Film Review: Snowden (2016)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 29, 2016

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Snowden never, ever recovers from its premise: that Edward Snowden, a super-capable, pure-hearted all-American, found terrible government crimes against the American population while working at the National Security Agency, and was moved to disclose them to the world after being stymied in official channels.

Literally none of that is true. The Snowden revelations found mistakes that were generally cleared up by an efficient and functional bureaucratic oversight mechanism. Snowden did not try to go official channels in the way he described, and the bulk of what Snowden revealed was nothing to do with the privacy of Americans but was related to foreign intelligence, where the legal and practical situation is that everyone hoovers up as much data as they can. The capabilities of the Snowden presented here, personal and professional—to say nothing of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Snowden’s motives—would not withstand scrutiny for a single second against the actual historical record. This could be said fairly generally of the whole film. Continue reading

Fidel Castro: A Life Spent in the Service of Tyranny

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 26, 2016

It is difficult to think of a dictator that has had more popular support in the West than Fidel Castro. The president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and the Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn have all today expressed their admiration in one way or another for Castro. This support was never just personal: any number of “revolutionary” governments could vicariously earn themselves similar leniency for their practices via some kind of identification with Castro. This was especially useful for the Soviet Union and its clients during the Cold War, but continued long after. That all of these “experiments” ended in bloodshed and disaster never seemed to matter, so long as the flame of anti-Americanism remained lit. Now, finally, Castro is at an end, even if his ruinous legacy is not. Continue reading

Film Review: Bethlehem (2013)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 20, 2016

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Bethlehem is one of the most compelling films I’ve seen in a long time. There are so few good spy films available that this is a welcome surprise. Unlike Burn After Reading, a genius film, the intention here is not to show things from the agency side, to demonstrate how wildly out of control things can get when you only have half-or-less of the facts. It is also not Charlie Wilson’s War, which shows the feats that intelligence agencies can accomplish when well-directed. Bethlehem is most like Breach, which showed the immense damage an individual spy can do. But instead of showing the effects the act of spying had, with the human characters secondary, Bethlehem tracks specifically the complex relationship that develops between handler and asset. Continue reading

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Calls for the Islamic State to Stand Firm in Mosul

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 11, 2016

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On 2 November 2016, a speech by the leader of the Islamic State, Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), was released, entitled, “This Is What Allah and His Messenger Promised Us”. On 11 November, the third edition of IS’s English-language magazine, Rumiya, printed a transcript of the speech, which is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration, explanations added in square brackets, and notable or important sections shown in bold. Continue reading

Art, Identity Politics, and Unmaking the West

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on November 2, 2016

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Sohrab Ahmari’s The New Philistines is a crisp and concise polemic. While the book’s focus is “a crisis in the art world,” Ahmari’s dissection of modern art’s failure has implications for the trajectory of the entire liberal Western project.

As Ahmari notes, the complaint that bad art is being considered good is as old as civilization. Ahmari argues persuasively, however, that what is going wrong now is “qualitatively worse than all that came before” because the custodians of our heritage have not redefined the standards of objective beauty and at least a search for truth but have discarded them.

In place of the old standards is a cult of identity politics—a mix of “radical feminism, racial grievance, anti-capitalism, and queer theory”—that has no need for truth-seeking; “truth” is only a means of inflicting upon people an order that is racist, sexist, and homophobic by design, according to the identitarians, which is why their pre-set answers and simply inept art is acceptable, because it advances the cause of challenging this unjust system.

Identity politicization is “one calamity among many” in the art world, yet it has implications far and wide. The identitarians’ own relativistic logic divides the human species into competing tribes whose only interest should be a search for power. With this, the identitarians lay bare their illiberal heart and the danger they pose well beyond the art world.

Ahmari has three chapters. The first covers the reopening of Shakespeare’s Globe and its takeover by the identitarians. The second examines Artforum, the leading contemporary arts magazine in the United States. And in the third Ahmari gives a tour of the London arts scene. Continue reading

The Blog Is Moving

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 7, 2016

After two-and-a-half years of writing in this space, I will be moving the bulk of future work. The archive here will remain and there might be occasional future posts here about non-work issues—movie reviews, British politics, and so forth. But otherwise the subjects I focus on day-to-day—Syria, Islamism, terrorism—will appear on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Al-Qaeda in Syria and American Policy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on October 4, 2016

Ahmad Mabruk in Jabhat al-Nusra's "Heirs of Glory" video, March 2016. (Source: The Long War Journal)

Ahmad Mabruk in Jabhat al-Nusra’s “Heirs of Glory” video, March 2016. (Source: The Long War Journal)

Ahmad Salama Mabruk (Abu Faraj al-Masri) was an al-Qaeda veteran, close to the organization’s leadership. The United States killed Mabruk in Syria on 3 October 2016 in a drone strike near Jisr al-Shughour in northern Syria. This is the second time in a month the U.S. has killed off a senior al-Qaeda jihadist, and sheds some light on the strength of the U.S. policy in Syria. Continue reading