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Middle East

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

Last Build Date: Thu, 21 Sep 2017 19:05:48 -0400


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 assumed, had been refuted once and for all. But they were just waiting to be retaught. In Afghanistan and Iraq, American troops once again discovered the confusion and terror of fighting an enemy who blends into the populace[...]

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

(image) 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 constitutional due process and oversight, realistic risk analysis, and open deliberation about our aims and interests that we ought to require before more traditional war-making. Airstrikes are not a step to war but war [...]

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.[...]

Brickbat: Sing a Sad Song

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) City officials in Wellington, New Zealand, have apologized after producers of a city-funded arts festival changed lyrics to a song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to remove a reference to Israel. After lyricist Tim Rice found out about the change, he blasted the decision, prompting the festival to drop all songs from the musical. But that decision caused yet another backlash, and organizers agreed to keep the songs and their original lyrics.

City of Ghosts Tells the Story of the Citizen Journalists Fighting ISIS Propaganda

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 15:00:00 -0400

The website Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) publishes firsthand accounts of the war crimes of ISIS in often horrific detail. City of Ghosts, a new documentary by Oscar-nominated director Matthew Heineman, tells the story of the citizen journalists who risk their lives to tell the world about the atrocities committed by the Islamic State.

"After ISIS took over the city there really was not any information going in or any information going out," explains Heineman. "There were no western journalists there. They would be killed instantly. So this group really provided a service to the world to help understand the atrocities that were being committed in their hometown, which just happened to be the capital of the Islamic State."

Heineman and RBSS Co-founder Abdalaziz "Aziz" Alhamza sat down with Reason to discuss how these citizen journalists are risking their lives to counter ISIS propaganda.

Produced and edited by Meredith Bragg. Shot by Todd Krainin, Mark McDaniel, and Ian Keyser. Images from City of Ghosts courtesy of Amazon Studios / A&E Indiefilms / IFC Films.

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Bassem Youssef Was 'Egypt's Jon Stewart.' Then He Was Forced To Flee.

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 14:04:00 -0400

Bassem Youssef, known as the "Jon Stewart of Egypt," was the host of the most popular television show in the history of the Arab world. A heart surgeon by training, he was inspired by The Daily Show frontman to start a weekly YouTube show in 2011, just as the Egyptian revolution and Arab Spring were getting underway. He taped it from his laundry room. Called Al-Bernameg, which means "The Show," its audience grew to 30 million per episode. "[The] value of satire is that it humanizes people in power," Youssef tells Reason's Justin Monticello, those "considered holy." Youssef's downfall began with a viral segment mocking President Mohamed Morsi's hat in 2013. In March, a warrant was issued for his arrest for insulting the president and Islam. So Youssef offered to turn himself in—wearing his Morsi hat. Though he was released on bail, it was the beginning of the end. Three months later, the military deposed and jailed Morsi, dissolved the constitution, and silenced the critical press. General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became the new ruler of Egypt, and his regime didn't take kindly to mockery. What followed is the subject of Youssef's new memoir, Revolution for Dummies, and the documentary Tickling Giants by The Daily Show Senior Producer Sara Taksler, which is available online. The Show lasted just one airing after Sisi became president. Youssef was slapped with the largest fine in the history of Egyptian media. Sensing that he would soon be arrested and prevented from traveling out of the country, he threw a few personal belongings into a suitcase and rushed to the airport. In a wide-ranging conversation, Youssef discusses the limits of satire, political correctness, comedy on college campuses, Trump, how political leaders use religion, and more. Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Paul Detrick and Alex Manning. Music by Topher Mohr and Alex Elena and Pavel Malkov. 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. Bassem Youssef: The Islamists were reacting in a violent way because they're not used that they're ... They are hiding behind this sacred ideology of religion and they're not used to be criticized, so to break that mold and to just be pointed at them and make fun of them. They couldn't handle it. Justin Monticello: You went in and police officers and court employees, or the prosecutor's employees were asking to take selfies with you and they were big fans of yours. Youssef: It was almost surreal to be in a place where I'm being questioned while the people who are in charge of questioning me were securing ... Questioning me were fans and taking pictures. Monticello: So, after the military coup ... I guess we can call it a coup now. I know you took great pains to talk about how it was a word that was not allowed in Egypt for a time, right? Youssef: Oh yeah, that was the "c" word. Monticello: There was marshal law, and you couldn't broadcast for a couple months. Even your staff, they were fighting with their parents about whether they should continue to do the show now that the military was in power. In moments like that, where you were confronting these new regimes that kept popping up during the revolution, how did you decide when it was too dangerous? How did you find the inspiration to keep going on and making fun of them? Youssef: Well, part of me was scared to come back. I was scared of ... How can we make fun of the new regime because the new regime was very popular. You can say whatever you want about the regime, but Sisi was popular, the regime, their army is popular. It's part of our culture. And I mentioned in the book how people would consider the armies even more sacred than religion. I almost took the decision of stopping[...]

