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Middle East



All Reason.com articles with the "Middle East" tag.



Published: Thu, 23 Nov 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2017 19:22:13 -0500

 



Chaos in Africa, Apologias in Alabama, and the Rise of Democratic Socialism

Wed, 15 Nov 2017 13:00:00 -0500

(image) As mentioned in the Morning Links, Zimbabwe is experiencing a bit of a military coup at the moment. Yet that might not rank as the most momentous activity currently taking place on (OK, near) the African continent—the Saudi royal family (with what looks like the blessing of the Trump administration) is engaged in a kind of third-act mafia-film purging spree, and apparently holding the Lebanese prime minister hostage. Steve Bannon is going around talking up our Saudi "allies," and hinting that the Qatar conflict might be the beginnings of a clarifying regional civil war within Islam. All this against the backdrop of the U.S. successfully shrinking the battlefield footprint of ISIS.

So are we perched on the edge of a cataclysm? I will pose that question to Bloomberg View foreign policy columnist Eli Lake today on SiriusXM Insight channel 121's Tell Me Everything With John Fugelsang, where from 2-3:30 p.m. ET I'll be guest-hosting. Other guests include The Nation's John Nichols, who will talk up the ballot-box gains made this month by democratic socialists, and Fox News Channel's Kat Timpf, who will talk about conservative apologia for Roy Moore.

Please call in at any time, at 877-974-7487.




Egyptian Dissident Cynthia Farahat: The Middle East Is Hungry for Free Markets and Free Speech

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 15:48:00 -0500

In 2003, when Egypt was ruled by strongman Hosni Mubarak, then 22-year-old Cynthia Farahat co-founded the party that would become the Liberal Egyptian Party, the first secular, classical liberal political party in the country's modern history.* "Sharia law is not friendly to women or minorities or gays," Farahat told Reason. "I wanted to fix my country. I wanted freedom. I wanted liberty." Mubarak's government responded by sending intelligence agents and the secret police to go after Farahat. "I was under constant, 24-hour surveillance in Egypt for almost a decade," she says. Government agents would routinely call her in the middle of the night and would sometimes play back recordings of Farahat's conversations with friends recorded in her own living room. Other calls were more sinister, Farahat says. Sometimes she would pick up the phone to hear heavy breathing on the line. The person on the call "would start to talk about the intimate things that he wants to do to my decapitated head—that he's going to keep in his freezer if I don't stop my political work." The key to survival was to "never show fear." She sensed that her family was in danger and knew that the government could arrest her at any time. She was eventually placed on an Al Qaeda affiliates' hit list and banned from entering Lebanon because of her political advocacy. Afraid for her life, Farahat sought political asylum in the U.S. in 2011, which was granted. Today she's a writer, political analyst, and fellow at the Middle East Forum. Her work has exposed secret ties between the Islamists, the military, and governments across the region, which she argues work together to subjugate citizens and uphold theocratic, authoritarian regimes. Reason's Justin Monticello spoke with Farahat about her mission to bring a true political alternative to the region, why she vociferously advocates for the Muslim Brotherhood to be labeled a terrorist organization, how Coptic Christians in Egypt are persecuted and blamed for American foreign policy, and why she believes people across the Middle East are hungry for civil liberties and free markets. Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Silent Partner. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Cynthia Farahat: I wanted liberty. And I knew that the way to get there was through sound ideas that have proven to work. When you look at America, and you look at the Soviet Union, and you look at Egypt, doesn't take a brain surgeon to know which fundamental ideas you need to go with. Justin Monticello: How did you get put under surveillance in Egypt? Farahat: So, I was under constant 24-hour surveillance in Egypt for almost a decade. And I knew this is in a very sinister and nasty way. They used to call me at two or three AM. Every single day for 10 years. To this day, I wake up at that time automatically because I'm used to being woken up at this time. One of the times, I said hello, and I heard my own voice on the other end of the line. And, it was a recorded conversation that I had with one of my best friends in my living room. That was super creeper. That's the good phone call. Bad phone calls will tell you hello in the middle of the night and some necrophiliac would be on the other side of the line. And he would start to talk about he intimate things that he wants to do to my decapitated head that he's gonna keep in his freezer if I don't stop my political work. How would you reply to something like that? And that specific guy's just breathing very heavily. And I would tell him so unattractive to women. Maybe that's what's causing your women's issues. And I would tell them this kind of stuff because you can't show fear. Monticello: Right. Farahat: You can never show fear. I used to regulate my breathing before I answered the phone because I never would never let them see me in a state of vulnerability- Montice[...]



