stakes could not be higher.

Also see:

Gorka on Mark Levin: Trump ‘Inherited a Global Firestorm’ from Obama Admin.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 13, 2017:

Host Mark Levin welcomed Dr. Sebastian Gorka, former Breitbart News national security editor and current deputy assistant to President Trump, to his radio show on Tuesday evening.

Gorka said that current American policy in trouble spots such as Syria and North Korea was consistent with President Trump’s positions during the 2016 campaign.

“Very simply put, the man that was Donald Trump before January the 20th is the same man who is the president today,” he said. “He has re-instigated American leadership around the world. We’re not going to perpetuate the vacuum created by President Obama that was exploited by people like Assad, like Putin, like the crazy regime in North Korea.”

“We are reasserting the values that made America great and will make America great again,” he said, alluding to Trump’s campaign slogan. “It’s leadership from the front, and it’s standing up to the founding principles of the Republic. It’s that simple, Mark.”

“For all the people who supported Donald Trump on November the 8th, I’d like them to think about one thing: what we did on Thursday is not 2003 nor is it the first Gulf War in 1991,” Gorka said.

He suggested:

The president is clear. He’s not about invading other people’s countries and occupying them, but he is not going to let dictators use weapons of mass destruction against unarmed women and children. If you have a problem with us launching a cruise missile strike on an airfield used to execute such an attack, you need to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, what is the problem with taking that action and making a red line a real red line?

Levin said some disappointed Trump supporters feel he has “embraced the McCain wing of the Republican Party” with his Syrian intervention.

“I say they really need to look at the facts,” Gorka countered. “The idea that deploying 150,000 troops into the Middle East is the same as one of our ships sitting in safety, in the middle of the Med, launching unmanned vehicles to take out this airfield — the two can not be compared.”

“Also, there’s a very important point here: statecraft, leadership is nothing if it doesn’t understand that diplomacy must be backed up by force,” he continued. “We had eight years of just words — words that were exploited by our enemies and, on top of that, the support of our enemies when you look at the JCPOA, the Iran deal, the ransoms and everything else.” He said:

We understand, and the president understands this implicitly, diplomacy is nothing if you’re not prepared to back it up with force. Everyone who needs to understand what we did in Syria on Thursday understands it. Look at the nations that have an issue with it and you will see just how morally sound our actions were — and also how they overlapped with our national security as well.

Gorka noted that Russia’s response to the strike on the Sharyat airbase in Syria has been thus far limited to “some very predictable statements that they have to make for domestic, internal purposes, but I think they are drawing the necessary conclusions.”

“There is a point at which your satrapy, your client state maintaining a state like Assad’s state is no longer in the interest of even the Kremlin,” he said, making one of those necessary conclusions explicit. “I think they’re starting to understand that as well.”

Levin proposed that Russia’s weak economy would hinder them in a conflict with the United States.

“This is one of the things that Ronald Reagan understood,” Gorka agreed:

In one of his first meetings in the NSC, he asked, “What is the GDP of the Soviet Union?” He was told it was roughly on par with California. Then he understood how much of a paper tiger the Soviet Union was. So yes, if you look at the GDP, if you look at their resource-intensive economy, if you look at their demographics — 600,000 people die a year in Russia, more than are born. That’s a demographic reality. So yes, we look at the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be, which was the last White House.

Levin asked for an update on North Korea, which Gorka said he could deliver only with caution because, “unlike the Clinton administration and unlike the Obama administration, we do not give our game plan away — we do not tell our adversaries what to expect from us, as Clinton did in the Balkans, and as the last president did in Iraq.”

“I think people understand, and that the movement of our vessels, the action we took on Thursday, they’re all part of the same kind of deck of cards,” Gorka said. “We are reinforcing the statements made by the president, by Secretary Tillerson, with actions that fill the vacuum created by the Obama administration.”

Levin observed that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is “a very dangerous man.”

“The problem with that nation, in particular, is that unlike other countries, including I would say even the Russian Federation, you simply cannot model them on the rational-actor models that we use,” Gorka said. “When ideology overtakes reasoned cost/benefit analysis, nations like North Korea are very difficult to model. That’s why other messages are needed.”

“That’s the similarity between Iran and North Korea. We are not looking at your standard, rational actors in either case,” he said.

“It’s very important that everybody, whether you voted for him or not, is clear on this issue that there is no desire, and no intent, inside the White House, inside the Oval Office — the president does not wish to be some kind of global policeman,” Gorka stressed. “That is not what we’re talking about.”

