Published: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Last Build Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2016 03:57:36 -0400
Mon, 26 Sep 2016 12:55:00 -0400
(image) The Senate blocked an effort by Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) to nix a $1.5 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which is engaged in a war of choice in Yemen, where the U.S.- and Saudi-backed government was overthrown by Iranian-backed rebels in 2014. Al-Monitor described the vote (71-27 to dismiss the measure) as the Senate "in effect casting the first vote on US participation after 18 months of war in Yemen."
Even if Paul's measure had passed both houses of Congress, it's unlikely there would be enough support to override the president's veto. And the Obama administration has completed more than $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia so far.
In The Atlantic, Samuel Oakford and Peter Salisbury call Yemen the "graveyard of the Obama doctrine," noting U.S. involvement in the proxy war contradicted rhetoric the president deployed at the United Nations this month, where he bemoaned proxy wars as one of the factors preventing conflict resolution in the Middle East. "No external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to co-exist for long," the president told a gathering of world leaders at the U.N. this month.
Yemen used to be one of Obama's vaunted success stories. Two short years ago the White House was pointing to it as a model of success in the war on terror. Who knew launching drone strikes based on information fed to the U.S. by a long-time dictator would help destabilize the country and encourage a rebellion that would ultimately be successful?
As Trevor Thrall and John Glaser argued here at Reason earlier this year, U.S. support of Saudi Arabia has enabled Saudi ruthlessness in Yemen. The proxy war, they argued, "compromises both U.S. interests and its moral standing" by expanding a power vacuum that benefits Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the initial impetus for U.S. bombing campaigns in Yemen and which opposes the Houthi rebels. A Dutch attempt to get a United Nations inquiry into human rights violations and other war crimes in Yemen was blocked at the European Union last week by the United Kingdom.
Mon, 19 Sep 2016 11:40:00 -0400The City University of New York (CUNY) released a report earlier this month, detailing an independent investigation conducted by former federal judge Barbara Jones and former federal prosecutor Paul Schechtman into whether the actions of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) had contributed to an intimidating atmosphere of anti-Semitism and violence on CUNY campuses. The extensive investigation—spurred by a letter written by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) that claimed SJP's actions had left Jewish students feeling "harassed, threatened, and even physically unsafe"—has led the authors of the report to conclude that it would be a "mistake" to "blame SJP for any act of anti-Semitism on any CUNY campus," and rejected calls to ban the pro-Palestinian group. Noting that many of SJP's theatrical protest tactics such as "die-ins," mock checkpoints, and its annual "Israel apartheid week," constitute protected speech, the authors wrote, "Political speech is often provocative and challenging, but that is why it is vital to university life. If college students are not exposed to views with which they may disagree, their college has short-changed them." This is precisely correct, and also leaves room for the university to take a stand against "hate speech," in the form of condemnation, but not officially sanctioned punishment. Also from the report: As a public university, CUNY is limited in the ways that it can respond to hate speech, whether the words are anti-Semitic, racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-LGBT. CUNY cannot punish such speech unless it is part of a course of conduct so pervasive or severe that it denies a person's ability to pursue an education or participate in University life. It cannot mandate civility or sanction isolated derogatory comments. But what CUNY cannot punish, it can still condemn. As a general rule, CUNY's Administrators and College Presidents have spoken out against anti-Semitic comments. That practice must continue; hate speech must be challenged promptly and forcefully lest it breed. Earlier this year, the University of California Board of Regents moved to ban "anti-Zionism" as a form of hate speech, and the New York State Senate voted to pass a bill that would defund student groups that so much as encouraged boycotts of certain countries (Israel among them). The bill died, but only because the New York State Assembly failed to vote on it before the legislative session ended. Pointing out the absurdity and seemingly arbitrary nature of a law that would ban college students from expressing themselves politically about some countries but not others, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) created the handy info-graphic below. FIRE's Adam Steinbaugh notes that because of the language of the bill, the Vatican, Sweden, India, all of Africa, and most of Asia would have been subject to calls for boycotts on-campus, but not Cuba, Pakistan, Venezuela, or Turkey. Three cheers for unproductive government, because had this bill made it into the Assembly, it would have very likely passed, and free speech on campus would have suffered a staggering defeat.[...]