U.K. Anti-Terror Censorship Law Stupidly Used Against Guy Who Fights Terrorism

Tue, 31 Oct 2017 14:35:00 -0400

Prosecutors in the United Kingdom didn't think Josh Walker was an actual terrorist. But they treated him as if he were one anyway, because of a book they found in his bedroom. Fortunately, they failed. But the case, highlighted at The Intercept, details some of the terrible consequences of trying to criminalize dangerous thoughts or ideas rather than actions. Walker was prosecuted for downloading and having in his possession a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook, an infamous guide to homemade explosives (and other tools for lawbreaking) that was first published in 1971. Walker wasn't plotting a terrorist attack. He was, in fact, doing the opposite. According to The Intercept and the court case, he was using the book as a reference material for a terror crisis management simulation at a college. The United Kingdom does not have the same broad First Amendment freedom of speech protections that Americans have. The Terrorism Act of 2000 in Section 58 criminalizes the ownership of "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism." There is a defense that a person has a "reasonable excuse" for having the material, and that's what Walker had to lean on during the trial. The whole thing seemed particularly absurd because Walker had returned to the United Kingdom from Syria, where he was helping a Kurdish militia fight the Islamic State. I wasn't kidding when I said he was the opposite of a terrorist. And prosecutors knew that. From The Intercept: As the case moved forward, the prosecution acknowledged that Walker was not suspected of plotting any kind of terrorist atrocity. The government was instead arguing that his mere possession of the book was a violation of the Terrorism Act's Section 58 because it contained information that could have been useful to a terrorist if discovered. The book is freely available to anyone on the internet, and versions of it can even be purchased on Amazon. Regardless, prosecution lawyer Robin Sellers said it was possible a "radicalized" person could find Walker's copy of the book and use it to prepare an attack. The prosecution's argument seemed bizarre and without precedent. People in the U.K. have been prosecuted before under the Terrorism Act for possessing the "Anarchist Cookbook," but usually the defendants have been involved in some other kind of nefarious activity as well. In 2010, for example, a member of a violent neo-Nazi group called the "Wolf Pack" was convicted of a terrorism offense for possessing the book. He was linked, through his father, to a plot to overthrow the government and poison people. In another case, in 2011, a man was sentenced to three years in prison for selling the "Cookbook" and Al Qaeda training manuals, pocketing $113,000 in the process. Walker's case was different: He was being prosecuted solely because he downloaded and stored a copy of the book. Fortunately for Walker, the jury also found the prosecution's argument bizarre. Last week they found him not guilty. Despite the absurdity of this prosecution, the U.K.'s home secretary (essentially the equivalent of the head of America's Department of Homeland Security) actually wants to expand this anti-terror censorship law. Section 58 doesn't currently cover viewing or reading content online. So this month Secretary Amber Rudd said she wants to expand the law's reach to cover people who view "terrorist content online, including jihadi websites, far-right propaganda and bomb-making instructions." (If you'd like to know how the U.K. government would be able to know what you've been viewing online, they've covered that with the Investigatory Powers Act that went into effect at the start of the year.) Rudd says that the "reasonable excuse" exemption will remain for people such as journalists and academics who write about ideas the government has classified as "extremist." But even when prosecutors acknowledged that Walker was not a terrorist, they still put him on trial. This law is obviously open to prosecutorial abu[...]



