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David Frum



By David Frum

[Editor's note: The Winnipeg Jewish Review is reprinting four recent articles by David Frum, author, political commentator, and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, 2001-2002 who is this year’s Distinguished Sol and Florence Kanee Lecturer for the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Frum’s lecture “Is Time Running Out for Israel?” takes place Thursday, April 28 at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue at 8 pm.]


By David Frum , March 23, 2011      Originally published in The Week


Question: Why are we in Afghanistan?

Answer: To prevent al Qaeda from reestablishing its safe havens in that country.

Q: Why did al Qaeda choose Afghanistan for its safe havens?

A: Because the local government, the Taliban, allowed al Qaeda to operate freely in their territory.

Q: What if some other government made the same offer? Could al Qaeda relocate?

A: Sure. In the mid-1990s, Osama bin Laden based himself in Sudan. Al Qaeda has also operated in Somalia and Yemen.

Q: Is it realistic to worry that al Qaeda might move?

A: Very realistic. In fact, many people think that al Qaeda has already given up on Afghanistan.

Q: Where might al Qaeda go?

A: Theoretically, anywhere in the Islamic world where the local government does not take decisive action against them.

Q: Yemen?

A: Yes, very much so. In fact, some believe Yemen has already replaced Afghanistan. And of course, if Yemen’s Western-oriented government collapses, the country might become even more hospitable to al Qaeda.

Q: I’ve noticed that quite a lot of governments are collapsing all over the Arab world. Could that collapse create opportunities for al Qaeda in Egypt? In Libya?

A: It would depend. For now, the Egyptian government continues to function, and continues to cooperate with the United States.

Q: But that could change, right? If, for example, a radical Islamist government took over?

A: Let’s hope not. But yes. A Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt might choose to look the other way if al Qaeda set up operations in Cairo — the same way the Syrians look the other way from Hamas operations in Damascus.

Q: Could radical Islamists take over in Libya?

A: Libya is not a country that can be “taken over” the way Egypt can. Egypt is a very organized society. Seize power at the top, and the government keeps functioning. It just follows new orders. But Libya is just an agglomeration of tribal pieces that the Italians assembled into a colony 100 years ago. Absent the dictatorial Moammar Gadhafi, Libya could disintegrate into a Somalia with money.

Q: Wait a minute. You just mentioned Somalia as a place where al Qaeda operates. If Libya breaks apart, could al Qaeda find a home there?

A: Yes indeed. When Iraq descended into civil war, local Sunni radicals organized themselves into an al Qaeda of Iraq. Many Libyans traveled to Iraq to fight with them, against the Americans. So yes, the potential is there.

Q: That would be a big, big problem, wouldn’t it?

A: You mean to have al Qaeda terror cells operating in a huge, disorganized territory a short boat ride across the Mediterranean from Italy? Yes, that qualifies as a huge problem.

Q: Is it possible that we have defined our strategic problem incorrectly? President Obama has put 100,000 Americans into Afghanistan in order to deny al Qaeda a base in that one country. But maybe our strategic problem is to deny al Qaeda a base in any country?

A: You could put it like that.


Q: Which would mean that concentrating so much American force in one place — and such a remote place — risks missing larger and nearer dangers in places like Libya and Yemen?

A: The usual answer to that is “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Q: Is that a good analogy?

A: No.



By David Frum, March 28th, 2011 originally published on


“I hope you are not merely pretending to be wicked, while being secretly good. That would be hypocrisy.”

As written and delivered, President Obama’s speech on Libya was preposterous.

We intervened in the midst of somebody else’s civil war. We saved one side from losing, prevented another side from winning. Now we’re declaring “mission accomplished” in the middle of the battle. If the president’s message is taken seriously, he has exposed us to the resentment and revenge of one side, while failing to earn the gratitude of the other. If the president’s message is taken seriously, America’s goals in Libya were to perpetuate an ongoing civil war without achieving any stable end-state.

The optimistic interpretation of the president’s speech is that he was engaging in a little statesmanlike hypocrisy.

The optimistic interpretation is this:

“My fellow Americans. I attach great importance to the endorsement of the so-called international community. The UN Security Council Resolution authorized NATO to stop Qaddafi. Qaddafi is stopped. I recognize as well as you that this is a dangerous and untenable status quo. Don’t worry, it won’t be the status quo for long. We’re working now with diplomacy, with covert operations and with the threat of the resumption of force to persuade those around Qaddafi to overthrow and kill him. And of course the French and the British are still waging war. Qaddafi’s time will be short. When that time ends, we’ll pretend to be totally surprised. Who us? Responsible? Oh no – we were just enforcing a no-fly zone.”

The pessimistic interpretation is that the president means what he says – that he thinks his mission stops at freezing some dividing line between warring Libyan factions and leaving somebody – NATO? the UN? – to police that line for weeks, months, maybe years to come.

I’d like to believe the optimistic scenario. But there are warning signs here that the pessimistic is more plausible. The most ominous of the warning signs was his comment about Iraq. Why reargue that war now? Answer: to justify cutting short the commitment to Libya. Obama’s problem is that the moment to take that position was before the Libyan intervention. If he truly did not think the outcome in Libya mattered – if he had been willing to live with a Qaddafi victory – then he could have hung back and allowed events to proceed. But having committed American power to the war, he committed America inescapably to the outcome. If that outcome is a divided, war-torn country, President Obama will not escape responsibility because he only used American airpower. And if he truly is haunted by a determination not to repeat the Iraq war of 2003, he needs to remember that America won itself few friends with its indefinite policing and punishing of Iraq in the 1990s.




by David Frum, February 19th, 2011  originally at


Elliott Abrams at the Council of Foreign Relations has written an important statement on Friday’s Obama administration goings on at the UN. It’s both back story and detailed rebuttal. Plea

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