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Middle East



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



Published: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 23 Jul 2017 18:27:44 -0400

 



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 the show, but there were all of these people behind me, and I couldn't stop. I know that I would lose my popularity with a huge amount of people. And then John sai[...]



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:

src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/dY8pUKxSXdI" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

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:

src="https://www.podbean.com/media/player/t4vru-6cf63f?from=site&vjs=1&skin=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0" width="100%" height="315" frameborder="0">

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.com, @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—not to mention the gross expense, risk, and instability regime change would unquestionably produce—is why foreign policy realists argue America can be safe withou[...]



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 moderate its behavior—as Obama did with the Iranian nuclear deal. It's not ideal, but it's the best of our bad options. Relying on any means short of war to overt[...]



‘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 this kind of political rhetoric in the name of preventing a "hostile environment" is a prescription for both First Amendment violations and political side-choosin[...]



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.[...]



Senate Vote on Saudi Arms Deal Fails, But Momentum Against Saudi Alliance Growing

Tue, 13 Jun 2017 15:10:00 -0400

A vote to advance a resolution of disapproval of a $510 million U.S. deal to send precision guided weapons systems to Saudi Arabia failed in the Senate by a vote of 47-53. The resolution received far more support than a similar resolution last year targeting a $1 billion tank deal with Saudi Arabia blocked by the Obama administration. The vote indicates support is growing to question the foreign policy establishment status quo. This even as President Trump is abandoning the challenges of the underlying assumptions of U.S. foreign policy and the U.S.'s entangling alliances he made during his campaign. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a main sponsor of the resolution, admitted to reporters today the vote was purely symbolic, noting that that the House is unlikely to bring it up and that even if it passed Trump would veto it anyway. "How do we figure out how to have less war?" Paul asked reporters. "That's the big question. I'm not willing to invade Saudi Arabia to tell them what to do, but we don't have to support them." Last year's resolution, sponsored like this one by Paul, Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.), sought to disapprove the sale of Abrams tanks and other arms to Saudi Arabia. It failed by a vote of 71-27 to table the resolution. Paul called today's vote a "continuation" of the last one. "We had a vote [last year], and we lost the vote, which I think is a good example of losing the vote but changing the policy," Paul told Reason. "We lost the vote, but then Obama said well maybe we shouldn't give them the special guided missiles, and then Trump has brought it back again." Paul predicted beforehand that there would be a lot more support from Democrats and most Democrats supported today's resolution, which disapproved of the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. The Obama administration expressed concern over the way Saudi Arabia was conducting its military operations in the Yemen civil war when barring the sale last year. While Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and other supporters of the arms deal argued the precision guided systems would reduce civilian deaths, critics challenged that idea. "Saudi Arabia bombed a funeral procession," Paul said on the Senate floor, referring to an October 2016 incident. "There was no mistake here, there was no cloud cover, there was no growth or tops of trees and they accidentally bombed a funeral procession. They bombed them and killed 125 civilians in a funeral. They wounded 500." Rights groups expressed similar concerns. "Despite increased U.S. support in the form of training and smarter weaponry to lessen civilian casualties, it has become clear that several unaddressed flaws in Saudi Arabia's targeting process, not the precision of the munition or targeting skill, are the principal cause of harm," read a letter signed by Oxfam and 40 other humanitarian groups and sent to every member of the U.S. Senate. "According to analysis released by the American Bar Association, resuming unconditional sales of these weapons to Saudi Arabia violates the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act." That ABA report found that the U.S. could not "continue to rely on Saudi assurances that it will comply with international law and agreements concerning the use of U.S.-origin equipment." Oxfam has warned that Yemen, embroiled in a two-year civil war, is on the verge of famine, with nearly 7 million Yemenis facing starvation. "We need to realize that we are a part of it," Paul said, referring to the ongoing Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, which rights groups say is preventing food and humanitarian supplies from reaching the country. "Am I going to send one of my three sons to fight a war in Yemen?" Paul asked. "I'd have no idea what they were fighting for." As recently as September 2014, President Obama had pointed t[...]



