World

The Chechen Connection

The Boston bombers have put the region and U.S.-Russia relations in the spotlight.

AP Images
Thursday night, the FBI released photographs of two suspects wanted in connection with Monday’s bombing of the Boston Marathon. Shortly afterward, Boston police identified two men suspected of the attack, brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Over the course of several chaotic early morning hours, a violent chase ensued. Tamerlan died in a shootout with police and as of this writing, Dzhokhar remains at large. The brothers are originally from the restive Russian republic of Chechnya. Like many Chechens, the Tsarnaev family fled Chechnya in the 1990s amidst brutal fighting. There were two wars in the region—the first from 1994 to 1996 that largely kicked Russia’s military presence out of the republic, and a second one from 1999 to 2006 or so that succeeded in cementing Russian control. The first Chechen War was a secular, nationalist war for independence. The countries of the South Caucasus—Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia—gained their independence during the collapse of the Soviet...

The Brothers Tsarnaev, Suspects in the Marathon Bombing

FBI
Late last night, a robbery at a convenience store in Cambridge, Massachusetts led to the shooting death of a police office on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Minutes later, an SUV was hijacked. The suspects drove that vehicle to Watertown in Boston, where they lobbed explosives and exchanged gun fire with police. As of early Friday morning, it was unclear if this was related to the Boston Marathon bombing. But soon, authorities released a photo of the suspect in the carjacking, noting the resemblance to one of the bombing suspects. By 7:30 this morning, a few facts had been confirmed. First, one of the suspects had been killed, an accomplice was in police custody, and the other suspect was still at large, the target of a manhunt by law enforcement. Second, the two are believed to be the suspects behind the marathon bombings. Finally, they have been identified as Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, of Cambridge, and his older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed...

Iron-Willed Town, Iron-Willed Lady

How Margaret Thatcher's death muted our critic's need to sift through the politics of Boston's tragedy.

Christopher Furlong/PA Wire
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth "W ho would you be happiest to find out did it?" an old friend jumpily asked on the phone the day after the Boston Marathon bombing. Considering that he and I have vied since the first Gulf War to see who can sound more banteringly cynical about whatever shock to the heart cable news has just smacked everyone with, I knew that wasn't his true self talking. There are ups and downs to feeling most comfortable around gamy Howard Hawks fans, and most of my male friendships have been about indulging each other's disguises in the full awareness that that's all they are. Even so, for a change, I wasn't in the mood. After a second or two, I coughed up a negative wish that it wasn't Al-Qaeda or some other Islamist group. Muslims have been demonized enough, blah blah, and can we please change the subject? So we awkwardly shifted back to the latest books and movies, always our neutral ground. Our strange satisfaction about both art forms' increasing irrelevance...

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool
AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool T he mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of state promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness. John Kerry is quite open, though, about his motives: He wants to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, right away, soon, to conduct them "in a clear and precise, predetermined manner" toward the agreement that has eluded every previous peace effort. The only mystery here is the one created by broken expectations, which say that Washington should treat Israelis and Palestinians with benign neglect, that the...

Forgiving Syria

Finding the truth and reconciling warring factions will not be easy after the end of the Syrian conflict.

Thomas Rassloff/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images
AP Photo O n March 15, the war in Syria passed another unhappy milestone, raging for two long years. As the conflict continues, the truth of what is happening on the ground is hard to find. Journalists cannot move freely, and even humanitarian aid agencies struggle to operate. The positions of both sides are so polarized and, in the case of the rebels, it is often unclear who speaks for or who commands the men with guns. Whether it will become easier when there is peace will define whether Syria can rise again as a nation, whether the people can live together after so much conflict. When it ends—if it ends—Syrians will have a long journey to find the truth about what happened and to forgive their fellow countrymen. The line between the two sides waging war in Syria is especially blurry, as the long conflict has turned neighbors against each other, split towns and cities, and fractured what seemed for so long one of the most stable countries in the Middle East. What started as a...