Thu, 15 Sep 2016 14:55:00 -0400The U.S. State Department signed a "memo of understanding" with Israel yesterday that will provide the Jewish state with $38 billion in U.S. military aid over the next 10 years. This new agreement ups the annual U.S. aid to Israel from the current figure of $3.1 billion to $3.8 billion. But the real winner of this expanding taxpayer subsidy is the U.S. defense industry, which will eventually receive every cent of that aid package, according to the terms of this new deal. Previously, Israel had enjoyed a privileged status among U.S. military aid recipients, as the only country permitted to spend up 26 percent of its U.S. aid on its own defense industry—including research and development. This new deal begins the phasing out of that part of the deal. The Washington Post notes, "Israel was granted that exception in the 1980s so it could build up its nascent defense infrastructure. With Israel's defense industry now thriving, the Obama administration wanted U.S. aid directed to American companies providing goods and services." This agreement coming together in the waning days of the Obama administration comes as a bit of a surprise considering the long-fraught relationship between the president and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but Netanyahu reportedly wanted a deal done prior to the U.S. presidential election. To ensure it all came together in a timely fashion, "Bibi" lowered his asking original asking price of "$4 billion to $5 billion a year," according to the Post. Some supporters of Israel don't want think it should be soliciting or accepting the U.S.'s "strings attached" aid, but considering that the past three U.S. administrations have been forceful in their opposition to the creation of illegal Israel settlements—which have nonetheless doubled in population since 1993—the U.S. has never withheld aid, and support for Israel in Congress is all but unanimous. But the Israeli economy is booming and has essentially doubled over the past decade, and despite the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) description of the billions in U.S. aid as "the most tangible manifestation of American support," there have even been calls from Israeli leaders to cut the cord of military aid, allowing the two allied countries to maintain their special relationship without such a grand subsidy. In 2014, I wrote an article for Reason titled "Death, Taxes, and American Aid to Israel" which included this passage: In 1996, Israel's prime minister addressed a joint session of Congress, offering thanks for "all that we have received from the United States (and) this chamber." He added, "But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America's long-standing economic aid to Israel than (to) achieve economic independence." He proposed "gradually reducing the level" of U.S. aid to Israel and ultimately ending it altogether. That Israeli Prime Minster's name was Benjamin Netanyahu. src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UzyDVk3XDDw" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Sun, 11 Sep 2016 14:30:00 -0400
(image) Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, appearing on ABC's The Week this morning, told host George Stephanopoulos that Donald Trump's repeated assertion that the U.S. should have taken Iraq's oil following the 2003 invasion would have been legal, because "It's war...until the war is over, anything is legal."
Giuliani insisted the Republican presidential nominee was not talking about stealing Iraq's natural resources to benefit U.S. financial interests, but to keep the oil out of the hands of groups like ISIS "and distribute it in a proper way."
The former mayor, who for a while was dubbed "America's Mayor" for his handling of media relations during the chaotic days after 9/11 and was an early front-runner for the 2008 GOP nomination, appears to be oblivious of the many international treaties, conventions, and laws that prohibit the pillaging of private property in occupied countries.
Much like Donald Trump's insistence that the military would not refuse his orders to torture captives or bomb the families of suspected terrorists, Giuliani's ignorance of the concept of war crimes should be the kind of statement that "disqualifies" someone to be president, but this is 2016, where not immediately recognizing the name of a city in Syria gets you awarded the "Worst Week in Washington" by Beltway pundits.
Watch Giuliani's exchange on The Week below:
Fri, 09 Sep 2016 08:26:00 -0400
(image) So what did we learn from yesterday's impromptu lesson on how little everyone in the United States—from presidential candidates to former Iraqi ambassadors to the planet's "paper of record"—actually knows about the six-year-old Syrian civil war?
Various things, I suppose, but for me the big reveal goes something like this: The commentariat is far more interested in discussing the media fallout of blunders such as Gary Johnson's cringe-inducing "What Is Aleppo?" remark than actually discussing what various candidates plan to do regarding U.S. foreign policy.
Saw a ton of stories and cable segments in the past 24 hours about whether this means lights out for the Libertarian nominee but precious little time devoted to the the actual answer about Syria he gave on Morning Joe. Consistent with his stated positions, Johnson argued that pushing for regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere has destabilized whole regions and basically come a cropper, both for the people stuck in the places we've liberated and Americans here at home. Our role, he said, should be limited to bringing about a diplomatic solution, which means involving Russia, Iran, and other regional players to create a less-lethal status quo. Sounds pretty good to me, to be honest, especially after a dozen-plus-years of essentially complete U.S. failure in the area. But really, why should we actually discuss foreign policy and debate America's military role in the world when we can just go into an endless loop of navel-gazing about horse-race politics?