The Truth About Niger

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 08:00:00 -0400

Predictably, the news media spent most of last week examining words Donald Trump may or may not have spoken to the widow of an American Green Beret killed in Niger, in northwest Africa, in early October. Not only was this coverage tedious, it was largely pointless. We know Trump is a clumsy boor, and we also know that lots of people are ready to pounce on him for any sort of gaffe, real or imagined. Who cares? It's not news. But it was useful to those who wish to distract Americans from what really needs attention: the U.S. government's perpetual war. The media's efforts should have been devoted to exploring—really exploring—why Green Berets (and drones) are in Niger at all. (This is typical of the establishment media's explanation.) That subject is apparently of little interest to media companies that see themselves merely as cheerleaders for the American Empire. For them, it's all so simple: a U.S president (even one they despise) has put or left military forces in a foreign country—no justification required; therefore, those forces are serving their country; and that in turn means that if they die, they die as heroes who were protecting our way of life. End of story. Thus the establishment media see no need to present a dissenting view, say, from an analyst who would question the dogma that inserting American warriors into faraway conflicts whenever a warlord proclaims his allegiance to ISIS is in the "national interest." Patriotic media companies have no wish to expose their audiences to the idea that jihadists would be no threat to Americans who were left to mind their own business. Apparently the American people also must be shielded from anyone who might point out that the jihadist activity in Niger and neighboring Mali is directly related to the U.S. and NATO bombing of Libya, which enabled al-Qaeda and other Muslim militants to overthrow the secular regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. That Obama-Clinton operation in 2011, besides producing Qaddafi's grisly murder and turning Libya into a nightmare, facilitated the transfer of weapons and fanatical guerrillas from Libya to nearby countries in the Sahel — as well as Syria. Since then the U.S. government has been helping the French to "stabilize" its former colony Mali with surveillance drones and Green Berets based in Niger. Nice work, Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. (Citizen Trump was an early advocate of U.S. intervention in Libya.) Need I remind you that the U.S./NATO regime-change operation in Libya was based on a lie? Obama later said his failure to foresee the consequences of the Libya intervention was the biggest mistake of his presidency. (For more on the unintended consequences for the Sahel, see articles here, here, and here.) So the media, which pretends to play a role in keeping Americans informed, have decided the people need not hear the truth behind the events in Niger. Instead, "reporters" and "analysts" perform their role as cheerleaders for the American Empire by declaring the dead men "heroes" and focusing on the tragedy that has befallen their families. Public scrutiny of the military operation is discouraged because it thought to detract from the Green Berets' heroism. What makes them heroes? They were killed by non-Americans in a foreign land while wearing military uniforms. That's all it takes, according to the gospel of what Andrew Bacevich calls the Church of America the Redeemer and its media choir. But are they really heroes? We can question this while feeling sorrow for the people who will never see their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers again. Reporters and analysts who emote over alleged heroism base their claim on the dubious proposition that the men were "serving their country" and "protecting our freedom." A brief examination, however, is enough to show this is not so, although the troops, their families, and many others believe it. First, their "country," if by this term we mean the American people, did not cal[...]



Roy Moore Would Make America Saudi Arabia Again

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:45:00 -0400

God certainly has a great sense of irony. In the same week that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, took a small step out of the 18th Century by easing its ban on female driving, America took a step back into that century by handing a win in the Alabama U.S. Senate Republican primary to Roy Moore, a vehement proponent of a Christian theocracy on U.S. soil. Sadly, it seems, faith in American-style liberalism is dimming in America just as it is penetrating the remaining bastions of illiberalism in the world. Moore calls Islam a "fake religion" while spreading the fake news that unnamed Christian communities in Illinois and Indiana are being forced to live under Islamic law or sharia. But why he would find sharia all that troubling is unclear given that his Christianity is its spiritual twin. He has twice been defrocked as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, first in 2004 for insisting on displaying a massive plaque of the 10 Commandments in his court in defiance of the First Amendment's establishment clause, and then in 2016 for refusing to hand marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Far from showing regret, he regards these as justified acts of civil disobedience because, like Islamic fundamentalists, he believes that God's law supersedes man's law. Indeed, he considers God to be "the only source of our law, liberty and government" and made the restoration of Christian "virtue and morality" the cornerstone of his campaign. Nor is there much daylight between his idea of Christian virtue and the Islamic strictures that he demonizes. Moore would ban not just reproductive choice for women but also homosexuality which he has condemned as "abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God." In fact, he has repeatedly refused to rule out the death penalty against gays. He considers 9-11 God's retribution against America for "legitimizing sodomy." This means that as far as he is concerned, the 9-11 Islamist were really emissaries of God. Yet he penned purple prose opposing Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim ever to be elected to the House in 2006, from taking his oath of office on the Koran rather than the Bible because, you know, America wasn't settled by folks who brought "a Koran on the pilgrim ship, Mayflower." Most chilling, however, is that he is the author of the misnamed 2005 Constitution Restoration Act that would give Congress the power to remove any judge who refuses to recognize God as the source of America's law. The bill also seeks to limit the power of the Supreme Court to overrule or punish any state official or judge acting in the name of God's law and, instead, would impeach the judges who take on such cases. Think of it as the Christian version of Taliban rule with slightly more checks-and-balances and fewer beards. Many explanations have been proffered for Moore's victory including the failure of Congressional Republicans to deliver on their promise to repeal-and-replace Obamacare, the close ties of Moore's primary opponent, Luther Strange with Alabama's disgraced, scandal-plagued governor, and the conservative base's general disgust with the Republican establishment that backed Strange. There is some truth to all of them. But the far more disturbing reality is that the hard-core conservative base has turned inward, seeking "redemption" by returning to a purer past. It has become deeply hostile to the true source of American greatness, its receptiveness to outside influences, whether in the form of ideas, people or products. It has become the enemy of what the British philosopher Karl Popper famously called the "open society" that sees alien influences not as a threat but as a source of progress allowing it to constantly reinvent and improve itself. Indeed, nearly all of Moore's conservative backers—whether ethno-nationalists Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka or nativist rabble rous[...]



