Published: Sun, 26 Mar 2017 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Sun, 26 Mar 2017 18:36:28 -0400
Tue, 14 Mar 2017 12:50:00 -0400Not long after Donald Trump was elected president I asked—in a headline, no less—"President Trump + Military Drones = What Exactly?" It was a question I didn't feel entirely confident answering back then because—for all his campaign talk about reducing our military footprint overseas while focusing on defeating the Islamic State—he didn't have much to say about using drones. Looks like we're getting our answer: possibly more drone strikes, and possibly even less transparency about them than under President Barack Obama (which is pretty hard to imagine, given during most of his administration the government refused to discuss them). Stories in both The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal show the machinery in action to spread the use of drone strikes as part of the Trump administration's efforts to fight terrorism. According to The Washington Post, the administration is working to change the rules Obama put into place that would most certainly result in a greater number of drone strikes, and also a greater likelihood of civilian casualties: The Trump review must still be approved by the president, but recent drafts of the new policy would represent a major change in the way the United States approaches drone strikes and other targeted-killing operations in places such as Yemen, Somalia and Libya. The changes to the Obama-era Presidential Policy Guidance would empower the Pentagon to make decisions on targets without approval from the White House and potentially scrap the "near-certainty" standard of no civilian deaths for strikes outside war zones. The Trump plans are also likely to relax the requirement that potential terror targets pose a "continuing and imminent threat" to U.S. personnel, officials said. A senior administration official said that the Trump White House remained committed to a standard above the minimum requirement mandated by the international law of armed conflict that governs most military operations. "Some standard above [that] is wise," the official said. As always, whenever policy proposals get leaked out before Trump actually approves them, be wary that we don't actually know yet whether it's really going to be implemented. What's very clear from the Post is that these unnamed sources they're using seem to want this decentralization to happen and allow military officials to decide more frequently on their own when to use drones to kill. Like the proposal or not (you should not like it), it seems primed to be something Trump would support. As I noted back in November, an expansion of the use of drones seemed like a logical outcome given Trump's stated desires to focus on killing ISIS terrorists but not necessarily expand direct military engagement with troops on the ground. The Wall Street Journal's reporting suggests not only will we have more drone strikes, but we might hear even less about them than we already do. That's because the Trump administration has authorized the CIA to perform its own strikes. Previously, while the CIA and the military worked together to gather intel for the strikes, the Obama administration's rules required the military perform the strikes. This, according to The Wall Street Journal, promoted "transparency and accountability" (reasonable people may disagree there). But because the CIA operates covertly, we may be less likely to know about the strikes they perform. And we already have an example. The CIA performed a drone strike against a target in Syria in February, but we're only finding out now that this operation was performed by the CIA under these new authorities: While U.S. officials said Mr. Trump's action specifically applied to the CIA's ability to operate in Syria, it means the agency eventually could become empowered under Mr. Trump to once again conduct covert strikes in other places where the U.S. is targeting militants in Yemen, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere. Syria may not be the only place where the CIA is now authorized to conduct drone strikes. Earlier this month, a U.S. drone reportedly targeted two men in a village in Pakistan near[...]
