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



Published: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Sun, 22 Jan 2017 05:04:09 -0500

 



Fordham U. Bans Pro-Palestinian Student Group Because of Its 'Political Goals'

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 12:55:00 -0500

(image) Fordham University—a private Jesuit institution in New York City—has denied Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) the ability to form a chapter on the school's campus, citing the group's politics as the primary reason for the refusal.

In a letter to the group's applicants, the dean of students of the school's Manhattan campus Keith Eldredge wrote, "I cannot support an organization whose sole purpose is advocating political goals of a specific group, and against a specific country." Eldredge is referring to SJP's support of the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel, which Eldredge wrote is "barrier to open dialogue and mutual learning and understanding."

The Center for Constitutional Rights and the legal advocacy group Palestine Legal responded with a letter of their own, where they argued "The denial violates free speech and association principles, the University's commitment to protect free inquiry, and could give rise to a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act."

Like many political student groups SJP engages in deliberately provocative speech, such as setting up "Apartheid walks" and mock Israeli checkpoints on campus. But the singling out of pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli viewpoints as beyond the pale of acceptable speech is a growing phenomenon, with even the U.S. Senate passing the "Anti-Semitism Awareness Act" that essentially criminalizes harsh criticism of Israel on college campuses.

While Fordham is a private school and thus not required to abide by the First Amendment, Ari Cohn of The Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE) tells Inside Higher Ed, "the justification for denying SJP recognition is completely without merit and cannot stand at any university that proclaims that it values freedom of expression, which Fordham's written policies do." Also from Inside Higher Ed:

Cohn noted that Fordham has chapters of the College Democrats and College Republicans, both of which advocate for specific political goals. "The fact that the group [SJP] is oriented toward advocating a specific political viewpoint is not out of the ordinary, and student organizations at every campus across the country do just that," Cohn said. "It's a little bit baffling to see that justification used to deny a student organization recognition."

As I've noted here at Reason, it's not just the left seeking to legislate acceptable discourse on campus, and as a cause generally associated with the left, pro-Palestinian activism's increasing marginalization on campus is a healthy reminder that free speech is meant to protect unpopular viewpoints, not ones that enjoy universal acceptance.




Brickbat: Difficult Labor

Tue, 03 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Police in the United Arab Emirates have arrested a maid from Somalia for giving birth out of wedlock. The baby is being held in the prison nursery where the mother is allowed to visit only to feed him.




"Russia is not the Soviet Union, this is not the Cold War, and Moscow is not looking for world domination."

Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:05:00 -0500

For the American press and many partisans, one of Donald Trump's very gravest sins is his "bromance" with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It's a sure sign of The Donald's stupidness, ignorance, naiveity, or flat-out lack of any moral seriousness that he seems to be OK with the Russians grabbing Crimea, edging its way into Ukraine, helping an even-bigger POS, Bashar al Assad, in Syria, and even "hacking" an election (or maybe not). These are all serious actions and worthy of argument, analysis, and sharp disagreement. But the presumption of most of Trump's critics (they exist on the right, too) when it comes to his Putinphilia is the unexamined equation of today's Russia and the Soviet Union. Just like the Soviets, this unspoken argument goes, Russia is bent on world domination or, at the very least, regaining the contours of its former empire of Soviet republics and effective control of countries in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. Against such a dire and unexamined starting point, Washington Post Moscow Bureau Chief David Filipov has written an important article worth reading. After recounting the very good year that Putin had in 2016 (brokering a cease-fire in Syria, winning praise from President-elect Trump, getting his "man" elected in the U.S., high-though-not-stellar approval ratings at home), he reminds us: Russia is not the Soviet Union, this is not the Cold War, and Moscow is not looking for world domination. Putin's goal is limited to reducing U.S. influence while ensuring Russia's vital interests, and the power he can project is still limited by a weak economy and a global reach that pales in comparison to that of the United States. He can't act anywhere he wants, he can't do it alone, and a lot still depends on whether and how far President-elect Donald Trump decides to go along with him. Filipov notes that Russia's economy is still in the shitter and highly dependent upon energy exports. Even though Putin has a personal rating in the 80s, only around half of the country thinks it is heading in the right direction and all sorts of structural reforms of the public sector and the economy have stalled or failed miserably. The typical Russian household is spending more than half its money on food and groceries for the first time in seven years and Russian GDP has declined from a peak of $2.2 trillion in 2013 to just $1.3 trillion, which works out to a second-world per-capita figure of $9,000. Putin recently refused a plan from his military to re-establish naval bases in Cuba and Vietnam, at least in part because of the cost. Filipov concludes: Putin has succeeded because he only picks fights with the United States when Russian vital interests are at stake and Russia has a reasonable chance of prevailing, said Simon Saradzhyan, founding director of the Russia Matters Project at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Saradzhyan argues that the primary consideration here is whether the United States is willing to commit its full might: In Ukraine, U.S. vital interests were not at stake, and ultimately, he said, the Obama administration decided they were not in Syria, either. "Soviet leaders sought to counter the United States everywhere and anywhere," Saradzhyan said. "Putin has a much more limited outlook shaped by capacities of his country's economy, demographics and other components of national might."... Even as Putin steams into 2017 at the height of his power, the question is what happens to Russia's standing the moment Trump takes control of the world's most powerful nation. While Moscow is likely to continue to push to expand its influence where it can at the expense of the United States, co-opting the new administration — for example, in the fight against terrorism — wherever it is feasible, Putin is unlikely to act in a way that openly challenges the new U.S. president. Read the whole thing. HT: John Hudson at Foreign Policy. This is, to be sure, a generous reading of Putin's actions, but it's also a fair one. Most importa[...]