Roy Moore's Illiberal Vision for America: New at Reason

Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:45:00 -0400

Last week, Alabama handed victory to Roy Moore, a Christian Reconstructionist with barely disguised plans to plant Christian(image) rule on American soil, in the Senate Republican primary. Ironically, this happened the same week that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, lifted its ban on female drivers and started moving away from its strict version of sharia law.

Moore is an implacable foe of Islam and sharia. But the truth of the matter, notes Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia, is that Moore's Christianity has more in common with sharia than American liberal democracy. If he had his druthers, he'd turn back the clock to New England-style puritanism when it comes to gay rights, women's reproductive rights and religious liberty.




Roy Moore Should Get a Female Muslim Uber to Drive Him to Saudi Arabia

Fri, 29 Sep 2017 12:20:00 -0400

If there is a God, s/he certainly has a great sense of irony. In the same week that Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy, eased up on its ban on allowing women to drive, America handed a victory in the Alabama Republican primary to Roy Moore, a man committed to imposing a Christian theocracy on this country.

Moore likes to rail against Islam and Sharia law. But the fact of the matter is that his Christianity has more in common with Sharia than American liberal democracy. He may rave and rant against Islam as a "fake religion" all he wants I note in my column at The Week this morning, but he would curtail the personal freedoms of Americans in much the same way that regressive forms of Sharia would.

Think of his religion as the Christian version of Taliban rule with slightly more checks and balances and fewer beards. But why is it suddenly gaining currency in America?

Go here to find out.




$7,700 Is Your Share of the Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria So Far

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 13:15:00 -0400

(image) How much have our post-9/11 wars on terror cost? This year's National Defense Authorization Act ordered the government to collect and calculate that information, and the results are in. The Pentagon estimates that so far the war in Afghanistan has cost $753 billion, amounting to a cumulative cost per taxpayer of $3,785. Iraq and Syria are $770 billion, or $3,955 per taxpayer. That adds up to a grand total of more than $1.5 trillion and $7,740 per taxpayer. So far.

At Defense One, Marcus Weisberger notes: "Americans paid the most for the wars in 2010, an average of $767 apiece. The annual amount declined through 2016 to $204 per taxpayer, before growing again as the U.S. ramped up its airstrike campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."

These figures vastly understate the ultimate monetary costs of the wars. In Reason piece last year headlined "The High Price of Security Theater," James Bovard included the costs of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Agency harassment at airports, and FBI, CIA, and NSA surveillance to come up with a total cost of $4 trillion.

The Costs of War Project at the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculates that "through 2017, the US federal government has spent or been obligated to spend $4.8 trillion on the post-9/11 wars, including medical and disability payments to veterans over the next forty years." The researchers at the Watson Institute further noted that the wars had generally been financed by borrowing. "Unless the US changes the way it manages that debt, future interest will exceed $8 trillion by the 2050s," they report.