Fri, 10 Mar 2017 15:55:00 -0500Despite candidate Donald Trump's welcome sometimes-critical look at long-standing entangling U.S. alliances and arrangements, there was little doubt given his rhetoric on the war on terror that he would ramp up military involvement. He redeclared the war on terror in his inaugural—putting a new face and new rhetoric to a decades-long fight. Fifty days into the Trump administration, the new contours of the war on terror are starting to take shape. Foreign Policy reports of a renewed bombing campaign against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen following a late January raid the Trump administration insisted was a holdover from the Obama administration. According to Foreign Policy, the Obama administration "handed over plans for a stepped-up campaign to the incoming Trump team in January" and that there'd been "an immediate change in the tempo of operations." The U.S. has now reportedly dropped more bombs on Yemen than in any previous year. Of the 26,000+ bombs the U.S. was estimated to have dropped in 2016, 34 were attributed to Yemen. According to Foreign Policy, the Trump administration has seen military decisions untethered from much of the policy and bureaucratic deliberations that reportedly slowed down action during the Obama administration. Yemen and the U.S. campaign against AQAP was once lauded by President Obama as an example of a new kind of counterterrorism effort, one with a more limited footprint—the the country collapsed into a civil war after rebels alleged to be backed by Iran ousted the U.S.-backed government out of the capital. Saudi Arabia has since led a military coalition to return the government of Abdrabbuh Hadi back to power. Following the bombing of a hospital, the U.S. suspended some arms sales to Saudi Arabia late last year, but those have been resumed under the Trump administration. Al-Qaeda has benefited from the civil war, gaining territory with the help of a Saudi bombing campaign that, as Foreign Policy explains, is exclusively targeting the Houthi rebels. AQAP can fill the void as, for example, when they took over the port city of Mukalla and began to collect millions of dollars a month in taxes and fees. The Trump administration is also considering an increase in troop levels in the 15-and-a-half year war in Afghanistan, where the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has recently established a presence. Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees military operations in Egypt, the Middle East, and Southwest Asia, told the Senate Armed Forces Committee a "few thousand" more troops above the 8,500 still deployed in Afghanistan were needed to break a "stalemate" with the Taliban, the Islamist group the 2001 U.S. invasion ousted from power for harboring Al-Qaeda after the September 11 terrorist attacks. At that time, Afghanistan was probably the only country left where Al-Qaeda could set up a base—16 years of U.S. interventions have opened up space in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and elsewhere. ISIS, the threat most of the military operations under Central Command target, is a competing militant group to the Taliban in Afghanistan, with any potential alliance possible largel because of a U.S. presence. Votel also suggested more ground troops were required in Syria—U.S. troops started to arrive in late 2015 to battle ISIS. American troops were also redeployed to Iraq for that purpose. Yesterday, The New York Times reported that the U.S. was deploying an additional 400 troops into Syria, almost as many as are currently there, ahead of the campaign to take Raqqa, ISIS' self-proclaimed capital. The U.S. is deploying 2,500 additional troops to a staging base in Kuwait in support of the campaign against ISIS, Military Times reported, although military leaders would not speak to the paper about the plans for the troops. "There are a number of options under consideration as the coalition looks for ways to accelerate the defeat of ISIS," a statement from the U.S. military command in Baghdad read, according to Military Times. "[...]
Fri, 24 Feb 2017 13:55:00 -0500The Defense Department will not rule out putting additional U.S. troops on the ground in war-torn Syria when it presents President Trump with a range of options to fight ISIS next week. At Washington D.C.'s Brookings Institution yesterday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said, "We've been given a task to go to the president with options to accelerate the defeat of ISIS specifically, but obviously other violent extremist groups as well," according to McClatchyDC. Dunford added, "We're going to go to him with a full range of options from which he can chose." As a candidate, Trump said he would "bomb the shit out of ISIS," but also criticized his opponent Hillary Clinton's predilection for military interventionism. To date, the president has maintained a confounding duality when it comes to the use of military force, one that remains muddled by his call for "safe zones" in Syria to help stanch the flow of refugees, but which will ultimately require a military presence on the ground to enforce. Moreover, such a presence could find itself in conflict not only with ISIS and other radical Islamist groups, but also Syrian and Russian military forces. About 500 U.S. special forces troops are already operating inside Syria (a holdover from the Obama administration and the representation of a broken promise by President Obama). Military action in the form of airstrikes against ISIS polled well among Americans last year (about 72 percent), but putting U.S. ground troops in Syria fared far worse—with only about 42 percent in favor. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was non-committal last week when asked if he would recommend ground troops in Syria to President Trump, but in 2014 he publicly took issue with Obama's ISIS strategy. Business Insider quotes Mattis as saying: Whichever strategy is chosen, we should be reticent in telling our adversaries in advance any timeline that governs us or which of our capabilities we will not employ. Specifically, if this threat to our nation is determined to be as significant as I believe it is, we may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American 'boots on the ground': if a brigade of our paratroopers or a battalion landing team of our Marines could strengthen our allies at a key juncture and create havoc/humiliation for our adversaries, then we should do what is necessary with our forces that exist for that very purpose. The U.S. military is not war weary, our military draws strength from confronting our enemies when clear policy objectives are set and we are fully resourced for the fight. Mattis has frequently been described as one of Trump's more "sane" cabinet members and, as a retired Marine general, is intimately familiar with the horrors of war. That said, he's an Iran hawk who thinks there are "an increasing number of areas where we're going to have to confront Russia." "Mad Dog" Mattis may very well be the right person to remind President Trump that soldiers are not toys and "safe zones" need to be made safe by the threat of deadly force. But if Trump is presented with a range of options that include a robust U.S. military presence in one of the world's worst war zones, don't bet against the "non-interventionist" president rejecting the use of what Hillary Clinton used to call "smart power."[...]