The insistence on superficial analysis is, I think, rooted in a presentism that infects most journalism and politics, but is particularly visible in cable news. Flash a heartbreaking picture of an ash-covered Syrian orphan and then demand of all viewers, guests, and policymakers: "What are you going to do to fix this or make sure this never happens again?" The last thing anyone seems interested in or capable of is discussing why such images predictably flow from American military actions. Sometimes it's mere days, other times it's years later, and it's always independent of actual intentions of interventions, but there you have it. Rather than hosting substantive conversations and debates about different ways of deploying (or not) American might around the globe, we get something that distracts us from important questions and does nothing to clarify all the troubles in the world—even as it sets up the next cycle of violence and despair.
Here's an excellent video circulating on Facebook that lays out all the ways in which the United States and other groups involved in Syria are teaming up with allies and enemies in ways that make the ever-changing alliances in Orwell's 1984 seem positively straightforward. "Oceania was at war with Eastasia. Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia." Except of course, when Oceania was supplying arms to rebels who were clients of Eurasia but actually working with Eastasia to destabilize Oceania while promoting a separate, non-allied homeland...
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Thu, 08 Sep 2016 15:55:00 -0400
(image) Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson finally got his viral moment. Unfortunately for him, it was a gaffe. Asked on Morning Joe what he would, if he were elected, "about Aleppo," Johnson asked what "an Aleppo" was. The interviewer explained that Aleppo was the "epicenter of the refugee crisis."
Had the interviewer, Mike Barnicle, called Aleppo the "epicenter of the Syrian refugee crisis," he would be less incorrect, but still incorrect. Aleppo may have since the start of the Syrian civil war become the most well-known Syrian city in the U.S. outside of the Syrian capital of Damascus (The New York Times, in reporting on Johnson's flub, even incorrectly identified Aleppo as the capital of Syria) and may be the site of some of the most intense fighting, but the crisis in Syria involves the entire country. Aleppo is a major city which has seen fighting between government forces and various anti-government forces ranging from the so-called moderate and U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army to the Islamic State (ISIS). But ISIS controls large swaths of Syrian territory and government forces are engaged in fights around the country.
Because of the prominence of the Syrian civil war in international news, Syrian refugees are the most identifiable refugees today. But the refugee crisis is not fueled exclusively, or even primarily, by Syrian refugees. For example, in 2015, while more refugees in Europe came from Syria than anywhere else, they made up less than half of the refugee total. The second and third most common place of origin for refugees in Europe applying for asylum for the first time in 2015 were Afghanistan and Iraq. That fact suggests the reason why so many Western observers, and especially American "thought leaders", prefer to talk about a Syrian refugee crisis than a wider regional refugee crisis—U.S. involvement in Syria, such as it is, is far less obvious and intense than U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was and continues to be.
Before President Obama committed in the last year to accepting 10,000 of the 4 million refugees produced by the Syrian conflict, the U.S. spent the first several years of the Syrian civil war accepting virtually no refugees from Syria out of the about 60,000 to 80,000 or so refugees accepted into the U.S. each year. In fiscal year 2014, for example, the U.S. accepted 105 Syrian refugees, and in fiscal year 2015, the first year in which Syrian refugees became a prominent enough issue on the political stage to yield some kind of action, 1,682. Neither did the general flow of refugees become a contentious issue until the last year. The U.S. has been accepting tens of thousands of Muslim refugees, largely from countries in which U.S. intervention has helped create an environment where terrorism thrives. In fiscal year 2015, the U.S. accepted 12,676 refugees from Iraq, and 8,858 from Somalia. The only country from which more refugees came was Burma.
It's more convenient for the foreign policy establishment and its apologists to talk about the Syrian refugee crisis, because it's easier to imply (however incorrectly) that it is the result of U.S. inaction. The large numbers of refugees from countries the U.S. has helped destabilize make those kinds of implications, and the case in favor of even more U.S. intervention, harder to make.
Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:15:00 -0400Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson scored the biggest publicity his campaign has received thus far following a foreign-policy gaffe on MSNBC's Morning Joe earlier this morning. Interviewer Mike Barnicle asked Johnson what he would do about Aleppo if elected President. Johnson replied, "And what is Aleppo?" Barnicle, aghast, remarked "You're kidding," before informing the man currently polling in third place to be commander in chief of the most powerful military in the history of the world that Aleppo is the epicenter of the Syrian refugee crisis. Watch the full exchange below: src="http://player.theplatform.com/p/7wvmTC/MSNBCEmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_mj_aleppo_160908" width="635" height="500" frameborder="0"> This is a serious blunder by Johnson, who has said he will be slower to intervene militarily abroad than Hillary Clinton and that Donald Trump's promise to "bomb the shit out of ISIS" is uninformed policy. Johnson has pushed the idea that libertarians are not isolationists, but that there are better ways to help with situations such as Syria than sending U.S. troops, arming unvetted rebels, or using extralegal drone strikes which inevitably kill civilians. Johnson's Aleppo gaffe gives ammunition to those who think Libertarians are inherently unserious (especially about defense and foreign policy) and a pointless distraction from the two major-party candidates. Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough concluded today's show by remarking that Johnson's gaffe rendered him "unqualified to be president of the United States." Barnicle added that Johnson expressed "an appalling lack of knowledge." Following the segment, Johnson ran into MSNBC's Mark Halperin in the lobby of the NBC studios, who told the Libertarian candidate that his segment "is going to be a big flap, I promise you. It already is." Johnson admitted, "I'm incredibly frustrated with myself." And yet Johnson is hardly alone when it comes to Syria gaffes. Former Obama administration ambassador to Iraq, Chris Hill, followed Johnson on Morning Joe and mocked the former New Mexico governor's "blank stare." Hill predicted that "he will now be known as 'Aleppo Johnson'" and then called Aleppo "the capital of ISIS." In fact, Raqqa, not Aleppo, is widely considered the capital of the self-declared caliphate known as the Islamic State. The New York Times incorrectly referred to Aleppo as "the capital" of ISIS three times in its quick take on Johnson's screw-up before adding a correction to the bottom of the page. Even that correction required a correction, as it initially referred to Aleppo as Syria's capital, when it is in fact, Damascus. Foreign-policy misstatements actually are a staple of presidential elections. In 1999, George W. Bush scored 25 percent on a foreign policy quiz given to him by an NBC affiliate. He was unable to name the presidents of India, Pakistan, Chechnya, as well as the foreign minister of Mexico. During a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford insisted that "there is no Soviet domination of eastern Europe." Just last night in a forum about veterans issues and foreign policy to which Johnson was not invited, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared not to know that Libya is in a state of civil war. That the war is a result of the power vacuum created by the military intervention she aggressively pushed for while serving in Obama's cabinet makes her oversight particularly distressing. None of these examples of past campaign gaffes excuses Johnson's "blank stare" when asked about Aleppo. He and his running mate and the Libertarian Party have been insisting that they belong on the main debate stage, where they would prove both that their ideas are viable and their ability to effectively govern is based on sound footing. Choking on a simple question about what he would do about the refugee crisis by not knowing a major Syrian city is a completely fair mistake for whic[...]
Fri, 26 Aug 2016 12:30:00 -0400
(image) The iPhone security breach that prompted the latest Apple software update is not about encryption, but it's still very important for Western government officials who want to meddle with tech security standards in service of their own national security agendas to pay attention.
Apple just released a new security update for iPhone and iPad users because of what recently happened to Ahmed Mansoor, a human rights advocate and promoter of a free press and democracy in the United Arab Emirates. Mansoor was sent a link in a text from an unknown source that said it would show him information about torture within UAE's prisons. This was lie, which he fortunately did not fall for. The link would have actually installed spyware within his phone that would have allowed hackers to snoop on Mansoor and even remotely activate the phone's camera.
Mansoor has been targeted before, and fortunately for him (and all Apple users), he knew who to turn to in order to investigate the malware. Citizen Lab figured out the nature and purpose of the malware, which has been traced back to a secretive Israeli-based firm. This makes things a bit, well, as the Associated Press diplomatically describes it, awkward:
The apparent discovery of Israeli-made spyware being used to target a dissident in the United Arab Emirates raises awkward questions for both countries. The use of Israeli technology to police its own citizens is an uncomfortable strategy for an Arab country with no formal diplomatic ties to the Jewish state. And Israeli complicity in a cyberattack on an Arab dissident would seem to run counter to the country's self-description as a bastion of democracy in the Middle East.