However, he agreed with Levin’s point that “we have inherited a global firestorm” from the Obama administration.

“If you look at any cardinal point on the compass — north, south, east or west — the world is on fire,” he said. “Just one thing: if you listen to the United Nations, we have 65 million refugees in the world today. That’s more than we had in 1945, after the death camps and the destruction of World War II.”

“That is, in part, a direct function of the feckless foreign policy and a lack of leadership under the Obama administration,” Gorka contended. “We can’t ignore that because sooner or later that will have a national security impact on every American living in the United States as well.”

Levin feared that even Trump’s request for increased military funding was not enough and that Congress was not moving quickly enough to provide the funds requested.

Gorka said that “certain individuals” in Congress saw the urgency of rebuilding the military, although it was not a “groundswell” yet.

“There’s a lot of freshmen congressmen, many of them, who are actually Iraq veterans. Some of them are my friends,” he said:

They fully understand it. When you look at the U.S. Marine Corps, in the last eight years, ended up having to cannibalize active aircraft they were using so they could use those spare parts for other aircraft. That is the dire situation that we inherited. The president is serious about fixing that as well. But it’s separation of powers, so as you rightly note, we have to have that requisite support on the Hill to make things happen. The purse strings are there. The intent exists in the White House. We’ve already set with the increase in the budget the direction we need to go in, but it’s not just up to the president.

Levin concluded the interview by asking Gorka what it was like to “be under constant attack, in ways that really are quite vicious,” and if he was still glad to be at the White House after dealing with such abuse.

“Look, Mark, I’m living the dream,” Gorka replied. “I was an immigrant. I chose this country because I truly believe it’s the last great hope. I came here nine years ago, and I’m walking around the West Wing every day. God has smiled on me, and I’m thankful for that.”

“With all of these fake news attacks — there’s going to be another one in USA Today tomorrow — I just smile and I laugh. Why? Because I’m not in the cellar of the secret police headquarters in Budapest being tortured, like my father in 1950. So bring it on. Call in Karl, Ben Rhodes, Politico — I laugh in your face because it is pathetic and it’s only words,” he declared.

Also see:

Middle East: A Shift from Revolution to Evolution

Gatestone Institute, by Najat AlSaied, April 8, 2017:

  • The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main sources of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups, including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only.
  • Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups.

After each Islamist terrorist attack in the West, the public is divided into two camps: one angry and one indifferent. The problem with defeating Islamist terrorism seems to be that either it is attacked by conservatives who call Islam an evil cult or it is forgiven entirely by liberal apologists. What, then, is the answer?

One of the main failures in Western analyses of the origins of terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is that the West attributes them to a lack of democracy and a lack of respect for human rights. This is, indeed, part of the cause, but the root of the problem is a lack of development and modernity. U.S. President Donald Trump did not exaggerate when he said that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was disastrous. It was catastrophic mainly for two reasons. One was the knee-jerk support for the “Arab Spring” and for extremist Islamic political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The second was the alliances the Obama administration built with unreliable countries such as Qatar, which supports radical political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, Obama made the mistake of continuing to try to appease Iran’s theocratic regime.

The Arab Spring’s uncalculated, hasty attempt to establish so-called democracy only generated more turmoil and chaos in the region. Certain radical political groups simply exploited the elections to serve their own political and sectarian agendas; that swoop for power only resulted in more authoritarian and dictatorial regimes, as have played out, for instance, in Egypt, where we have witnessed the murder of civilians and police officers by the Muslim Brotherhood. In other countries, the situation is even worse; attempts to install democracy have totally destroyed the state and facilitated the spread of terrorist militias, as in Libya.

It is ironic that Western countries and their advocates stress the need to apply democratic practices in Arab countries, but evidently do not recall that development and secularism preceded democracy in Western Europe. The United Kingdom, which has the oldest democratic system, did not become fully democratic until 1930. France became fully democratic only in 1945, 150 years after the French Revolution.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, at the Arab Summit in Jordan on March 28, 2017 delivered a speech in which he indicated his continuous support for the Muslim Brotherhood:

“If we are serious about focusing our efforts on armed terrorist organizations, is it fair to consider any political party we disagree with as terrorist? Is our goal to increase the number of terrorists?”