On Trump, Jr., Governments Lying, and A World in Disarray: The New Fifth Column

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 23:22:00 -0400

On July 21, Vice News is premiering on HBO a new feature length documentary on U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War, titled A World in Disarray, based on a new book of the same name by former George H.W. Bush Middle East advisor and current Council of Foreign Relations poobah Richard Haass. The doc's main narrator and interlocutor (of such former leaders as Tony Blair, George Schultz, and Condoleezza Rice) is former Reasoner and current Vicer Michael C. Moynihan, one-third of the weekly podcast (and Sirius XM radio show!) The Fifth Column. Here's a preview:

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We spend a good chunk of this week's podcast chewing over the mixed-up status of the United States' role in global affairs, the elusive Goldilocks test for interventionism in the Middle East, and the existential angst of relinquishing control over events, with the help of Bloomberg View foreign policy columnist Eli Lake. And as you would expect, there's plenty of debate over the there-there of Donald Trump, Jr.'s dealing with Russians, and the administration's slippery relationship with the truth. Without spoiling too much, some of the phrases uttered include "dick descript," "lesbodians and 9/11," "the Bernard Henri-Levy of stupidity," and "Congratulations, Eli, on being such a spectacular Jew." Listen to the whole thing here:

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Reminder: Over the weekend you can listen to an hour-long version of The Fifth Column on Sirius XM POTUS (channel 124) Saturdays at 11 a.m. ET then Sundays at 1 a.m. and 3 p.m. And you can always find more Fifth Column at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play,, @wethefifth, and Facebook.

Regime Change in Iran Is Neither Necessary Nor Prudent

Fri, 30 Jun 2017 13:30:00 -0400

There's mischief afoot in the White House, and it's the familiar mischief of regime change. Some in President Trump's advisory circle are reportedly pushing for an official embrace of regime change as the United States' policy toward Iran. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is at the forefront of this ill-advised endeavor. "I don't see how anyone can say America can be safe," he told Politico, "as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism" in Iran. Well, senator, let me explain. First, let's agree the government of Iran is an unsavory regime. Tehran has a well-documented record of human rights abuses, so Cotton's "theocratic despotism" label is not unfair. Iran also has a reputation for sponsoring terrorism and backing Syria's genocidal government. To be sure, the recent re-election of President Hassan Rouhani, who campaigned on a message of moderation and liberalization, is a step in the right direction. Rouhani's hardline opponent was considered the favorite of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his voters hailed the win as a victory for peace and positive international diplomacy. More importantly, younger Iranians are increasingly secular and pro-Western. They are challenging their government's strict social controls and have a positive view of America. As these generations mature and Khamenei's cohort dies off, political evolution (if not revolution) is likely. Still, it would be naïve to deny that the potentially free and open Iran of the future is not yet here. But it would be even more naïve—and dangerous, too—to make the leap from this basis to Cotton's support of U.S.-orchestrated regime change. The weight of pragmatic considerations here is enormous. Consider what happened in Iraq, the United States' biggest post-9/11 regime change project. What was sold as a necessary and relatively easy war has dragged on these 14 years. Iraq today is less stable than it was before American military intervention; it has become a breeding ground of terrorism, a festering sore oozing the poison of radicalism across the greater Mideast. We have little to show for more than a decade of nation-building efforts spread across three presidencies. With trillions spent and tens of thousands of American and Iraqi lives lost, no one can credibly say regime change in Iraq was a decision worth repeating. Apply the same approach to Iran, and the results will be more disastrous. Iran has more than double Iraq's population, and Iranians are better educated and more urbanized. Iran is more than triple Iraq's geographic size, and its economy and technological development are both superior to its neighbor to the east. Add to that the United States' history of meddling in Iran's internal affairs—recent history that is not forgotten and will keep Iranian moderates and reformers from being sympathetic to American goals— and the probability of a successful regime change imposed by Washington is exactly nil. The good news is there is no credible case such an effort is needed. Contra the threat inflation from Iran hawks, the country is fundamentally a regional power with bounded influence. It is a majority-Shiite state surrounded by Sunni enemies, most notably the well-armed and U.S.-supported Saudi Arabia. It is halfway across the globe from our shores, isolated from us by the world's largest natural moats, and would be laughably outmatched by the U.S. in conventional warfare. Moreover, American intelligence agencies have consistently and unanimously said since 2007 that Tehran is not engaged in a nuclear weapons program. And though hardly an American ally in the war on terror, Iran does join Washington in actively opposing the Islamic State, the chief terrorism threat we face today. This assessment of Iran's limited capabilities—[...]