Rand Paul on Blocking Indefinite Detention and Saudi Arms Sales

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 11:14:00 -0400

When Rand Paul dropped out of the presidential race in February 2016, the self-described "libertarianish" senator from Kentucky vowed: "I will continue to fight for criminal justice reform, for privacy, and your Fourth Amendment rights. I will continue to champion due process over indefinite detention." On Thursday, amid the hullaballoo of former FBI director James Comey's dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill, Paul brought a handful of libertarian reporters inside his Senate office to discuss his recent work on these projects.

Front and center is a new piece of legislation, introduced this week, to once and for all ban indefinite detention. With the working title of "The Sixth Amendment Preservation Act," Paul's bill "prevents any future military force authorization from being used to justify indefinite detention without trial," according to a summary prepared by his office. More from that:

Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act unconstitutionally declares that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force allows our Armed Forces to indefinitely detain citizens, legal residents, and foreign nationals who are alleged to have engaged in hostilities against the United States. This means U.S. citizens apprehended within the boundaries of the U.S. could be held indefinitely without trial.

The Sixth Amendment Preservation Act repeals section 1021 making it clear that no military force resolution can legalize indefinite detention without a trial and seeks to restore our constitutional commitment to individual liberty.

Emphasis in original. "You never know who could be in the White House," Paul explained Thursday. "Could someone be there that would actually take away all of our rights and begin arresting us for who we are, what we are, what we think, what we read? And so I consider this to be one of the most important pieces of legislation that we'll put forward."

Also covered in the discussion: the senator's efforts to vote down the recent blockbuster arms sale to Saudi Arabia ("winning a battle like this would send a huge message out there"), the Trump administration's tough-on-crime posture ("I think there's very little of this attorney general, this Department of Justice, doing anything favorable towards criminal justice or towards civil liberties"), criticism of Paul's vote to confirm Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his reaction to the Comey hearing, which we teased out yesterday.

Produced and edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Krainin and Mark McDaniel.

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Rand Paul on Blocking Indefinite Detention and Saudi Arms Sales

Fri, 09 Jun 2017 10:55:00 -0400

When Rand Paul dropped out of the presidential race in February 2016, the self-described "libertarianish" senator from Kentucky vowed: "I will continue to fight for criminal justice reform, for privacy, and your Fourth Amendment rights. I will continue to champion due process over indefinite detention." On Thursday, amid the hullaballoo of former FBI director James Comey's dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill, Paul brought a handful of libertarian reporters inside his Senate office to discuss his recent work on these projects. Front and center is a new piece of legislation, introduced this week, to once and for all ban indefinite detention. With the working title of "The Sixth Amendment Preservation Act," Paul's bill "prevents any future military force authorization from being used to justify indefinite detention without trial," according to a summary prepared by his office. More from that: Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act unconstitutionally declares that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force allows our Armed Forces to indefinitely detain citizens, legal residents, and foreign nationals who are alleged to have engaged in hostilities against the United States. This means U.S. citizens apprehended within the boundaries of the U.S. could be held indefinitely without trial. The Sixth Amendment Preservation Act repeals section 1021 making it clear that no military force resolution can legalize indefinite detention without a trial and seeks to restore our constitutional commitment to individual liberty. Emphasis in original. "You never know who could be in the White House," Paul explained Thursday. "Could someone be there that would actually take away all of our rights and begin arresting us for who we are, what we are, what we think, what we read? And so I consider this to be one of the most important pieces of legislation that we'll put forward." Also covered in the discussion: the senator's efforts to vote down the recent blockbuster arms sale to Saudi Arabia ("winning a battle like this would send a huge message out there"), the Trump administration's tough-on-crime posture ("I think there's very little of this attorney general, this Department of Justice, doing anything favorable towards criminal justice or towards civil liberties"), criticism of Paul's vote to confirm Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and his reaction to the Comey hearing, which we teased out yesterday. Watch an edit of our exchange here: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ZWadlrFil54" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0"> Reason on Rand Paul here.[...]



