To Read: Daniel Benjamin, who served as the State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator up until last year, believes that Obama knew what he was talking about in his counter-terrorism speech and that the US war on terrorism is going just fine-
I can't speak to the briefings that McCaul has received. But in my view, as someone who until a few months ago did his share of briefing Congress and the public while serving as the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, Obama's assessment is very much on target and comports with what I and many of my colleagues have been saying. Yes, I sounded the alarm about the spread of extremist violence across a patchwork of sub-Saharan Africa, the Maghreb, and Western Asia. There are innumerable groups out there prepared to slaughter innocents. But not all threats are equal, and most of those out there today are neither forbidding nor focused on us. If anything, Obama understated the progress that has been made over the last four years.
Quote: "The year 2012 was ... notable in demonstrating a marked resurgence of Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism", a US State Department report takes a look at global terrorism in 2012.
Number: 68, the percentage of Americans who believe that America 'should not 'use military action to end the conflict' in Syria even if 'all economic and diplomatic efforts fail'.
To Read: Oded Eran offers a list of 5 possible strategies for John Kerry to pursue in his Israel-Palestine peacemaking efforts-
Secretary Kerry does not have to pick one of the above options. He can combine elements from each of these five possibilities, and then grade and rank them according to political circumstances and feasibility, before moving forward. It would be a grave error, however, to choose the sixth option—doing nothing.
Quote: "Unilateral action by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community", EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemning Israel's decision to build in East Jerusalem.
Number: 14.5, the percentage of Israeli women who smoke.
The Middle East
To Read: Iran specialist Afshin Shahi writes about what he takes to be Iran's momentous sexual revolution-
While not necessarily positive or negative, Iran's sexual revolution is certainly unprecedented. Social attitudes have changed so much in the last few decades that many members of the Iranian diaspora are shellshocked when they visit the country: "These days Tehran makes London look like a conservative city," a British-Iranian acquaintance recently told me upon returning from Tehran. When it comes to sexual mores, Iran is indeed moving in the direction of Britain and the United States -- and fast.
Quote: "We don't distinguish between Syria and Lebanon anymore. We live under Shiite occupation just like the Syrians, and now are a finger in the fist of this jihad against Iran and their Zionist dog, Bashar [al-Assad] ", Hajj Mohammed, a Sunni fighter in Lebanon, another example of how many fighters in the Syrian war are becoming more religious.
Number: 62, the percentage of global terrorism fatalities which occurred in just three countries- Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan- according to the State Department.
The Jewish World
To Read: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks muses on the deep symbolism in the Jewish Talit-
We wrap ourselves in the robe, the tallit, the great symbol of the Jewish people at prayer. We conceal our individuality – in the language of the blessing over the tallit, we “wrap ourselves in a fringed garment.” It is as if we were saying to God: I may only be a beggar, but I am wearing a royal robe, the robe of your people Israel who prayed to You throughout the centuries, to whom You showed a special love and took as Your own. The tallit hides the person we are and represents the person we would like to be, because in prayer we ask God to judge us, not for what we are, but for what we wish to be.
Quote: “I give her credit for having the courage to write and publish ‘Fazit’ at the time she did. In 1963, nobody I met admitted to having been a Nazi. She may have been the first German, and certainly the first German woman, who tried to face her past with honesty. No other book at that time said, unequivocally, ‘I was a Nazi, and here’s why.’ I am certainly treated well in her memoir, with insight and respect. Melita eventually came to be horrified by Nazism, and I believe she really meant the book as an apology”, Marianne Schweitzer, a 95 year old Jewish woman, remembering her childhood friend and famous repentant Nazi, Melita Maschmann, in a fascinating story published by the New Yorker.
Number: 492,000, the sum paid in an auction for a letter written by Alfred Dreyfus in prison.