Photo

Fri, 30 Dec 2016 21:00:00 -0500

(image) The U.S. admitted 70,000 refugees last year. But according to the United Nations, 4.8 million people are currently registered for refugee status from Syria alone. In 2016, President Obama increased the U.S. intake of Syrians by 10,000—less than one-eighth the population being housed in three square miles of desert at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (pictured here).




6 Foreign Hotspots the Trump Administration Will Have to Deal With in 2017

Thu, 29 Dec 2016 14:00:00 -0500

2016 is mercifully coming to an end this weekend, and the Obama presidency will end less than three weeks later. Despite Donald Trump's insistence that he'll do things differently, January 20, 2017 will be no more a clean break from the past than January 20, 2009, was, especially when it comes to the exercise of U.S. foreign policy abroad. Both Barack Obama and Trump made a change in foreign policy part of their successful first presidential campaigns—for both, that promise of change was nebulous and uncertain. It allowed people with all different kinds of ideas about U.S. foreign policy to believe his vision would comport with their own. President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, just 10 months into office. He leaves office with a war in Afghanistan that's gone on longer than the Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined, a war in Iraq (and Syria) that's not quite the same as the one he inherited (the names and places have changed), and intervention-induced chaos in places like Libya and Yemen. Trump, meanwhile, sent all sorts of mixed signals about how his administration might conduct, or frame, its foreign policy during the campaign—he was no non-interventionist but also challenged the Republican foreign policy establishment during the primaries. His freewheeling style so far has earned some dividends, while his cabinet picks, like Rex Tillerson at secretary of state and Gen. James Mattis at defense, will at their confirmations have to frame whatever the Trump administration's actual foreign policy, or foreign policy narrative, might be. Even a foreign policy left adrift is destructive, and like the Obama administration before it, the Trump administration, too, will inherit a number of conflict zones and hot spots in which the United States is engaged. Afghanistan In 2009, President Obama ordered a troop surge in Afghanistan, a war that at that point had entered its ninth year. "When the history of the Obama presidency is written," The New York Times reported on December 5, 2009, about Obama's decision to accelerate the troop surge and subsequent withdrawal as visualized in a bell curve chart, "that day with the chart may prove to be a turning point, the moment a young commander in chief set in motion a high-stakes gamble to turn around a losing war." Seven years later, the Afghanistan war continues. Most recently, the putative withdrawal was pushed into 2017, with at least 6,000 U.S. troops staying through next year. In 2009, the point of the surge was to create the space for Afghan security forces to operate on their own. A concomitant "civilian surge" from the State Department was supposed to strengthen Afghan national institutions. Bureaucratic infighting and incompetence instead wasted any opportunity that the surge might have created for a withdrawal. Last year, President Obama became the first Nobel Peace Prize winner to bomb another Nobel Peace Prize winner when an American gunship launched a strike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan. Today, U.S. forces are fighting not just the Taliban but ISIS fighters as well. Obama has slowed down the pull out in large part because Afghan forces are unprepared to fight alone. Trump, meanwhile, has argued against both nation-building in Afghanistan and setting withdrawal dates (that insurgents would know) yet in favor of a long-term military presence in Afghanistan to keep it from becoming a failed states. Iraq By the time President Obama took office, a status of forces agreement had been negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq that would see all U.S. troops withdrawn by 2011. While Obama tried to keep a residual U.S. force of 10,000 in Iraq past that date, the Iraqi government was unwilling to extend immunity to U.S. troops who stayed in the country longer. Nevertheless, Obama campaigned for re-election in 2012 on the idea that he had brought the Iraq war to an end anyway. By 2014, the president had changed his tune. The [...]