Tue, 31 Jan 2017 10:38:00 -0500If you consume your politics on Twitter, I am confident you have seen over the past five days such sentiments as this: The foaming attacks on Donald Trump are more ridiculous than anything he has done https://t.co/69bbXbfsVv via @telegraphnews — Nile Gardiner (@NileGardiner) January 30, 2017 Sure, sure, the most powerful politician in the world may have broken a few eggs here and there, but did you see those rude reviews on Yelp??? National Review, unsurprisingly, has sounded some similar notes since Trump's executive order on refugees last Friday: Refugee Madness: Trump Is Wrong, But His Liberal Critics Are Crazy https://t.co/HDfBKp8UwR pic.twitter.com/HYDkNV2Q8h — National Review (@NRO) January 29, 2017 Note the word "but" there instead of "and," and that the only party drawing the pejorative is the critics, not the administration choosing to gratuitously disrupt the lives of up to a half-million vetted legal permanent U.S. residents (before reversing that part of the poorly drafted order, even while insisting that "all is going well with very few problems"). The subhed of the linked NRO piece, which was written by Dan McLaughlin, is: "The anger at his new policy is seriously misplaced." The erroneous first sentence within suggests one way of arriving at such a conclusion: President Trump has ordered a temporary, 120-day halt to admitting refugees from seven countries, all of them war-torn states with majority-Muslim populations: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. No, the refugee ban is for everyone—Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, atheist, natural disaster victim, genocide target, seven-nation disfavorable, 180+-country undesirable, whatever: Shop's closed until Memorial Day. And the seven-country ban, which is for 90 days and not 120, includes everybody from those regions (except those with diplomatic passports), not just the subset of refugees. Since many people seem to be making the same mistake, here is the plain language from the order: "The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days." The program that has since 1980 admitted an average of 200+ refugees per day into the United States has been abruptly slammed shut for the next four months, and will be reopened at the discretion of a president who campaigned not only on a "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," but also the deportation of Syrian refugees already living legally in America. You can see why some people might not be inclined to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on this. Which brings us to the National Review's David French, who, in a widely cited piece over the weekend, decided that the mock-worthy hysteria about the executive order came not from a power-wielding president with a long track record of misleading statements and alarmist hyperbole about the existing refugee-screening process, but rather among the people who are standing athwart Trump's draconian order yelling "stop." French, you may recall, had been for a few weird moments last spring Bill Kristol's great #NeverTrump hope, so he is hardly a reflexive supporter of the president. Judging by the intensity of the retweets on this piece, his views reflect a broad swath of modern conservatism. So: In a piece that advertises itself as "Separating Fact from Hysteria," French characterizes Trump's move as "an executive order dominated mainly by moderate refugee restrictions." Not only does a blanket, never-been-done-before four-month refugee-stoppage—and an equally historic three-month ban of all travel from seven other countries—constitute a "moderate" move by French's lights, so does Trump's slashing of the U.S. target for refugee admittance to 50,000 a year, which is less than half of the 110,000 target Barack Obama set for this year, and also well below the 70,000-80,000 goal set every year from 2001-2015. French has an awfully dissonant way of selling this virtuous moderation. In one breath, he says it's [...]
