Making the click-through worthwhile today: The forces allied against ISIS inflict a stinging defeat to the terror group; the Federal Communications Commission assures Americans that they aren’t going to yank broadcasting licenses because of presidential disapproval of news reports; a stunning allegation against the Clintons that feels like it’s coming to light a year late; and why Virginia voters are right to be concerned about MS-13.
ISIS Is Now Caught Between Raqqa and a Hard Place
Outstanding news as the week progresses:
American-backed forces said on Tuesday that they had seized the northern Syrian city of Raqqa from the Islamic State, a major blow to the militant group, which had long used the city as the de facto capital of its self-declared caliphate.
Celebrations erupted in Raqqa, where residents had lived under the repressive rule of militants who beheaded people for offenses as minor as smoking. Fighters could be seen cheering and firing celebratory gunfire in the streets, according to residents reached by phone and text message.
The United States Central Command stopped short of declaring victory, saying that “more than 90 percent of Raqqa is in S.D.F. control,” a reference to the Syrian Democratic Forces, an American-backed militia group made up of Syrian Kurds and Arabs.
Col. Ryan S. Dillon, a spokesman for the United States military in Baghdad, said Tuesday that Raqqa was on the verge of being liberated, but that there were still pockets of the city controlled by the Islamic State. Syrian Democratic Forces officers, however, were emphatic in phone interviews and public statements that they had finally wrested control of the city from the militants after a monthslong campaign.
“The military operation is over,” said Talal Salo, a commander reached by phone at the group’s headquarters in Hasaka.
Newsweek looks at recent presidential boasting about ISIS and it’s easy to get the sense that the publication would love to rebuke Donald Trump for taking credit for something he did not influence. But the magazine can’t quite dismiss all of the evidence that the momentum of battle has shifted in the past year. Maybe that’s a result of presidential decisions, or perhaps Trump’s decision to defer to his generals on most of the details. Either way, Trump hasn’t loused it up, and he’s in position to reap the accolades.
Perhaps the two most symbolic victories against ISIS have occurred while Trump has been in office: the retaking of the Iraqi city of Mosul in July, and now the liberation of Raqqa. U.S. officials have also claimed that the recapturing of ISIS-held territory has accelerated under Trump. Special Presidential Envoy McGurk — who held the same role in the Obama administration — said that of the 27,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria reclaimed from ISIS since 2014, around 8,000 square miles have been retaken under Trump’s watch.
But some commentators have claimed that Trump is simply reaping the benefits of the hard graft put in by the former administration. The battle for Mosul, for example, commenced in October 2016 and lasted for nine months: Iraqi forces had liberated the whole of eastern Mosul by January 24 — four days into Trump’s presidency — with the remaining six months consisting of a gruelling slog for the Old City.
This is a bit like arguing that Harry S. Truman didn’t preside over the Allied victory in World War Two, because Franklin Roosevelt had done so much before.
It is worth noting that while controlling swaths of territory made ISIS distinct, it was not the only feature that made it dangerous. The New York Times talks to terrorism experts and concludes that the group will probably refocus its efforts on the method that worries us the most, attacks in Western countries:
The group has also developed a powerful social media network that with no physical presence allows it to spew propaganda, claim responsibility for terrorist attacks, and not just inspire attacks but also help plot and execute them remotely.
A large share of its attacks in the West in recent years have been carried out by men who communicated online with ISIS, taking detailed instructions through encrypted messages, but never meeting their terrorist mentors . . .
And the group has continued to sow chaos even as it has lost territory. In 2017 alone, it has claimed responsibility for three terrorist attacks in Britain that killed 37 people, the Istanbul nightclub bombing on New Year’s Eve that killed 39 people, and strikes in more than seven other countries.
As the group was losing Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, in August, it sent a van tearing through crowds in the heart of Barcelona, killing 13 people and loudly declaring its continued relevance.
Our fight against ISIS, and the broader movement of violent Islamist extremism, is far from over. But we have enough bad days; we should take moments to celebrate the victories.
The Good News Is the First Amendment Isn’t in Real Danger . . .