The Foolishness of Pursuing Regime Change in Iran

Thu, 29 Jun 2017 00:15:00 -0400

Hearing American policymakers talk about regime change is like watching Wile E. Coyote open a package of dynamite he ordered. No matter how clever his scheme, you know that sooner or later, he'll get blown up. He never seems to figure out that TNT is something to avoid. Some people in Washington are sick of trying to get the government of Iran to change its ways—which include financing terrorism, punishing dissent, and supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad. They have embraced another idea: Help topple the rulers in Tehran in hopes of getting someone more to our liking. This is a reminder of the maxim that for many people, the only use of history is to disregard it. The United States has a long history of fomenting regime change in other countries—including Iran, in a CIA-sponsored coup in 1953—and the results have generally been calamitous. Yet its appeal persists. While he was in Congress, CIA Director Mike Pompeo endorsed the removal of the existing government. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for a "peaceful transition" to a new regime in Iran. Among those captivated by the idea is Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas). He told Politico, "I don't see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism." How could America be safe as long as Russia was ruled by a blood-drenched Communist regime that enslaved half of Europe and had the capacity to destroy us in a nuclear holocaust? Through a strong military, firm alliances, and a missile arsenal that ensured our capacity to destroy it in return. The same approach that worked against a hostile superpower could work against a hostile non-superpower. But there have always been Americans who yearn for perfect safety. It's a snare. A certain amount of danger is unavoidable in a multinational world. And the dangers of trying to achieve total security turn out to be the worst dangers of all. It was not Iran that spawned the scariest enemy now on the horizon—the Islamic State group. It was the U.S. occupation of Iraq after we invaded in 2003 to, yes, topple the government. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were among those who thought America could never be safe as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. As it happened, America was safer with him than it has been without him. The invasion bogged us down in a bewildering civil war that left 36,000 Americans dead or wounded, destabilized the region, and expanded the influence of ... Iran. The theocratic despotism in Tehran is stronger today than it was in 2003. "Iran not only lost an enemy when Saddam was hanged, it gained an ally in the new Iraq," wrote Thomas Ricks, author of two books about the war. It also came out ahead when we invaded Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban government, another enemy of Tehran. Our reward was the opportunity to fight a war that has lasted 16 years and shows no sign of nearing the end. Regime change in Libya didn't go so well, either. Because it was hard to imagine that anything could be worse than the vicious rule of Moammar Gadhafi, President Barack Obama saw no downside in using air power to bring him down. But success was fleeting. Soon, Libya was embroiled in anarchy and overrun by the Islamic State, with repercussions far beyond its shores. "The instability in Libya and North Africa may be the most significant near-term threat to U.S. and allies' interests on the continent," Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of the U.S. Africa Command, said in March. A half-million of the refugees flooding Europe came from Libya. So did Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people in a suicide bombing in Manchester, England, last month. Faced with a perennially hostile government, our best bet is to use pressure and diplomacy to [...]

‘Get Out or We Will Kill You’: Jewish Students Allege Censorship and Harassment in Campus Lawsuit