Mon, 30 Jan 2017 12:47:00 -0500President Trump's executive order temporarily suspending refugee admissions worldwide and indefinitely suspending refugees from Syria also imposed a temporary ban on any immigrant or nonimmigrant entry from seven "countries of concern," all of which are predominantly Muslim. Combined with a directive to give preference to refugees who are religious minorities, many took to calling the order a Muslim ban. Some news outlets noted the fact that the seven countries primarily affected by the order—Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen—did not have business ties with the Trump Organization, with the New York Daily News calling it conspicuous and pointing out no Americans were killed by nationals of those countries while thousands were killed by nationals of Saudi Arabia, which is not one of the countries of concern but where the Trump Organization does do business. The Daily News said it raised "alarming questions" about how the decision was made. The list, however, is not of Trump's making. The dissonance between the countries of concerns and the countries from where major terrorists and terrorism ideologies originate is embedded in US foreign policy. The list comes from a 2015 immigration law that designated those countries as "countries of concern" which required additional visa scrutiny, and exempted from visa waivers dual nationals from those countries who also held passports from countries the U.S. did not require a visa. Of those seven countries, all but Iran have been the target of some kind of military action in the last twenty years. The Obama administration committed the U.S. military to intervention in Libya's civil war in 2011, helping to depose Col. Moammar Qaddafi and plunging the country into chaos. Today, a number of terrorist groups, including ISIS, operate in Libya when they did not exist in the country before 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, the U.S. accepted just seven refugees from Libya. There's no indication that changed in 2016. U.S. troops returned to Libya last year to join the campaign against ISIS. Trump becomes the fifth consecutive U.S. president to preside over military operations in Iraq. While Ronald Reagan helped arm Iraq during its decade-long war with Iran, his successor George H.W. Bush led an international coalition against Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. Bill Clinton spent his administration bombing Iraq on-and-off, as well as maintaining sanctions estimated to have killed more than half a million children by 1995. In 1998, Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, which made it official U.S. policy to support regime change in Iraq. After 9/11, George W. Bush set his administration's sights on Iraq, eventually invading the country in 2003 over weapons of mass destruction that were not found. Weak connections to 9/11 promoted in the run up to the war totally fell apart after. In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a status of forces agreement to end the Iraq war. After trying and failing to renegotiate that agreement, Barack Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011. He took credit for the move during his 2012 re-election campaign, but when ISIS emerged as a major force in Iraq, he backtracked, insisting it was not his decision. Eventually, U.S. troops returned to Iraq under Obama, in a campaign against ISIS that never received specific congressional authorization. They remain there today, although U.S. operations in Iraq will be complicated by a travel ban the Iraqi government imposed on U.S. citizens in retaliation for Trump's order. Both exempt diplomatic and government travel. Trump himself pointed to a 2011 review of refugee admissions from Iraq as precedent for his actions, although the 2011 move did not keep legal permanent residents from entering or leaving the United States. Nevertheless, critics in Congress challenged the Obama administration, expressing concern about leaving Iraqis who collaborated with the[...]
Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:05:00 -0500For 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 s[...]
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).
Thu, 29 Dec 2016 14:00:00 -05002016 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 brough[...]
Fri, 23 Dec 2016 15:00:00 -0500Frontline: 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 i[...]
Mon, 19 Dec 2016 14:00:00 -0500Aleppo — 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.[...]
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.
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.
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Produced by Ian Keyser and Mark McDaniel. Photoshopped image below via Reddit/Imgur.