Don't Be Naïve. That Speech Was a Revolution

flickr/AJstream
flickr/AJstream Barack Obama acknowledges the crowd after his speech last week at the Jerusalem Convention Center. After a couple of days for careful reflection, it's clear: Barack Obama gave an amazing speech. The president of the United States stood in a hall in Jerusalem, and with empathy and with bluntness that has been absent for so long we forgot it could exist, told Israelis: The occupation can't go on. It's destroying your own future. And besides that, Palestinians have "a right to … justice" and "to be a free people in their own land." If you don't think this is a breakthrough, you are letting naïve pessimism overcome realism. Yes, it's true that one speech will be worth nothing if not followed by intense American diplomacy. That comment has become banal. A realistic assessment is that Obama's visit, and the speech, were the opening act of an American diplomatic effort — a near perfect opening. The first breakthrough was in method: Obama started by negotiating with the...

Cyprus's Big Bluff

AP Photo/Petros Karadjias
The Cyprus banking crisis presents, in microcosm, everything that is perverse about the European leaders’ response to the continuing financial collapse. And bravo to the Cypriot Parliament for rejecting the EU’s insane demand to condition a bank bailout on a large tax on small depositors. If this crisis threatens to spread to other nations, it’s a good object lesson. Here is the punch line of this column: It's time for Europe’s small nations, who are getting slammed into permanent depression by the arrogance of Berlin and Brussels, to think about abandoning the euro. At least the threat would strengthen their bargaining position, and if they actually quit the euro, the result could hardly be worse than their permanent sentence to debtors’ prison. More on that in a moment. The back story: Cyprus, with just over a million people, is not a poor country. Its per capita GDP is actually above the European Union average. Cyprus has only used the euro since 2008. Once Cyprus was in the...

Visiting Israel, Juggling a Hundred Impossible Expectations

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Ariel Schalit It’s near impossible to lower expectations of a visit by the President of the United States, especially to a region as consequential in U.S. policy, and controversial in U.S. politics, as the Middle East. Obama is learning this firsthand as he prepares to land in Israel for the first time in his presidency today. The trip will include visits to the West Bank and Jordan, but it’s no secret that its primary function is to re-introduce the president to the Israeli people, and attempt to re-boot the relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose resistance to Obama’s peace efforts and differences over the immediacy of the threat posed by Iran led to a frosty relationship during the president’s first term. I visited the country and the West Bank last week, and preparations on both sides were well under way to make sure that their messages were heard. In Ramallah, huge banners were hung, proclaiming “President Obama, don’t bring your smart phone to...

Why Now, Mr. President?

AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi S ome free advice for anyone who lives in Jerusalem and hasn't been invited to meet with Barack Obama: stay out of the city center from Wednesday to Friday. One major artery, King David Street, will be shut throughout the president's visit this week, and parking will be banned on a host of others, City Hall has announced. Experience teaches that traffic will tie up in knots and buses trying to get from Point A to Point B will travel via Point Z. Beyond gridlock—in the original sense of the word, vehicles sitting in mid-intersection going nowhere—the potential impact of the president's pilgrimage remains a mystery. The trip's timing suggests that Obama feels it absolutely urgent to renew the comatose Israeli-Palestinian peace process, now, before the weekend, before it expires. The pre-trip spin from Obama himself, from sundry off-record officials and from the punditocracy of two countries suggests that the president is coming, to quote Thomas Friedman , as "a...

Rebuilding Schools—and Happiness—in Pakistan

Education reformers come to the former Taliban-occupied Swat Valley.

AP Photo/John McConnico
AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini When the Taliban ruled in the Swat Valley, from 2007 to 2009, it set up in enclaves in the mountainous terrain. In better times, this area was a vacation destination that drew many to its hilly hamlets. Visitors often left with apples from the orchards or jars of locally cultivated honey. People here were known for their folk music and dance, but those traditions quickly faded into the background. Taliban fighters enforced their own brand of draconian Islamic law, requiring men to grow beards and forbidding women from going to the market. Pakistanis watched as the region's famous “Green Square” turned into “Bloody Square” when the Taliban meted out punishment to those who dared cross its authority. More than two million fled the conflict, and many have since settled elsewhere, not daring to return. The region shuddered in thunderous bomb blasts. Some of those blasts were aimed at schools, and the Taliban destroyed 200 of them throughout the Swat region...