(image)

Assuming 210 million taxpayers, the Watson Institute figures suggest that, if these trends continue, that the cost of our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria will amount to $61,000 per individual taxpayer by 2050.

President Donald Trump wants to increase the Pentagon's budget by $54 billion. Below see Reason TV's "3 Reasons Conservatives Should Cut Defense Spending Now":

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/byVNw3rfiy8" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">




The Vietnam Syndrome: How We Lost It and Why We Need It Back

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:15:00 -0400

In Kabul, Afghanistan, American Embassy personnel who want to meet with their counterparts at the nearby U.S. military base have to travel a mere 100 yards. But they don't make a practice of walking or driving. They go by military helicopter, reports The New York Times. The space between is too dangerous to cross on the ground. It's the sort of bizarre fact that might have emerged in Ken Burns' new PBS series on the Vietnam War, illustrating our inability to turn South Vietnam into a safe, stable place. But it's not the past; it's the present. The Vietnam War was the greatest U.S. military catastrophe of the 20th century. A conflict begun under false pretenses, based on ignorance and hubris, it killed 58,000 Americans and as many as 3 million Vietnamese. It ended in utter failure. Never in our history have so many lives been wasted on such monumental futility. It was a national trauma worse than any since the Great Depression, and it left deep gashes in the American psyche. It instilled an aversion to wars of choice that became known as the Vietnam syndrome. The allergy might have lasted for generations. It didn't. In 2001, just 26 years after the fall of Saigon, the United States invaded Afghanistan. American troops have been fighting there twice as long as we fought in Vietnam. Once again we find ourselves mired in an incomprehensible land, amid people who distrust us. Once again we are aligned with a corrupt regime that couldn't survive without our help as we incur casualties in the pursuit of goals we never reach. In Burns' documentary, President Lyndon B. Johnson is heard in 1965 confiding, "A man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere, but there ain't no daylight in Vietnam." Afghanistan has also been an endless journey down a pitch-black mine shaft. The American military drew some obvious conclusions from Vietnam. Gen. Colin Powell, who served in combat there, had them in mind when he formulated what became known as the Powell Doctrine. It advised going to war only if we can identify a vital interest, have clear, achievable purposes, are prepared to use decisive force, and know our exit strategy. But Powell's wisdom eventually was forgotten. How could we be repeating the mistakes of Vietnam already? We didn't wake up one day with severe amnesia. It was not a one-step process. It occurred through a succession of military interventions that convinced us we were clever enough to avoid the pitfalls that had brought us to such ruin in Southeast Asia. Ronald Reagan lamented the Vietnam syndrome but shrewdly declined to send American forces to fight leftists in Central America. He did, however, undertake one brief, low-risk invasion -- of the Caribbean island of Grenada, against a Castro-backed Marxist regime. Our forces removed the government, and we soon departed. In 1989, George H.W. Bush tried a more ambitious mission, invading Panama to eject a dictator. Then came Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which provoked Bush to send a huge air and ground force to expel Saddam Hussein's army—a fight that proved far easier than expected. Bill Clinton had his own victory, an 11-week bombing campaign that forced Serbia to leave the breakaway province of Kosovo. He managed it without a single American combat fatality. By 2001, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Americans had gotten our swagger back. We had proved we could bring about regime changes in hostile countries while incurring few casualties and avoiding long-term entanglement. We thought we had cracked the code of successful military interventions. The general attitude in Washington was: "We've mastered this." We proceeded to plunge into Afghanistan, where we realized a stunning initial victory, and then into Iraq, where we rapidly routed the enemy and toppled his dictatorship. The lessons of Vietnam, many assum[...]



Hey Libertarians for Trump, How Much More #Winning Can You Take?