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Thu, 20 Oct 2016 10:50:00 -0400
(image) Hillary Clinton reiterated her desire for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone in Syria at the third presidential debate, saying it "could save lives and could hasten the end of the conflict" even as she insisted she understood the "really legitimate concerns" about such an action drawing the U.S. deeper into the conflict (as Chris Wallace noted that President Obama worried) or start a war with Russia and Syria (as Wallace noted that the joint chief of staff chairman, Gen. Joseph Dunford, worried).
Once again, Clinton used the viral photo of a wounded 4-year-old boy at a hospital in Aleppo, calling it "haunting," to defend her decision to support accepting more Syrian refugees (her current position differs from her position while she was Secretary of State, when the U.S. accepted virtually no Syrian refugees, something it would continue to do until last year). But she did not talk about how escalating the U.S. role in the conflict in Syria was likely to exacerbate the refugee crisis, as did U.S. interventions in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, nor how her preferred course of action would lead to more civilian casualties in Syria, which she admitted in a private speech to Goldman Sachs in 2013, when Russia was not as involved yet and Syrian forces were not as entrenched in the conflict as they are now.
"They're getting more sophisticated thanks to Russian imports," Clinton said back then. "To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we're not putting our pilots at risk—you're going to kill a lot of Syrians." Clinton continued in the Goldman Sachs speech: "So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians."
At the debates she has ignored this private idea, treating U.S. intervention glibly and ignoring the civilian casualties she so easily uses to justify her policy positions when the casualties are not U.S.-caused. There is not a widespread awareness of the situation in Syria, let alone widespread support for further intervention. U.S. meddling in Syria so far has mostly just aggravated the conflict and introduced weapons that end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. There is not a clearly identifiable public constituency calling for war with Syria (except perhaps the mainstream media) so it's hard to take Clinton's enthusiasm for escalating U.S. involvement in Syria as anything but genuine. Clinton has not had to answer at the general debates why she was wrong on the Iraq war, or any questions about her role in pressing for intervention in Libya and the disastrous results there. For all the talk (including last night) of the prospects of Donald Trump deciding to start a nuclear war, Hillary Clinton seems to have a better grasp of the policy decisions that would lead there and a genuine fervor for advancing them.
Mon, 17 Oct 2016 13:18:00 -0400In an interview with Vice President Joe Biden on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd continued the tradition of journalists shamelessly asking questions that incorporate their own worldviews and political preferences into the questions themselves. "Why is there not a no-fly zone over Aleppo?" Todd asked in an exasperated tone of the situation in Syria. There's a long answer to that and a short one. The long one involves, among other things, the misconceptions people have about the effectiveness of no-fly zones, the lack of a clear strategic U.S. interest, disagreement about the facts on the ground in Syria and the difficulty of imposing a no-fly zone there specifically. The short answer is Russia operates in Syria, increasing the risk of conflict escalation significantly. Much of the media and political class, however, worked up into a frenzy over Donald Trump and his supposed connections with Russia and Russia's alleged attempts to interfere in the U.S. election, have chosen to ignore Russia as a complicating factor in Syria. When Hillary Clinton callously suggested a no-fly zone, which she had previously admitted would inevitably lead to civilian casualties, could be used to create leverage that could force Russia to the negotiating table over Syria, no one asked her what the purpose of forcing Russia to the negotiating table would be. The U.S. government's only clear goal in Syria is the removal of Bashar Assad. While President Obama acknowledged failing to plan for the aftermath of the intervention in Libya was the greatest mistake of his presidency, no one seems particularly concerned that Clinton (who was secretary of state during the Libya war) has not explained what the plan for a post-Assad Syria is. That so-called moderate rebels are in danger of joining extreme groups absent U.S. support suggests there are no substantive moderate forces in Syria, let alone ones the U.S. could with any kind of confidence support as a new Syrian government. Even if there were, the strategic benefits to the U.S. of toppling Assad are murky at best. For his part, Biden responded to Todd's question by insisting the U.S. had to defeat ISIS first. "We could not do both." Biden also blamed Republicans for not giving the Obama administration the authority to use force in Syria. "All those Republicans talk about how tough they were," Biden insisted, blatantly tapping into the machismo conceits of U.S. interventionism, before revealing that those Republicans had a point. "They'd say, 'What happens, we send planes over there, they get shot down? We have to go in and get 'em'," Biden explained. "Well, yeah, we have to go in and get 'em." Todd pressed on with the leading questions: "How does Syria not become the Rwanda of this administration? That you guys look back and wonder what if? What if? What if? What if?" The comparison itself is ridiculous and reveals a shallow understanding of the 1994 conflict in Rwanda, the current conflict in Syria, or both. "Rwanda was soluble," Biden insisted. "This is complicated." Todd continued: "So we're not gonna regret not doing more in Aleppo?" Biden's response was that the administration regretted whenever anyone dies. "I regret that we're not doing something about, you know, genital mutilation in Africa. I regret there's still real problems in Afghanistan," Biden said, without explaining what he had in mind about what could or should be done in those areas. "But there has to be a sense of humility about what is able to be done at the time. And what we're doing is the right thing. Generating a consensus among the Arab countries as to what we should be doing in the region. And at the same time, going after ISIL [ISIS] to destroy it." Trump and Clinton both broad[...]