Francis I, a Jesuit Pope

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia W e are living in a golden age of information. Any newshound or junkie will tell you so. More and more, the layers of position and personage that constitute establishment influence are being peeled back to their tendons, revealing the innermost workings of power. The wry cynicism of Twitter has become the lingua franca of information brokers. Public statements are easily picked apart and the official stagecraft of a flag-pinned lapel, a rolled-up shirtsleeve, an of-the-people photo op are all viewed as perfunctory gestures, rote and largely meaningless. The election of a new pontiff, quite literally a news event gleaned from smoke signals, lands on our doorstep and we are confounded—what sort of man is this Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I? What will his platform be? What meanings should we divine about this man we’ve only just met, waving at us from a balcony? When symbolism is all you have, as it is with the successor to St. Peter, it becomes a...

Chávez Rising

AP Photo
AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press Office In this photo by Miraflores Presidential Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, center, poses with his daughters, María Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba. T he last official photo of Hugo Chávez shows him surrounded by his two daughters, María Gabriela and Rosa Virginia. It’s a tableau of Renaissance proportions (and probably Photoshopped) that reminds followers of a saintly leader ready to be resurrected, his daughters already mourning the loss of their earthly father but preparing him to be transported to his next life. Whether Chávez can be resurrected through the election of his self-appointed heir, Vice President Nicolás Maduro, remains the next test for the cult of Chavismo that arose around this former paratrooper and failed putchist. The iconography of a fallen Chávez should not be interpreted as the end of an era, even combined with the death of the 58-year-old leader on March 5,...

A Blank Check for Israel? Bad Idea.

On the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War, some in Congress are itching for another ill-advised conflict.

AP Photo/Susan Walsh
AP Photo/ISNA, Amin Khosroshahi Late last week in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the latest round of nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent five UN Security Council members plus Germany) ended with an agreement for more meetings —a technical experts meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, on March 18, followed by a political directors meeting back in Almaty on April 5-6. As for the tenor of the talks, most observers agree that it was more upbeat that in the past, with Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili at one point referring to the P5+1’s offer of greater sanctions relief as a “ turning point .” While recognizing that challenges still remain, supporters of the talks were encouraged. “What Almaty showed us is that American and international proposals can elicit the kinds of responses from Iran that are necessary to move the process forward,” said Joel Rubin, director of policy and government affairs for the Ploughshares Fund. “There’s a clear consensus among the P5...

Conceived in Delusion, Sold in Deception

AP Photo/John Bazemore
AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta O n March 19, two weeks from now, it will be ten years since the United States military commenced the invasion of Iraq. Even though some details are fading from memory, one bit that sticks in my mind—those final days before the war and its dramatic countdown, the 48 hours George W. Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his sons to get themselves out of the country. It was a fitting end to the pre-war campaign, some theatricality to lend an extra bit of drama to a conflict conceived in delusion and sold in deception. This anniversary is a good time to remind ourselves of what happened then and how so many of the people who continue to shape our public debate behaved. The campaign to sell America on an invasion of Iraq was probably the most comprehensive and dishonest propaganda effort our country has seen in the last century. As we discuss it over the next few weeks, those who continue to hold that it was a good idea—akin to saying to this day that the Titanic was...

Euro Crisis Redux

Think sequestration is bad? Things could be turning disastrous in Europe.

When global leaders met in Davos, Switzerland this past January for the annual World Economic Forum, it was not just an opportunity to chatter about the state of the global economy, but also a moment for a collective sigh of relief. The fiscal cliff in the United States had just been avoided, Barack Obama was even able to raise some revenue by letting some of the Bush-era tax rates expire, and the currency crisis in Europe appeared to be on the mend. What a difference a month makes. As another battle over deficits and spending looms in Washington and threatens to pull the U.S. economy back into recession, a far greater worry is the ever-present crack-up of the euro, which would be an economic tsunami to the spring shower of sequestration. It all starts with Italy and the possible return of Silvio Berlusconi. Many thought the media mogul’s long strange trip as Italian prime minister had finally come to end in November 2011 when he resigned after pressure mounted to fix the ballooning...

Pages