Many Arab leaders were infuriated by his speech; at the forefront was President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, who left the Arab Summit Hall during the speech to meet King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Most Arab leaders and analysts, in fact, are enraged by Qatar’s continuous support for Islamist political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, because these groups are a threat to their national security.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt speaks at the Arab Summit, on March 29. The previous day, Sisi walked out of a speech by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. Sisi was infuriated by Al-Thani’s declaration of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. (Image source: Ruptly video screenshot)

Another consequence of Obama’s foreign policy — in particular attempts to get close to Iran’s hostile regime — has been a fraying of relationships with old Arab allies of the United States. Some of Obama’s advisors thought that replacing Saudi Arabia with Iran was somehow “better” for the United States, if Iran “is beginning to evolve into a very civilized and historically important country” — an analysis that can be described as completely short-sighted.

The Saudi regime, with all its flaws, is a monarchy run by princes; the Iranian regime is a theocracy run by clerics. The Saudi regime is not a theocratic regime but a hybrid structure, which is neither wholly secular nor wholly religious. As such, the religious class functions under the authority of the ruling class. Princes are driven by self-interest; clerics are driven by ideology. In terms of extremism, the Iranian regime is pushing for hegemony, whilst Saudi Arabia has been taking only a defensive, rather than an expansionist, position.

The motivation of Saudi Arabia in exporting mosques world-wide and installing radical Saudi imams is defensive, not expansionist as in Iran. Saudi Arabia’s impetus is to confront Iran’s hegemony and the spread of its hostile ideology. It is this strategy, which Saudi Arabia has practiced since 1979 to balance Iran’s power and to combat its rebellious ideology, that must change.

That Iran’s Khomeini regime sought to embarrass Saudi Arabia — a country that is home to Islam’s two holiest mosques, in Mecca and Medina — by portraying it as not sufficiently Islamic, meant that the foundational Islamic Wahhabism of the Saudi Kingdom was aggressively reinforced. This emphasis resulted in even more constraints being put in place in Iran: especially on entertainment. Since the Khomeini revolution in 1979, all plays, fashion shows, international events, and cinemas have been banned. As for women, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has increasingly harassed them. As for minorities, especially Shia challenging the Iranian Shia regime and its support for Shia militias — particularly the dominant Revolutionary Guards — books were published attacking the Shia:

More books appeared, attacking the Shias and especially Khomeini’s views. These books – like the arguments of Khomeini’s followers – rejected modern thinking as an “intellectual invasion.” Saudi Arabia, considered the guardian of Sunni Islam, spent billions of dollars on challenging the Khomeini-backed Shiites.

This religious one-upmanship — a competition over which body can be the “most religious” — must stop. Saudi Arabia would do well to understand that in order to confront the hegemony of the Iranian theocratic regime, the answer is not to radicalize Saudi society but to return to the way it was before 1979.

The best way to defeat the rebel hostile regime in Iran might be through creating an inclusive and tolerant society in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia needs to change its approach towards Iran because the current strategy has not worked. The current strategy has done nothing except to strengthen the Iranian regime’s dominance; distort, globally, the image of Saudi Arabia and accelerate terrorism.

The lesson the Trump administration might learn from the disastrous mistakes of its predecessor is that the main source of terrorism in the region are political Islam and all its related religious groups. All these radical groups including ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Hamas have been spawned by a political Islam driven by the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Extremist jihadists such as Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and Ayman al-Zawahiri were all taught by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Political Islam practiced by the Iranian theocratic regime has been comfortably generating Shia radical militias, including the terrorist group, Hezbollah. The fight, therefore, should not be against Islam, but against political Islam. Islam needs to be practiced the way other religions are, as a private personal faith that should be kept separate from public life and politics, and whose expression should be confined to worship only. Mosques, whether in the Arab and Muslim world or in the West, should be places of worship only and must not transformed to centers for polarizing society or for recruitment by political religious groups. Unfortunately, Western countries have turned a blind eye to the political activities inside these mosques.

The danger of these religious political groups is that they do not believe in democracy or human rights; they just use elections to grasp power in order to impose a system of “Islamic Caliphate” as their only form of government. Most of these groups use religion as an ideology to oppose governments other than their own, and when they are criticized or attacked, they play the role of the oppressed.

The Trump administration needs to take advantage of the fact that the majority of people in the Middle East and North Africa have lost faith in religious political groups, especially since the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia.

Before the Arab Spring, support for these groups was huge; now it stands at less than 10% of the population. This study was conducted in the Arab world, not including Turkey. The Muslims who support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most recent polls indicate that the majority of people in Arab and Muslim countries prefer religion to be kept separate from politics.