Trump: Uniquely Qualified for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace Deal?

Tue, 23 May 2017 17:45:00 -0400

(image) For decades American presidents have tried, with varying degrees of effort and to varying degrees of success, to negotiate a peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Donald Trump, with his apparent lack of interest both in policy detail and in pretending the U.S. is a neutral party, could be uniquely qualified to accomplish what has eluded his predecessors.

Since the Camp David talks of the mid-1970s, the term "peace process" has mostly meant American-led negotiations. That in itself is a problem: When the U.S. takes too large a role in the talks, it removes the pressure from Palestinian and Israeli diplomats to arrive at a deal on their own. But Trump has shown little capacity for the kind of long-term, sustained attention that allows Israelis and Palestinians to abdicate their leadership.

That attention, full of "shuttle diplomacy" and frenetic attempts at legacy-building, rarely moves the peace process forward in a meaningful way. U.S. disengagement, by any avenue, could create the space for real progress.

Trump has also shown little interest in upholding some of the fictions of American diplomacy. When he declares that his administration will "always stand with Israel," he adds none of the nuance of the Obama era, when such language of friendship was constantly coupled with promises to hold Israel accountable. Trump's rhetoric matches the reality on the ground: Since Israel is one of the top recipients of U.S. military aid, negotiators won't see Washington as a neutral party even if the U.S. would like to assume that role.

Trump has, in fact, said he wanted to remain neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Let me sort of be a neutral guy," he said at one campaign stop last year. "I don't want to say whose fault is it. I don't think it helps." This desire did not stop Trump from making unabashedly pro-Israel statements during the campaign or since taking the presidency. With any other politician, a desire for neutrality would be incompatible with statements of unqualified friendship. But Trump is not a typical politician, and his propensity to make contradictory statements without even attempting to reconcile them has arguably destroyed the credibility of his presidency.

Whatever else that might do, it could have the salutory effect of giving Israeli and Palestinian negotiators the impression that they're on their own. A long series of active and respected American presidents have been unable to move the peace process forward. Maybe an inactive president with little credibility is just the jumpstart the negotiations need.




Trump's Saudi Trip Wasn't a Break From Tradition

Mon, 22 May 2017 19:02:00 -0400

Want to see the disconnect between America's actual foreign policy and the way many media professionals imagine it? Check out Anne Applebaum's Washington Post column calling Donald Trump's stop in Saudi Arabia a "bizarre and un-American visit." Applebaum complains that Saudi Arabia, a longstanding beneficiary of U.S. largesse, was a "very strange choice for a first trip abroad" because the last four presidents made their first foreign stops in Mexico or Canada instead. This critique is more about optics than substance, but she's right to see a shift here. The last five presidents, not four—and six of the last seven—had their first foreign excursions in either Canada or Mexico. Ronald Reagan never visited Saudi Arabia. George W. Bush didn't go there until the last year of his presidency. Barack Obama, on the other hand, visited in June 2009, not much later in his presidency than Trump, although he had made nine other foreign trips before then. Obama also visited the kingdom a record four times. (No other president had visited more than twice.) This shift doesn't reflect a specific policy goal of the Trump (or Obama) administration so much as a broader realignment of American priorities. Counterterrorism has taken on an ever more central role in U.S. foreign policy, and Saudi Arabia is America's largest Muslim-majority ally in the Middle East, despite its record of supporting the sort of Islamist extremism that contributes to terrorism. The U.S. has a long history of linking up with murderous dictatorships when it suits America's short-term foreign policy goals, with little regard for potential blowback. The unquestioned alliance with Saudi Arabia is part of that proud tradition. Applebaum complains that Saudi Arabia was Trump's first stop overseas, but what's really troubling is that the president has abandoned his campaign rhetoric questioning such relationships. Applebaum is aware of Saudi support for Islamism; indeed, her second complaint is that Saudi Arabia is a "strange place to speak out against Islamic extremism" because the government there subsidizes certain strains of extremism. True enough, though there really isn't a perfect venue for a speech on Islam. Obama delivered his first-year Islam speech in Cairo, the capital of a secular murderous dictatorship—and also went to Saudi Arabia first to, in his own words, seek the king's counsel on Islam. A similar amnesia afflicts Applebaum when she objects to Trump's participation in the sword dance, a traditional Saudi ritual. "[U]ntil now," she claims, "American presidents made it clear that, while we have to deal with Saudi leaders, we don't endorse their culture. Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others in the delegation did exactly that, by participating in this sinister all-male dance." There's just one problem with that take: George W. Bush also participated in the sword dance when he visited Saudi Arabia. And U.S. presidents regularly "endorse" Saudi culture by participating in various cultural activities while there. It's U.S. spending, not a sword dance, that underwrites the Saudis' reactionary and repressive regime; it's U.S. spending, not a medal or a bow, that raises thorny questions about how much responsibilty we bear for Riyadh's repression at home or its brutal war in Yemen. But acknowledging that means acknowledging that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is a longstanding, bipartisan project, and not simply the product of a single American president who appears enamored with strongman leaders. After complaining that the Trump administration appeared to embrace repressive Saudi culture, Applebaum also manages to complain about Tillerson denouncing human rights violations in Iran. "Yes, American[...]