Exodus Delves into the Horrible Life of Refugees

Fri, 23 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500

Frontline: Exodus. PBS. Tuesday, December 27, 9 p.m. Meet Isra'a, whose young life as a connoisseur of fine toys was rudely interrupted by a missile that obliterated the fine Syrian home of her merchant father. Now she's a canny street kid in the Turkish harbor town of Izmir, where her expertise includes one of the world's oddest niche markets—an open-air plaza where refugee families like hers can purchase all the appurtenances of illicit sea travel. Over there, she gestures, are the dealers in "rubber rings"—inner tubes, which are used as life preservers by upscale refugees and as vehicles by those whose hopes are bigger than their wallets. The rubber-ring trade is only for the hardiest of entrepreneurs, Isra'a observes, since cops periodically sweep through and confiscate their stocks in hopes of discouraging refugee traffic. (Isra'a, though only 10 or 12, knows a good bit about the police; she laughs as other kids admiringly describe how she shouted at them to run when cops recently grabbed her and slapped her around.) Less noticeable and therefore less risky, she advises, is the trade in small plastic bags that close with drawstrings: a waterproof carrying case for the cell phones that even the poorest emigres carry to map their trips and call for help in case of sinking, abduction or the other routine imperilments of refugee life. "If, God forbid, the dinghy sinks," Isra'a explains, "the phone will be safe." About the fate of the people carrying the phone, she is silent. Isra'a one of a dozen or so refugees whose journeys are chronicled in Exodus, a sweeping yet intimate episode of the PBS documentary series Frontline. From passengers frantically bailing water out of a floundering boat in the Mediterranean to a riot inside the notorious Calais camp known as "The Jungle," footage shot by the refugees themselves with smartphone cameras turns Exodus into something more like a diary than a documentary. Their message is that they are not so different than the rest of us would be if confronted with their dire circumstances. "Anyone can be a refugee," muses Ahmad, a young Syrian man who spent months slipping across borders in the Middle East and Europe in order to reach England after ISIS took over his village. "It's not something you choose. It's something that happens to you." The refugees are among more than a million who smuggled themselves into Europe from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East during 2015. The flow is even heavier this year as Syria disintegrates into total chaos, from which most of the refugees in Exodus are bolting. ("A country that's thousands of years old was destroyed in a minute," mourns one.) But as a young man named Sadiq, fleeing a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, reminds us, the ceaseless wars of the 21st century have left behind many burned-out hellholes in which the only reasonable alternative is escape. "I'm sure if they had the money, nobody would remain in Afghanistan," says Sadiq as he makes his way toward his personal vision of Utopia, Finland. "Afghanistan would be empty." How unlivable these ruined countries are is underlined again and again by the fact that not a single of the refugees profiled in Exodus ever turned back, despite enduring kidnappings, beatings, thefts, hunger, and extortions. When their fellow man wasn't using them as a punching bag, the Earth itself took over: treacherous seas, scorching deserts, sucking mud flats. But don't be misled; this is no tale of indefatigable pluckiness. Even the success stories among the refugees are half-mad before their travel ends. "I survived ISIS, I survived beheadings, I survived Assad," declares one Syrian refugee, nearing hysteria after yet another of his attempts to conclude his journey by crossing the English Channel falls to pieces. "I survived shellings, I survived the sea, I survived everything." To wind up in a squalid French refugee camp, it appears. Exodus is chock-a-block with harrowin[...]



Brickbat: Provocative Clothing

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Saudi police have arrested a woman after she tweeted a photo of herself standing on a Riyadh sidewalk without the full-length robe and scarf women are required to wear when in public.




Brickbat: Teach the Children

Tue, 20 Dec 2016 04:00:00 -0500

(image) It took a year and a court battle, but New York's Ithaca City School District finally released video of pro-Palestinian activists getting third-graders to repeat anti-Israel sentiments and urging the students to become freedom fighters for Palestine. Officials say the presentation was meant to teach the students about human rights.