The country that is working the most systematically to fight these religious political groups in the region is the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There are several institutes and think tanks researching how to combat these groups. Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), has given a robust analysis of these groups and how to combat them in his book, The Mirage. In it, he cites a study on public opinion on political religious groups: A survey of the UAE population, on how these groups are able to influence the public by taking advantage of certain flaws in the system: 53.9% because of corruption; 47.9% because of poverty and 29.1% because of an absence of civil society groups that confront these opportunists.

The Middle East-North Africa region will undoubtedly have to go through several stages before it can successfully establish democracy. An evolutionary developmental approach will definitely be better than the failed revolutionary democratic one pursued by the Obama administration.

Secularization is also crucial in the fight against terrorism. Trying to build a democracy before going through the stages of secularism and political reformation — which includes rectifying existing flaws, such as corruption; modernization which means the liberation of the region from extremist totalitarian religious dogma and all other forms of backwardness in order to kick-start a renaissance; and scientific development — will not only be inadequate but will actually generate more terrorism by helping radicals to keep gaining power. It would be like a farmer who wants to plant roses in arid desert soil full of thorns.

Najat AlSaied is a Saudi American academic and the author of “Screens of Influence: Arab Satellite Television & Social Development”. She is an Assistant Professor at Zayed University in the College of Communication and Media Sciences in Dubai-UAE. She can be reached at: najwasaied@hotmail.com

U.S. and European Leaders Pressure Russia to Back Away from Syria

The Associated Pres

Breitbart, by John Hayward, April 11, 2017:

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the highly symbolic opportunity of a visit to the Sant’Anna di Stazzema memorial in Italy – a memorial to the victims of a Nazi massacre – to declare Americans would “rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

From there, Tillerson went on to the G7 summit, which CNN notes is “the first meeting of US allies since President Donald Trump ordered the bombardment on the Shayrat airbase in western Syria last week.”

Meanwhile, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of the Trump administration’s strongest voices against the Syrian regime, described regime change in Syria as a high priority on CNN’s State of the Union.

“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad,” she said.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government,” Haley reiterated on NBC’s Meet the Press.

The BBC describes G7 ministers as seeking to “hammer out a unified approach to the Syria conflict.” This remains as elusive a goal as ever, although creating some distance between Russia and Syria looks like the top item on the agenda.

Even though Tillerson is generally less aggressive about regime change in Syria than Haley, and insists defeating the Islamic State is still the Trump administration’s top regional priority, he has criticized Russia for not keeping its promises to eliminate Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s This Week.

“I will tell you, I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said. “And so the failure related to the recent strike and the recent terrible chemical weapons attack, in large measure, was a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community.”

Tillerson said he would discuss Russia’s “obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons” when he meets with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson more directly advised Russian President Vladimir Putin to sever ties with Assad, warning that Putin was “toxifying the reputation of Russia” by associating with “a guy who has flagrantly poisoned his own people.”

“We need to make it clear to Putin that the time to back Assad has gone. He must understand that Assad is now toxic in every sense,” Johnson urged

Johnson also suggested the G7 would consider further sanctions, not only against Syria but against Russian military officials deemed accomplices to the Syrian government’s atrocities. The BBC notes that if Johnson’s threat is realized, it would bring the first sanctions against Russians over their Syria policy.

Haley had similar ideas about calling Russia out for enabling Assad’s crimes. “You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people,” she said on Meet the Press.

“Look, when you have a violation of the chemical weapons issue, and you’ve got a violation of Security Council resolutions over and over again, and you vetoed, seven times, to protect this war criminal, we’re going to call you out on it. We’re going to call you out for the fact that you’re covering up,” she added.

“I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Assad is in power,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday, echoing Haley almost word for word.

Spicer stressed that Russia “stands with Syria, North Korea, and Iran,” which is not the sort of company a respectable nation ought to be keeping.

Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull joined in as well, denouncing Assad’s “criminal horrendous action” of “gassing his own people, women and children and babies.”

“What we await now is leadership from Russia, which is the sponsor of the Syrian regime, to work with other powers to bring this shocking conflict to an end,” said Turnbull.

The UK Independent doubts Russia will give up on Assad, no matter how hard the G7 nations push because Russia “owes its return to great power status in the eyes of much of the world to its military intervention in Syria and will not want to change its previous stance.”

Also, with the tide of the Syrian civil war so clearly turned by Russian and Iranian intervention, it’s not certain the Russians could unseat Assad if they wanted to, and if they did, the resulting power vacuum could easily be filled by something worse.