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 12:10:00 -0400

In a federal lawsuit filed last week, a group of Jewish plaintiffs allege that San Francisco State University has systematically turned a blind eye to—and in some instances actively facilitated—censorship and harassment of Jewish students and speakers on the public university's campus. The lawsuit points, in particular, to the 2016 disruption of a speech by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, numerous incidents of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel speech on campus, as well as an incident in which the Jewish student organization Hillel was allegedly banned from a student fair. Opinions about the lawsuit fall along predictable dividing lines. The editorial board of J., the Jewish News of Northern California, praised the suit and argued that the protesters at the Nir Barkat event had "trampled the free speech rights of Jewish students." On the other hand, Dima Khalidi of Palestine Legal called the Barkat protest "political speech that is protected by the First Amendment" and said that "the complaint is going to fail." Both sides have a point. The lawsuit raises real concerns about the treatment of Jewish students at SFSU. But the plaintiffs seem to want it both ways: Even as the suit contends that SFSU is violating the free speech rights of Jewish students, it also demands that the university censor protected speech by Palestinian students and their allies, citing anti-Jewish harassment. As Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote, "the freedom to speak and freedom to hear are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin." If, as the lawsuit alleges, SFSU officials told campus police to "stand down" while anti-Israel protesters disrupted Nir Barkat's speech, the university may indeed have violated students' First Amendment rights to invite and hear a speaker of their choosing. Video footage of Barkat's attempt to speak at SFSU last year shows protesters engaging in loud, sustained chanting while students attending the speech huddle around a seated Barkat in an attempt to hear him. While protest is indeed protected by the First Amendment (as is a normal level of "booing" and brief interruptions from the audience), the right to protest does not extend to the right to be so vocally disruptive, for such a prolonged period of time, that the speaker cannot be heard. And if, as the suit alleges, the university allowed the Hillel student group to be excluded from tabling at a university-sponsored fair because of the organization's viewpoint, that too could constitute a First Amendment violation at a public university like SFSU. Moving from the First Amendment to the harassment claims, some of the speech cited by the plaintiffs may have crossed the line from protected speech into unprotected threats, such as counter-protesters allegedly yelling "get out or we will kill you" at Jewish students participating in a Hillel-sponsored peace rally. Other parts of the lawsuit, however, point to examples of clearly protected speech and expression as grounds for the claim that a "hostile environment" exists for Jewish students on campus. In alleging that the university has been deliberately indifferent to a racially hostile environment, the plaintiffs point to examples of constitutionally protected political expression such as posters featuring a picture of a dead baby with the caption "Made in Israel—Palestinian Children Meat, Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License," as well as students holding placards proclaiming "my heroes have always killed colonizers" and "resistance is not terrorism" alongside portraits of Leila Khaled, the first female airplane hijacker. It is not difficult to see why such speech would offend many students, but asking a government institution like SFSU to police[...]

Interventionism and Domestic Russia Hysteria Ratchet Up Syria Tensions

Mon, 19 Jun 2017 14:44:00 -0400

An American warplane "immediately" shot down a Syrian fighter jet that the U.S. military accused of dropping bombs "near" U.S.-backed fighters in a town in the Raqqa province "in accordance with the rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces," read a statement from the U.S. Central Command declares. The incident was preceded by an attack by pro-government forces on some U.S.-backed rebels nearby, and it was followed by a statement from Russia that it would suspend cooperation with the U.S. over Syria and treat coalition aircraft as potential targets. This escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Russia illustrates the dangers of wanton military intervention. The U.S.-led coalition in Syria is ostensibly focused on fighting ISIS, a terrorist organization that styles itself a caliphate. Yet the coalition acts independently of Russia, which was invited into Syria by the government, and it acts independently of countries like Iran, which have also been threatened by ISIS but are unwilling to follow the American line. The U.S.-led coalition has taken a lot of pressure off regional powers, even though ISIS threatens their security and territorial integrity far more than it threatens America. The presence of Western countries in the coalition has also reduced the need for states in the region to try to set aside their differences and cooperate on their own. America's toxic domestic climate when it comes to Russia has also made the situation in Syria more dangerous. Constant accusations of collusion between Moscow and the Donald Trump campaign have increased the political cost of cooperation with Russia. While Trump campaigned on improving relations with Russia, since assuming the presidency he has largely adopted the sorts of stances that Russia hawk Hillary Clinton might have been expected to take. Meanwhile, much of the mainstream media had an adulatory reaction to Trump's decision to bomb a Syrian airbase earlier this year—a response that taught Trump that "bold" military actions create strong political leaders. It's hard not to wonder whether this weekend's confrontation was influenced by the president's desire to shake off those accusations of Russia collusion. According to U.S. Central Command, pro-regime forces drove the rebels out of town. The coalition then "contacted its Russian counterparts by telephone via an established 'de-confliction line' to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing." It was after that, according to U.S. Central Command, that the Syrian plane dropped bombs near rebel forces and was subsequently shot down. "This strike can be regarded as another act of defiance of international law by the United States," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, according to CNN. "What was it, if not an act of aggression? It was also an act of assistance to those terrorists whom the United States is ostensibly fighting against." Russia's Ministry of Defense now says it will consider any coalition jet west of the Euphrates a potential target. The Euphrates runs, more or less, through the eastern portion of Syria. About two-thirds of the country—including Aleppo, its largest city, and Damascus, its capital—lie west of the Euphrates. The city of Raqqa, which ISIS claims as its capital, lies just north and east of the river. The pilot of the Syrian fighter jet was able to eject from the plane, but his fate is presently unknown.[...]