Donald Trump Calls For 'Big, Beautiful Safe Zones' in Syria, Wants Gulf States to Pay For Them

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 14:00:00 -0500

Aleppo — the Syrian city that's been the center of the anti-Assad resistance for more than five years — appears to have finally fallen after a spectacularly brutal onslaught by Syrian government and Russian forces. President-elect Donald Trump responded to the humanitarian disaster, which includes the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and other atrocities, by telling attendees of a Pennsylvania rally last week, "When I look at what's going on in Syria, it's so sad," adding, "we're going to help people." Trump said he wants to build "safe zones" for civilians "so they can have a chance." In 2015, Trump also advocated for safe zones as a potential solution to the refugee crisis. Arguing that large numbers of refugees could "destroy all of Europe," Trump instead proposed building "a big beautiful safe zone and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they'll be happier." Knowing that the creation of such safe zones will require both an enormous financial commitment but also military personnel, Trump called for the oil-rich Sunni Gulf states (presumably including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar), which have been supporting rebel forces, to band their resources together for this vaguely-defined humanitarian project. During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton had called for the imposition of "no-fly zones" in Syria, which Trump warned could "lead to World War 3." Indeed, no-fly zones are enforced with the threat of violence and with Russian fighter jets providing cover for Syria's Assad regime, any U.S. efforts to repel them would reasonably be seen as an act of war. One retired naval officer described no-fly zones as "the cocktail party military application of power of choice," but without an actual proposed end-game, they are potentially disastrous. That's why Trump's call for "safe zones," while not in the Clinton mold of humanitarian war-making, should also be met with skepticism. Even if Trump is able to convince a regional power like Saudi Arabia to invest its cash and military in providing "safe" areas for civilians, they will inevitably be forced to face down hostile actors — be they Assad's military forces, Russian forces, or even ISIS. It's hard to imagine the Saudis sticking their necks out for Syrian civilians, especially after more than half a decade of civil war in Syria. Besides, even if the Saudis did intervene at this late stage, they're bogged down with their own war in Yemen, where they've very likely committed war crimes against that country's civilian population backed by both U.S.-provided weapons and even U.S. tactical military support. Trump's foreign policy — nearly always inscrutable during the campaign — is slowly being fleshed out. His opposition to military intervention in Syria won him plaudits from some anti-war libertarians, but "safe zones" are just "no-fly zones" by another name. And even if Trump is able to convince the U.S.' nominal allies in the Gulf to intervene on behalf of civilians, he should remember that they'll inevitably lean on the U.S. for support, and that's the kind of mission creep that inevitably drags a country into a war.[...]



Russian Ambassador to Turkey Shot Dead—Gunman Reportedly Yelled ‘Revenge, Aleppo!’

Mon, 19 Dec 2016 13:45:00 -0500

(image) The Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov, was shot and killed at an art exhibition in Ankara. The unidentified gunman reportedly shouted "revenge, Aleppo!" and "allahu Akhbar" while shooting Karlov nine times before being killed by police.

Turkey and Russia have enjoyed improving relations since the fall of the Soviet Union, but have experienced tensions recently, especially over Russia's intervention in the Syrian civil war. The Turkish government has been intensely opposed to the regime of Bashar Assad, and has been accused of tacitly supporting ISIS before directly entering the conflict earlier this year.

In November 2015, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet, briefly leading to a diplomatic crisis. Russia President Vladimir Putin called it a "stab in the back" by "accomplices of terrorists." Russia imposed sanctions on Turkey in response to the action. In June, Turkey President Recep Erdogan apologized for the incident, beginning the process of renormalizing relations.

Turkey has suffered from a number of terrorist attacks in the last 14 months, most recently twin car bombings in Istanbul that killed 38 people and injured more than 150, for which a Kurdish militant group took responsibility. That group and ISIS have claimed responsibility or been blamed by the Turkish government for most of the terrorist attacks since last October.




Trump Derangement Syndrome, a Libertarian Response to Aleppo, Will 2017 Be Better? Reason Podcast

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 16:30:00 -0500

(image) Between the "Hamilton Elector" movement, which is trying to get Electoral College members to vote for anyone but Donald Trump, celebrity-plagued videos attacking the next president, and profane tweets from ostensibly reputable journalists (see right), Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is kicking into high gear.