***

Also see:

U.S. Unleashes 59 Tomahawk Missiles on Syrian Airbase Pinpointed as Origin of Sarin Attack

The USS Ross, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer forward-deployed to Rota, Spain, fires a Tomahawk missile in the Mediterranean on April 7, 2017. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert S. Price)

PJ Media, by Bridget Johnson, April 7, 2017:

WASHINGTON — Declaring “no child of God should ever suffer such horror” as the “Black Tuesday” neurotoxin attack on a Syrian neighborhood, President Trump ordered a flurry of cruise missiles fired at the airbase from which the Assad regime planes that struck Khan Shaykhun originated.

Fifty-nine Tomahawks from two U.S. warships in the Mediterranean, the USS Ross and USS Porter, targeted Shayrat Airfield in Homs province at 4:40 a.m. local time. Defense officials reportedly used radar tracking to pinpoint the base as the originating location of the planes bearing an agent that produced symptoms consistent with sarin.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said the missiles “targeted aircraft, hardened aircraft shelters, petroleum and logistical storage, ammunition supply bunkers, air defense systems, and radars.”

“As always, the U.S. took extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties and to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict,” Davis said. “Every precaution was taken to execute this strike with minimal risk to personnel at the airfield.”

“The strike was a proportional response to Assad’s heinous act. Shayrat Airfield was used to store chemical weapons and Syrian air forces. The U.S. intelligence community assesses that aircraft from Shayrat conducted the chemical weapons attack on April 4. The strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.”

Defense officials informed Russia ahead of time about the planned airstrike time and location, citing their previous deconfliction agreement to improve flight safety after near-misses as the Russians flew missions with Assad forces against Assad’s opposition and the U.S. flew missions against ISIS. “U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield,” Davis said.

The Pentagon is assessing the results of the strike, but “initial indications are that this strike has severely damaged or destroyed Syrian aircraft and support infrastructure and equipment at Shayrat Airfield, reducing the Syrian government’s ability to deliver chemical weapons,” Davis said.

“The use of chemical weapons against innocent people will not be tolerated,” he added.

Pentagon sources told CNN that they believe Russians were at the airfield when the sarin attacks were launched earlier in the week. Arab reports tonight indicated Hezbollah were among the casualties at the base.

“Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children,” Trump said in a message to the country tonight from Mar-a-Lago. “It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.”

Trump emphasized “it is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons, violated its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and ignored the urging of the UN Security Council,” he said. “Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed, and failed very dramatically. As a result, the refugee crisis continues to deepen and the region continues to destabilize, threatening the United States and its allies.”

“Tonight, I call on all civilized nations to join us in seeking to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria, and also to end terrorism of all kinds and all types. We ask for God’s wisdom as we face the challenge of our very troubled world. We pray for the lives of the wounded and for the souls of those who have passed. And we hope that as long as America stands for justice, then peace and harmony will, in the end, prevail.”

Also down at Mar-a-Lago, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told reporters that “there were three options we discussed with the president” at the National Security Council,” and Trump “asked us to focus on two options in particular, to mature those options.”

After “two rather large and formal meetings” and “a far-reaching discussion, the president decided to act,” McMaster said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the administration “coordinated very carefully with our international partners in terms of communicating with them around the world.”

“I would tell you that the response from our allies, as well as the region and the Middle East has been overwhelmingly supportive of the action we taken,” he said, adding that he personally believed Trump “made the correct choice and made the correct decision.”

Trump’s action drew praise from some of his foreign policy detractors. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a joint statement that “unlike the previous administration, President Trump confronted a pivotal moment in Syria and took action.”

“For that, he deserves the support of the American people. Building on tonight’s credible first step, we must finally learn the lessons of history and ensure that tactical success leads to strategic progress,” they added. “That means following through with a new, comprehensive strategy in coordination with our allies and partners to end the conflict in Syria.”

“The first measure in such a strategy must be to take Assad’s air force — which is responsible not just for the latest chemical weapons attack, but countless atrocities against the Syrian people — completely out of the fight. We must also bolster support for the vetted Syrian opposition and establish safe zones to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis. As we do, we can and must continue the campaign to achieve ISIS’s lasting defeat.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “making sure Assad knows that when he commits such despicable atrocities he will pay a price is the right thing to do.‎”

“It is incumbent on the Trump administration to come up with a strategy and consult with Congress before implementing it,” Schumer added. “I salute the professionalism and skill of our Armed Forces who took action today.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the strikes “appropriate and just.”