Trump To Muslim World: Peace Only Possible "if your Nations Drive Out the Terrorists and Extremists"

Sun, 21 May 2017 15:50:00 -0400

President Donald Trump's speech in Saudi Arabia was in many ways window-dressing to a new, $110-billion arms deal with one of the most repressive regimes on the planet. But his 30-minute talk, televised widely through the Arab and Muslim worlds, is an interesting statement that's worth spending serious time with. If Candidate Trump was openly scornful of Islam, often denouncing it as an inherently violent religion, he's singing a different tune now, saying he's not interested in how countries conduct their internal affairs as long as they don't export terrorists. America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens. We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership—based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all. Beyond in the rejection of what he would call a globalist worldview, Trump seems to be signaling a return to a non-humanitarian dimension to U.S. foreign policy. The problem is that he specifically justified his ineffective bombing of a Syrian airstrip on humanitarian grounds (that the Assad government had used prohibited chemical weapons on innocent civilians). More important, while he sounded somewhat non-interventionist as a candidate at times, he also pledged to "bomb the shit" out of Muslim terrorists in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a promise he has shown signs of keeping, even beyond Syria. It's worth pointing out, too, that even when the U.S. government has embraced or eschewed humanitarian motivations for foreign policy, it has never been constrained by such declarations. To pretend, for instance, that Bill Clinton's various interventions and actions were motivated by humanitarian concerns rather than vulgar domestic politics requires a suspension of disbelief beyond that of the most-devoted fan of Starlight Express or Cop Rock. Yet from a libertarian perspective at least, it's good to hear a president rhetorically lay out a foreign policy that is basically limited to defending American interests rather than saving the world (how many countries and innocent people must die to prove America is virtuous?). Same, too, with getting overly involved with the internal workings of foreign countries. America should always be a place of refuge for people fleeing tyranny and oppression, and our government can and should exert influence to liberalize and open-up repressive hellholes. But the past 15 years of U.S. interventions (and if we're being honest, most of our overseas adventuring before that) have clearly failed. Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson's campaign may have floundered due to some misstatements about the Syrian civil war, but he was right in saying the United States should use trade, cultural exchange, and diplomacy to affect other countries. We simply don't have the knowledge or resources to bully or beat the world into our shape. Military intervention, regime change, and all the rest should be last resorts and exceptionally rare. The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children. It is a choice between two futures—and it is a choice America CANNOT make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. Drive. Them. Out. DRIVE THEM OUT of your places of worship. DRIVE THEM OUT of your communities. DRIVE THEM OUT of your holy land, and DRIVE THEM OUT OF THIS EARTH. For our part, Amer[...]