Sure, Donald Trump is the most unlikely president in American history and he has said truly vile things about whole groups of people while outlining policy preferences that are unsettling at best. And yet, calls to subvert the Electoral College—whether made by Harvard Law profs or TV presidents such as Martin Sheen—seem pretty nuts, too.

In the latest Reason Podcast, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Matt Welch, and I talk about and debate whether it's simply a continuation of the partisan hysteria that followed in the wake of Bill Clinton's, George W. Bush's, and Barack Obama's elections or if it is some kind of super-bug. We also talk about Rand Paul's increasingly public (and increasingly popular) call for a non-interventionist foreign policy and whether the United States deserves some responsibility for the horrific situation in Syria. Also discussed: Donald Trump's tech summit in which Trump delegates such as Peter Thiel rubbed shoulders with Trump targets such as Jeff Bezos, and what if any bright spots are on the horizon for 2017.

Subscribe to the Reason Podcast at iTunes (rate and review us while you're there!). Or listen below via SoundCloud.

Produced by Ian Keyser and Mark McDaniel. Photoshopped image below via Reddit/Imgur.

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Fighting Anti-Semitism With Intolerance

Mon, 12 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500

A couple of weeks ago, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, a.k.a. S. 10, was introduced in the Senate, read three times, and approved by unanimous consent without debate or amendment—all on the same day. That sort of bipartisan consensus, which suggests a bill is so obviously unobjectionable that no discussion of its merits is necessary, usually means trouble, and this case is no exception. In the name of protecting Jewish students from discrimination, S. 10, if approved by the House, will encourage universities to suppress dissenting political opinions and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech. S. 10, which was introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), codifies a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes one-sided criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. Last year the University of California declined to adopt that definition based on concerns that it would violate the First Amendment by deterring pro-Palestinian activism. S. 10 would have the same effect on a national scale, notwithstanding its assurance that "nothing in this Act…shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment." The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act is supposed to help the Education Department enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin by educational institutions that receive federal money. Although Judaism is not a race, color, or national origin, the Justice Department says "discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and members of other groups violates Title VI when that discrimination is based on the group's actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics." Furthermore, discrimination can include a "hostile environment" that interferes with a student's education, and a hostile environment can be created by things other people say. Given this legal context, the official definition of anti-Semitism has clear First Amendment ramifications. If on-campus speech is viewed as anti-Semitic, it may prompt an investigation by the Education Department, which could conclude that a university has violated Title VI by tolerating anti-Jewish harassment. Awareness of that possibility encourages administrators to regulate and punish speech, which makes students reluctant to express opinions that could be deemed anti-Semitic. The looser the definition of anti-Semitism, the greater the potential for censorship. Even the clearest expression of anti-Semitism is protected by the First Amendment, provided it does not rise to the level of harassment or assault. It should be possible for a student to question the Holocaust or claim that Jews control the media—two examples mentioned in the State Department's definition—without triggering a federal investigation. The right response to bigoted misconceptions is refutation, not censorship, especially at an educational institution that values free inquiry and open debate. S. 10 increases the tension between freedom of speech and antidiscrimination law by stretching the definition of anti-Semitism to cover opinions about Israel and its conflict with Palestinians. The examples cited by the State Department include "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis," "blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions," "applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation," "focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations," and "denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination" or "denying Israel the right to exist." These positions strike many Jews (including me) as grossly unfair, [...]



Why the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act Would Chill Constitutionally Protected Speech

Fri, 09 Dec 2016 06:30:00 -0500

(image) Last week the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, a.k.a. S. 10, was introduced in the Senate, read three times, and approved by unanimous consent without debate or amendment—all on one day. That sort of bipartisan consensus, which suggests a bill is so obviously unobjectionable that no discussion is necessary, usually means trouble, and this case is no exception. In the name of protecting Jewish students from discrimination, S. 10, if approved by the House, will encourage universities to suppress dissenting political opinions and have a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech.

S. 10, introduced by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Robert Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), codifies a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes one-sided criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism. Last year the University of California declined to adopt that definition based on concerns that it would violate the First Amendment by deterring pro-Palestinian activism. S. 10 would have the same effect on a national scale, notwithstanding its assurance that "nothing in this Act...shall be construed to diminish or infringe upon any right protected under the First Amendment."

Read the whole thing in the New York Post.