“These tactical strikes make clear that the Assad regime can no longer count on American inaction as it carries out atrocities against the Syrian people,” Ryan said. “Resolving the years-long crisis in Syria is a complex task, but Bashar al-Assad must be held accountable and his enablers must be persuaded to change course. I look forward to the administration further engaging Congress in this effort.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was not as pleased as his congressional colleagues: “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked,” he said. “The president needs congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution, and I call on him to come to Congress for a proper debate.”

“Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer, and Syria will be no different,” Paul added.

And there was bipartisan agreement that Congress wants to be involved: “Whatever the merits of a military strike on Syria, there is no doubt the Constitution demands it be congressionally authorized,” tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

Trump was cheered on social media by some in the Arab world, referring to him as Abu Ivanka (father of Ivanka):

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Top U.S. Commander: Iran’s Heightened Threat Since Nuclear Deal May Require Military Action

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty

Breitbart, by Edwin Mora, March 30, 2017:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. needs to consider military action to disrupt Iran’s malign activities in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia, which have intensified since the Islamic Republic signed a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, a top American commander warned American lawmakers.

Former President Barack Obama and other supporters of the nuclear deal argued that it would promote peace and avoid military confrontation.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) testified Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee about the security challenges facing his area of responsibility (AOR).

The Central Region, or CENTCOM AOR, spans more than 4 million square miles that cover 20 predominantly Muslim nations that stretch from Northeast Africa across the Middle East to Central and South Asia.

In his written testimony, Gen. Votel declared:

Iran poses the most significant threat to the Central Region and to our national interests and the interests of our partners and allies.

We have not seen any improvement in Iran’s behavior since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), addressing Iran’s nuclear program, was finalized in July 2015.

Over the past year, after the nuclear deal was signed, the U.S. military has been dealing with Iran and its proxies carrying out “a range of malign activities” in the Central Region, namely in “Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt, the Sinai, and the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait [located between Yemen and Djibouti and Eritrea] and in other parts of our area of responsibility,” declared Gen. Votel.

Democrat Congresswoman Jacky Rosen from Nevada asked the top U.S. general during the hearing, “Do you believe Iran has increased destabilizing activity since the JCPOA?”

“I do believe they have,” responded Gen. Votel, adding in his written remarks:

Unfortunately, the [nuclear] agreement has led some to believe that we have largely addressed the Iranian problem set and that is not the case. In addition to its nuclear weapons potential, Iran presents several credible threats. They have a robust theater ballistic missile program, and we remain concerned about their cyber and maritime activities, as well as the activities of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Forces (IRGC-QF) and their network of affiliates, [including their narco-terrorist proxy Hezbollah].

Since the nuclear agreement was signed, Iran has been “clearly focused” on expanding its influence and power in the Central Region, noted Votel.

“Recognizing that Iran poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. interests in the Central Region, we must seize opportunities to both reassure our allies and shape Iran’s behavior,” he pointed out, adding, “Through both messaging and actions, we must also be clear in our communications and ensure the credibility of U.S. intentions.”

To disrupt Iran’s growing threat, the U.S. must consider military action and other ways, proclaimed Gen. Votel.

“I’ve had an opportunity to talk with some of our regional partners about it,” he said. “I think we need to look at opportunities where we can disrupt through military means or other means, their activities.”

“In addition to ready military actions, we must support the broader USG [U.S. Government] strategy with regard to Iran which should include new diplomatic initiatives that provide Iran with viable alternatives to its present course,” he conceded.

The U.S. general did stress that Iran must be aware that there will be consequences if it continues its malign and provocative activities.

“The point that I would emphasize to you is that while there may be other more strategic or consequential threats or regions in our world, today, the central region has come to represent the nexus for many of the security challenges our nation faces,” warned the CENTCOM commander.

“Most importantly, the threats in this region continue to pose the most direct threat to the U.S. homeland and the global economy. Thus it must remain a priority and be resourced accordingly,” added Gen. Votel.

The Af-Pak region is home to the largest concentration of U.S. and United Nations-designated terrorist groups — 13 in Afghanistan and seven in Pakistan, according to the U.S. military.

Moreover, “the Middle East remains the global epicenter of terrorism and violent Islamist extremism,” wrote Gen. Votel.

Citing the Institute for Economics and Peace’s 2016 Global Terrorism Index, he testified that “the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) AOR accounted for 78% of all terrorism incidents worldwide.”

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