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Neville Teller (Eurasia Review) — Friday, June 26, 2015 was a day of horror. In the seaside resort of Sousse in Tunisia nearly 40 sunbathing tourists were mown down by gunfire; earlier that morning a decapitated head was found at the scene of a terrorist attack near Lyon, France; around noon, a suicide bomber in Kuwait killed at least 25 people worshipping at a Shia mosque.
Meanwhile Islamic State (IS) fighters slaughtered at least 200 people during an attack on the Syrian town of Kobane – an attack that was mercifully repelled by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
Were the incidents of June 26 intended as a grotesque commemoration of the first anniversary of IS, which self-proclaimed itself on June 29, 2014? They were certainly in the same order of bloodthirsty barbarity as the succession of inhumane and philistine IS acts that have dominated the world’s media, and shocked and sickened decent people everywhere, for the past twelve months.
David Frum (The Atlantic) — To those who lived through it, the night of November 9, 1989, seemed to mark a new epoch in human history. The Berlin Wall was suddenly undefended, in a single delirious moment that promised to end the Cold War division of Europe.
Two years later, the Soviet Union would be dissolved. Elected leaders would govern Russia for the first time since the country’s brief democratic experiment of 1917. “Europe whole and free” seemed more than a far-off aspiration: it seemed a work in the making.
A quarter century later, Russia under Vladimir Putin is more repressive and more aggressive than the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev was. It has invaded Ukraine and menaces the Baltic republics.
Noah Feldman (Bloomberg View) — The Barack Obama administration has said it won’t reconsider the long-standing rule against paying ransoms in its review of policy concerning U.S. citizens kidnapped by terrorists abroad.
That’s a mistake -- morally, politically and legally. In theory, it’s great to say that the U.S. government doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. In practice, we negotiate with terrorists all the time. And it’s outrageous that family members of kidnapping victims would be threatened with criminal prosecution for trying to save their loved ones' lives. The hostage-policy review should air these issues. If it doesn’t, then it will be seriously flawed.
To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy government hypocrisy. The blanket statement that we don’t negotiate with terrorists and don’t pay ransom is supposed to send a message of strength to Americans, and a corresponding message of deterrence to potential kidnappers. But anyone taking the time to think about it knows that the slogan actually means that the government won’t negotiate ransom unless the stakes are high enough.
Aron Lund (Carnegie Middle East Center) — Regardless of who is or is not losing the war in Syria, it is safe to say that no one seems to stand any chance of winning it. It is a lazy pattern of thought, but a strong one: wars are always discussed in terms of winners and losers, first shots and capitulations.
But what this perspective misses is that many conflicts have no discernible end at all. They simply drag on until readers yawn and reporters leave, and go on to mutate into new forms, settling into spheres of influence and establishing stateless violence as the new normal.
The Syrian war may be one of these conflicts. With half of the population driven from their homes, the economy in irreparable ruin, multisided foreign intervention, and sectarianism at a fever pitch, neither President Bashar al-Assad nor any constellation of rebel groups seems able to put a country called Syria back together again.
The New York Times — It seems like ages ago now. But it’s worth remembering how America’s latest war in the Middle East began.
In early August, shortly after militants from the Islamic State had taken over Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, President Obama authorized a volley of airstrikes.The goal then was to save Yazidis, an ethnic minority, who were being slaughtered and displaced by Islamic State militants, and to prevent the terrorist group from slipping into the semiautonomous Kurdish region in the north. The White House described it as an urgent, limited intervention that was necessary to avoid genocide.
“As commander in chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into another war in Iraq,” President Obama said at the time. Those words were suspect then. They seem preposterous now.