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 14:35:00 -0400

It's almost nine months into Donald Trump's presidency and here's a question for the old "Libertarians for Trump" crowd: How much more winning can you take? There was a small but vocal band of limited-government folks who vocally supported the billionaire real estate mogul on the grounds that he couldn't possibly be as bad as Hillary Clinton or even most of the other Republican candidates, especially when it came to foreign policy. Leading the pack was economist Walter Block, who beat me in a competitive debate in New York City right before the election. Block's argument was that "the perfect is the enemy of the good" and "the Donald is the most congruent with [the libertarian] perspective" especially on foreign policy. Trump has turned out to be anything but an isolationist. He promised to bring fire and fury to North Korea, "the likes of which this world has never seen before." He bombed Syria on the same humanitarian grounds he explicitly denounced during his campaign. He escalated war efforts in Yeman and Iraq, And more recently, announced plans to "win" in Afghanistan. His secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, declared that while the United States might not walk away with a "battlefield" victory in the graveyard of empires, neither will the Taliban. That's not inspirational, it's stupid. Apart from his foreign policy follies, this anti-free-trader and nativist has turned out to be even less libertarian than advertised during the campaign. He's continued giving mealy-mouthed support to white supremacists and pardoned Joe Arpaio, "America's toughest sheriff," who was found in contempt of court after he continued to illegally racially profile and detain Latino suspects. And his attorney general is walking back a decade of incremental progress on criminal justice reform. There's no question that the Trump administration is doing some good things, such as deregulatory moves related to the FCC, the FDA, and the EPA. His Education department is supporting school choice to the extent that the federal government can do so. His deregulatory push is all to the good, but it's overwhelmed by Trump's other policies. There's also no question that at this point Trump is doing virtually everything else he can do to alienate libertarians who believe in shrinking the size, scope, and spending of government. And the excuse that Hillary Clinton would have been worse is getting older than Bernie Sanders. The perfect is the enemy of the good, but what Donald Trump has shown us so far just isn't good enough. Produced by Todd Krainin. Written by Nick Gillespie. Cameras by Jim Epstein. Production assistance by Andrew Heaton. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes.[...]



Holocaust Museum Pulls Study That Came to Obvious Conclusion on Syria Genocide

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 13:45:00 -0400

The Holocaust Museum has pulled a research study that concluded that increased U.S. airstrikes and support for Syrian rebels in 2013 may not have reduced the killing and could even have exacerbated the problem. The paper had been scheduled to be unveiled at an event next next week. The museum says it wants to "evaluate" the feedback it received; it's unclear whether the study will be made available again. The paper's conclusions seem obvious. The situation in Syria is complex, with a wide array of armed factions backed by different foreign powers, ranging from Saudi Arabia to Russia to, of course, the United States. American bombs would not simplify the crisis, nor would they stablize the country. A campaign against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad might limit his ability to perpetrate atrocities, but it would not limit the potential for other actors on the ground to perpetrate similar, or even deadlier, atrocities. Tablet reports, based on excerpts it obtained, that the Museum's study "absolved" the Obama administration for its inaction in the face of Syrian genocide. The museum's decision to remove the study from its website makes it hard to judge its merits. (It apparently drew on game theory, computational models, and interviews with policymakers and experts.) But the speed with which the paper was condemned—based largely on excerpts, and on the simple fact that it reached conclusions some people disliked—strongly suggests the outrage machine is at work here. "Shame on the Holocaust Museum," literary critic Leon Wieseltier told Tablet. "If I had the time I would gin up a parody version of this that will give us the computational-modeling algorithmic counterfactual analysis of John J McCloy's decision not to bomb the Auschwitz ovens in 1944. I'm sure we could concoct the fucking algorithms for that, too." Here's the thing: Decisions like this ought to be examined using facts and models—even algorithmic ones. They ought to be engaged soberly, in a way that arrives at conclusions that can be useful to future decision makers. Wieseltier got a good line in, but when we exclude evidence from decisions on issues as grave as war, we are not contributing to a world with less atrocities. We're making it harder to figure out how to prevent atrocities. There are some legitimate criticisms of the study, though they aren't enough to warrant withdrawing it. The Museum of Jewish Heritage's Abe Foxman pointed out two of them to Tablet. First, the Syrian genocide is not yet over, so any assessment along these lines will by its nature be incomplete. Second, passing judgement on action or inaction is beyond the museum's mandate. The latter point in particular has some merit, though it doesn't affect the report's conclusions. Another concern is the possible influence of former Obama administration officials. Several Obama alumni, mostly National Security Council staffers, have taken positions within the museum. One of them, Anna Cave, was listed as one of the participants in the study back in June. That's a pretty clear conflict of interest. But even that is no reason to keep people from reading the report. Genocide is humanity's greatest crime, and preventing it is a worthy goal. An important part of prevention is understanding the limits to different courses of action.[...]