This is not surprising, but it is worth mentioning:
In his first public appearance since [President] Trump tweeted that Comcast’s NBC and other broadcasters should lose their licenses for reporting “fake news,” Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai instead noted that his agency could not do what the president wanted. Pai has served as a commissioner on the FCC since 2012, before Trump elevated him to chairman this year.
“Look, I will reiterate what I have said for many years at the FCC up to and including last month,” Pai said in an appearance at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. “I believe in the First Amendment. The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment. And under the law, the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast.”
Asked a second time more directly if he would block a broadcaster’s license application based on content, Pai said he would “stand with exactly what I’ve said last month and for years at the FCC.” Pai did not mention the president by name.
One of the problems of the Trump administration is that we have a government assigned the duty of protecting the citizenry’s rights under the U.S. Constitution, led by a president who appears to not understand what the government can and cannot do under that constitution.
The president urged the Senate Intelligence Committee to “[look] into the Fake News Networks in OUR country to see why so much of our news is just made up-FAKE!” Probably because that’s not the jurisdiction of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the First Amendment protects all kinds of unpopular speech, including reports derided as “fake news.”
He’s expressed irritated impatience with the way Congress passes legislation: “Well, I think things generally tend to go a little bit slower than you’d like them to go. It’s just a very, very bureaucratic system. I think the rules in Congress and, in particular, the rules in the Senate, are unbelievably archaic and slow-moving.” Of course, the legislative process is designed to be slow-moving and deliberate. While it’s not clear Thomas Jefferson or George Washington ever made the “cup and saucer” comparison, it is clear that the Senate is designed to prevent the quick passage of bad ideas.
When complaining about the Russian sanctions, Trump declared, “it encroaches on the executive branch’s authority to negotiate. Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking . . . The Framers of our Constitution put foreign affairs in the hands of the President. This bill will prove the wisdom of that choice.” But Congress does indeed get a big role in setting America’s foreign policy! The Senate has to confirm the Secretary of State and all ambassadors, appropriate funds for the State Department budget and foreign aid, and ratify all treaties. This is why so many Republicans were upset by the Iran deal, which was never ratified by the Senate as a treaty.
How Did All of This Alleged Russian Bribery and Extortion Remain Secret for So Long?
Now here’s something for the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate, with great haste and thoroughness:
Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.
Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.
They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.
But FBI, Energy Department and court documents reviewed by The Hill show the FBI in fact had gathered substantial evidence well before the committee’s decision that Vadim Mikerin — the main Russian overseeing Putin’s nuclear expansion inside the United States — was engaged in wrongdoing starting in 2009.
How does this get uncovered and no charges are filed? How does this not become public knowledge? Some Hillary Clinton fans argued during the 2016 campaign that the FBI had become politicized and was driven by a vendetta against her. If that was the case, how did these allegations remain secret all the time?
These revelations point in the opposite direction, suggesting that while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, no one in law enforcement wanted to press charges against the Clintons, no matter how damning the evidence.
ADDENDA: Guy Benson on Ed Gillespie’s commercials focusing on crime and the MS-13 gang: “The issue clearly has traction, and I’ve been told the GOP possesses some data indicating that it resonates.” Perhaps it’s as simple that the northern Virginia Democratic thinking class believes that any discussion of illegal immigrants and gangs constitutes paranoid xenophobia. Except . . . northern Virginia really does have an MS-13 problem, committing unspeakably brutal crimes.
Here’s the Washington Post local news section today:
One MS-13 member clicked a cigar cutter open and closed with a metallic ring, while another told the 15-year-old they would cut her fingers off, the prosecutor said. Another gang member asked where the gasoline was so they could burn the girl up.
Ten members and associates of MS-13 lured Damaris A. Reyes Rivas to a Springfield park in January because they wanted revenge. They blamed the Gaithersburg teen for the death of their clique’s leader, Christian Sosa Rivas, whose body had been dumped in the Potomac about a week earlier.
[Prosecutor] Stott then recounted the ruthless slaying of Damaris, whose killing, along with that of Sosa Rivas and the abduction of another teen, has led to the arrests of 18 young people and highlighted the resurgence of MS-13, the region’s largest and most violent gang. Damaris’s killers were remorseless, capturing her final minutes in gruesome cellphone videos.
Do you have to be a paranoid xenophobe to find that horrifying and want state government to do something about it?