Fri, 14 Oct 2016 13:45:00 -0400The push for a no-fly zone in Syria has been ratcheted up in recent days, with Hillary Clinton explaining at Sunday's presidential debate why she was in favor of imposing a no-fly zone and members of government in the United Kingdom pressing for one. At the debate, Clinton said she advocated for a no-fly zone as Secretary of State (she served from 2009 to 2012—the Syrian civil war began in 2011) and said she was doing so again as a presidential candidate. "We need some leverage with the Russians," Clinton explained, "because they are not going to come to the negotiating table for a diplomatic resolution, unless there is some leverage over them. And we have to work more closely with our partners and allies on the ground." At an emergency parliamentary session in the United Kingdom on Syria on Tuesday, Conservative, and Labour, members supported a no-fly zone, and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called on the West to explore more "military options" in Syria, saying Russia was at risk of becoming a "pariah nation." The new prime minister, Theresa May, said she would carefully consider the option but that it was up to "the international community to continue to put more pressure on Russia." France, for its part, has tried to pass a United Nations Security Council resolution that would demand an "immediate halt" to the bombings by the Syrian and Russian air force in Aleppo. The resolution, which could have been used to justify the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria, was unsurprisingly vetoed by Russia. China, another veto-wielding power, abstained. While Clinton admitted at the debate more U.S. intervention in Syria would have the aim of creating leverage vis a vis Russia, Clinton and other intervention advocates generally cite the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo as their motivating factor, claiming that Russia and Syrian forces were bombing populated civilian areas under the control of rebel groups. Syria insists these are terrorist groups, among them ISIS. Donald Trump repeated that claim at Sunday night's debate. At a speech to Goldman Sachs in 2013, Clinton explained the difficulties of imposing a no-fly zone in a way she hasn't at the debate or elsewhere on the public campaign trail. "To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas," Clinton said according to leaked transcripts. "So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we're not putting our pilots at risk—you're going to kill a lot of Syrians." Clinton continued: "So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians." This was in 2013, before ISIS had become a recognized threat and before Russia intervened in the civil war. Back then, then Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCOS) chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said that tens of thousands of U.S. troops would be needed to impose a no-fly zone and that the operation could cost a billion dollars a month. A no-fly zone is an even more difficult proposition now and would be harder still by the time Hillary Clinton were to enter office in 2017. More recently, last month current JCOS chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford said that imposing a no-fly zone would "require" war with Syria and Russia. Previously, the U.N. passed a Security Council resolution in 2011 concerning violence in Libya (China and Russia abstained) that was used by Western powers led by France and the U.S. as a justification for a no-fly zone. China and Russia complained almost immediately that the resolution was being used beyond the scope for which it was intended, with the Russian ambassador to NATO arguing the aim of the operation[...]