Boris Johnson is Right: Saudi Arabia and Iran Wage Proxy Wars Across the Middle East

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500

(image) U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson identified regional political leaders who were "twisting and abusing different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives" as one of the biggest problems in the Middle East, saying at a conference on Mediterrenean dialogue in Rome this week that it led to puppeteering and proxy wars by countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The comments came on the heels of a visit to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region by Prime Minister Theresa May, The Guardian reported, where she celebrated the century old alliance between the two countries. The government distanced itself from Johnson's remarks, with a spokesperson for 10 Downing Street saying they did not represent the official views of the British government.

Johnson's comments were characterized in the media as a "gaffe," although they were not incorrect. "Most observers of the Middle East would say this is a mostly fair analysis," the Washington Post noted. "But the problem is that Johnson, in his capacity as Britain's foreign secretary, stepped out of line in calling out Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest customers for British weapons." Yet refusals to acknowledge the reality of such situations makes advancing coherent foreign relations more difficult.

It would be important for the U.K., like the United States, to stop selling weapons around the world in order to have healthier international relations. The U.K. is in the top 10 arms exporters in the world—accounting for about 4 percent of international arms sales between 2010 and 2014. The U.S. was responsible for 31 percent. Russia is not far behind, at 27 percent, with China in third place at 5 percent.

While Johnson acknowledged Saudi Arabia's role in destabilizing the Middle East, when he had the chance he did not support a ban on U.K. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, just three months ago, insisting Saudi human rights violations in Yemen had not been proven. Iran has been accused of supporting the other side in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabia and western powers insist the government ejected from the capital by Houthi rebels remains the legitimate government in Yemen. Earlier this summer, meanwhile, Hezbollah admitted all of its financial support came from Iran.




Death from Above

Tue, 15 Nov 2016 06:00:00 -0500

The Assassination Complex: Inside the Government's Secret Drone Warfare Program, by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept, Simon & Schuster, 217 pages, $24.99 One summer day in 2013, NBC reporters Richard Engel and Robert Windrem unveiled a lengthy news story revealing a dark truth about America's use of drones to fight terrorists overseas: The CIA did not really know who it was killing with strikes in Pakistan, but it was classifying them all as "other militants" anyway. Readers may be forgiven for not remembering this exposé. It was released on June 5, the same day Glenn Greenwald, in The Guardian, published the first of an explosive series of stories detailing how Western intelligence agencies were using mass surveillance systems to track and store enormous amounts of private data about their citizens. Even before former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden outed himself as Greenwald's source, the coverage led to a massive media blitz and to related revelations by other outlets. NBC couldn't compete for attention. Engel and Windrem were not the first reporters to cover the dark side of the drone wars, and they haven't been the last. Jeremy Scahill (author of Dirty Wars and Blackwater) and the staff of The Intercept, where Greenwald is now an editor, are the latest to receive, analyze, and disseminate secret information about America's program of drone assassinations. Like NBC's report, their book, The Assassination Complex, shows how Washington's drones are killing civilians in such countries as Pakistan and Yemen. To conceal the potentially unpleasant repercussions of these strikes, the administration—when not stonewalling attempts at transparency entirely—classifies these deaths as "enemies killed in action," or EKIAs, though it is actually often unsure of these people's identities. The designation is changed only when posthumous evidence proves those killed by drones were definitively not members of terrorist cells. With the help of confidential documents leaked to The Intercept, the book is able to offer some hard numbers. In a yearlong operation in northeastern Afghanistan, the United States killed more than 200 people; only 35 were intended targets. The source who leaked the documents explained: "Anyone caught within the vicinity is guilty by association," but "there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate…so it's a phenomenal gamble." Regardless of the success rate of that gamble, it appears to have become the status quo. Two competing pressures have made it so. One is the push to protect Americans from radical forces gathering in the Middle East. The second is the demand that, in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the president reduce the footprint of actual U.S. troops in these areas. Adm. Dennis Blair, a former director of national intelligence, sums it up: "It is the politically advantageous thing to do—low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness. It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term." The trade-offs that reduce the risks faced by American troops also contribute directly to the likelihood that innocent civilians will be killed in these strikes. The government has become extremely reliant on SIGINT, or "signals intelligence"—what the rest of us refer to as surveillance. Hunting targets is increasingly done not with eyes on the ground but by tracking their communications. A human being may technically be the target, but it's the person's phone that's actually being tracked and that will tell the drone pilots where to launch the attack. They have[...]