No War This Week... with North Korea

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 16:05:00 -0400

Last week's boogeyman, North Korea, didn't get much attention this week, as neo-Nazi marchers and Confederate statues captured the news cycle. But Washington and Pyongyang are taking slow but hopefully steady steps toward a diplomatic resolution. President Trump's "fire and fury" comment came and went, making waves in domestic and foreign media but ultimately not changing much about the reality on the ground. As the North Korean regime gradually increases its nuclear capabilities, it is still far from an existential threat. Trump's off-the-cuff threat was, at its most basic level, a reiteration of the mutually assured destruction policy, albeit without the mutuality. Kim Jong-un responded to Trump last week by announcing his regime was contemplating a strike on Guam. The governor of Guam, Eddie Calvo, dismissed the threat, and residents of the territory seemed to be staying calm. This week North Korea backed down, saying it was no longer considering an attack on Guam but would strike if the "Yankees persist." Trump praised Kim for chainging course, tweeting that it was a "very wise and well-informed decision." Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated this week that the door to negotiations remains open but that it is up to Kim to act. An achievable short-term goal would be the resumption of the six-party talks between North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S, which began in 2003 but ceased in 2009 after North Korea launched a launched a satellite and was slapped by increased sanctions. Yesterday, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomed their counterparts from Japan to Washington for a security summit, where Mattis re-iterated the American, and Japanese, promise of an "effective and overwhelming response" to any hostilities from North Korea. Tillerson, Mattis, and their Japanese counterparts also said they would urge China to take "specific measures to make North Korea change its behavior." Tillerson warned of a bleak isolation if North Korea did not reengage the international community. In short, the U.S. and North Korea remain as far from war, or as close to war, as at any time in the last decade. Diplomatic efforts could still bear fruit. The ISIS and Afghan wars, on the other hand, continue apace. Two U.S. soldiers were killed during combat operations this week in Iraq, where American troops withdrew in 2011 before returning a few years later to battle the Islamic State. Iraq, meanwhile, admitted that its soldiers "abused" civilians and tortured ISIS militants during the campaign to re-take Mosul from ISIS. And Trump casually commented last friday that he might start a war with Venezuela too. That has only emboldened the regime of Nicolas Maduro, providing him with a useful scapegoat to invoke when demonizing the democratic opposition.[...]



Don't Be Fooled. Airstrikes Are War.

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:30:00 -0400

It is a bizarre and dangerous quirk of American politics that U.S. airstrikes are accepted as a moderate step between diplomacy and war. Take a look at the Philippines, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Monday the United States may begin airstrikes against local Islamic State-linked militants. Does this mean we're at war in the South Pacific? I suspect most Americans would say no. It's "just" airstrikes, after all. It is by that same calculation we are not "at war" in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, or Libya—all countries that have been subject to U.S. airstrikes this year. Or consider new poll results published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Participants were asked what response they would support to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons. Options ranged from inaction, negotiation, sanction, broader sanction, airstrikes on nuclear facilities to boots on the ground. The real point of the survey, our dangerous quirk, wasn't the percentage of support for each of the various options, but that airstrikes are presented as some sort of intermediate option, somehow substantially different from more conventional warfare. What we ignore at our peril is that airstrikes are war, as is evident with a moment's reflection. Dropping bombs on foreign territory is warfare whether we talk about it in those terms or not. This defining statement is not as pedantic as it may seem. Washington has a well-established history of using sloppy language in civic conversation to pull fast ones on the public. Former President Obama was a master where airstrikes were concerned: By prioritizing air war over ground troops, Obama was able to pay lip service to his campaign-era promises of reform and restraint while, in reality, maintaining and in some cases escalating the very interventionist foreign policy he was elected to repudiate. During Obama's final year in office, the United States dropped more than 26,000 bombs in seven nations (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and the four listed above), though for only for three of them (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan) did the executive branch have anything even remotely resembling congressional authorization for war required by the Constitution. There are many reasons for that failure of basic procedural accountability—congressional fecklessness and presidential overreach not least among them—but the inaccurate way we think of airstrikes as War Junior is surely one of them. With President Trump in Obama's place, the consequences of our messy conception of airstrikes grow more serious still. In his first half-year in office, Trump has ordered airstrikes at five times Obama's incredible pace. That escalation, coupled with this week's announcement about the Philippines (not to mention April's strike on regime targets in Syria, the first of its kind), suggests we are due to see more airstrikes against more targets in more places in days to come. Whether those strikes are necessary, prudent or right are subject to debate. There is a long history of warnings from U.S. military and intelligence officers plus independent studies that airstrikes exacerbate security threats by radicalizing ordinary people who have lost innocent family members to American bombs. As conservative columnist Jim Antle has argued, "Just like government stimulus spending might end up hurting the economy, Obamacare might cancel your health insurance, welfare policies might prolong a cycle of poverty, military interventions aimed at killing terrorists might actually create them." These unintended consequences deserve more serious consideration than short-sighted politicians have been inclined to give them. Airstrikes are a form of war. That isn't up for debate. This means we must demand the same co[...]



Brickbat: Another Brick in the Wall

Wed, 02 Aug 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Local officials in Nassau County, New York, are trying to bar musician Roger Waters from playing at the Nassau Coliseum because of his support for a boycott of Israel. Nassau County Attorney Carnell Foske says that because the coliseum is county-owned, a Waters concert would violate a county ordinance barring the the county from doing business with any company participating in a boycott of Israel.




Trump to Cut CIA Program That Arms Syrian Rebels. Good—Now Cut the Pentagon's Program, Too.

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:55:00 -0400

The Trump administration is reportedly cutting a CIA program that has provided arms to Syrian rebels since 2013. This has provoked a heated reaction from a media obsessed with Russia, and from Russia hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said such a decision would represent a "complete capitulation" to Bashar Assad, Russia, and Iran. But if anything, the decision doesn't go far enough. Congress should tell the Defense Department to stop equipping, arming, and training Syrians as well. These efforts go back to 2014, when the U.S. and Turkey partnered to aid "moderate" Syrian rebels. From the beginning, critics described the effort as a "disaster in the making." Militant factions backed by the CIA and the Pentagon have been fighting each other. U.S. arms have fallen into the hands of ISIS. Turkey, meanwhile, has become an increasingly unreliable partner as it descends into domestic authoritarianism. So stopping the program, while a small step, makes sense. Yet hysteria over Russia has prompted many pundits and politicians to oppose the change. CBS claims that the "timing of the decision raises questions for the White House" because of a previously undisclosed conversation President Donald Trump had with Russia President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. But the "timing" isn't really suspicious: Trump called arming Syrian rebels a mistake as far back as September 2014, and he signaled after the election that he was likely to abandon the CIA arms program. U.S. policy on Syria is too important to get lost in this sort of reality-TV politics. Nor should it be guided by the tautological idea that Washington should refrain from doing anything that might please a nation seen as "unfriendly" to U.S. interests. The Washington Post calls the decision to stop the arms flow a "move sought by Moscow." Yes, but it's also a move sought by a majority of Americans, and it has been for years. Deployed now by Democrats interested in reigniting a Cold War with Moscow, the same "my enemy is my enemy" principle manifests when Republicans denounce the Iran nuclear deal. In neither instance does this produce good foreign policy results. Opposing the Iran deal merely because it might benefit Iran is no more sound than opposing disengagement in Syria merely because it might benefit Russia; the important question is whether it benefits the United States. Unfortunately, Trump's Syria policy has been far from consistent. In April, the U.S. launched missile strikes against a government airfield there, assuming the same "world's policeman" role that Trump insisted on the campaign trail that the U.S. couldn't play anymore. And the CIA program isn't the only way Washington has been arming combatants in Syria's civil war. Last December, Congress passed a bill authorizing the then-incoming Trump administration to give anti-aircraft weaponry to "vetted" rebels in Syria. The Pentagon authorization bill now making its way through Congress continues to cover Defense Department efforts to arm Syrian rebels. Only Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) voted against it after mark-up in the House Armed Services Committee, over concern that there wasn't enough oversight. It deserves to go on the same scrap pile as the CIA's effort.[...]