The Associated Press sent a journalist to the Israeli company's headquarters only to find they had recently moved. They have not been able to get authorities from either Israel or UAE to respond. They best they were able to get from the company, NSO Group, was a bland statement that its mission was to provide "authorized governments with technology that helps them combat terror and crime."
That's the kind of statement that should send off warning sirens and alarm bells in the minds of government officials here in the United States and Europe. That's the same kind of motivation lawmakers and investigators claim in calls for tech companies provide them ways to bypass encryption or security of their devices or programs.
At the same time that Mansoor was trying to fend off government-sponsored hacking targeting him because of his human rights advocacy, leaders within France and Germany are calling on the European Union to adopt a law that requires app makers to provide government officials the tools to bypass encryption for the purpose of … helping them combat terror and crime.
Fortunately European human rights and data protection experts are loudly pointing out what a terrible plan this is. There are politicians who still believe that somehow tech companies can create some sort of magical key that only the "right" people can use. This is clearly an absurd contention, but even if it were true, the United Arab Emirates, which has a terrible record of imprisoning its critics, apparently counts as the "right" people.
Wed, 10 Aug 2016 10:00:00 -0400Washington foreign policy gurus still can't get over the idea that we ought to be bombing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Now, like clockwork, another piece has appeared in The New York Times urging aggression against the Syrian regime, this one by Dennis Ross and Andrew Tabler. According to Ross and Tabler, if Assad doesn't comply with a recent accord struck with Russia that restricts his actions, the United States should "punish the Syrian government for violating the truce by using drones and cruise missiles" to take out sensitive regime targets in areas without a Russian military presence. This, they assert, "should persuade [Russia] to make Mr. Assad behave." Let's start with the speciousness of their incentive. Assad's regime has been under endless international pressure. It's been threatened militarily by the United States. By 2015, it had lost 83 percent of its former territory. And yet it kept on fighting without any indication it intends to "behave." The one time Assad did comply with American demands was when Russia stepped in and brokered a deal over his chemical weapons, which is probably why Ross and Tabler think Moscow can bend him now. But Assad is in a much stronger position today and he knows the United States must prioritize fighting terrorism over toppling him. So why should he give in to even the most precisely calibrated of threats? Assad has, as Alexander Cockburn once wrote of Christopher Hitchens, "sloshed his way across his own personal Rubicon." He's reduced his civil war to a choice of total victory or ultimate destruction. There is no going back for him, which is why threats of pinprick Western bombings have failed to sway his behavior. Give it another try—follow Ross's and Tablum's advice—and he'll most likely remain noncompliant, too close to taking Aleppo to stop now. That will mean we'll have to continue bombing, and the mission creep will drag us deeper into a civil war in which we have no compelling option or interest. John Dickinson's advice that "experience must be our only guide" isn't half-bad when applied to foreign policy. So in America's experience, what will happen if we follow this course and bomb Assad? The deposal of both Saddam Hussein and Moammar Qaddafi ripped open vacuums in Iraq and Libya respectively, and extremist militias were happy to fill the voids. Ross and Tabler aren't suggesting toppling Assad, of course, or even severely damaging him, but given the formidable jihadist presence in Syria that's in many cases proximate to Assad's forces, their plan could still end up allowing our enemies to advance. That means not just the Islamic State, but also al-Nusra, the jihad syndicate that severed its ties with al-Qaeda last month for PR purposes, but hasn't changed any of its aims. To wit: Nusra wants to establish Sharia law in Syria and destroy groups it regards as apostates. It's collaborated with the Khorasan group of western Syria that observers believe is plotting an attack on the American homeland. It's toyed with the idea of declaring its own emirate to rival the Islamic State. It differs from ISIS only in that it's more insidious, ingratiating itself to the Syrian people by setting up food drives and avoiding public displays of brutality—at least for now. The bomb-bomb-bomb-Assad crowd counters that our options aren't limited to the regime, al-Nusra, and ISIS. There's a fourth alternative to fill any vacuum created by a weakened Assad: nationalist rebels from groups like the Free Syrian Army. The problem is that many of these brigades have already surrendered, and those that remain tend to lag behind the jihadists in training and equipment. This has compelled more moderate rebels to fight alongside the extremists, creating an overlap that's difficult to pull apart. The Syrian expert Charles Lister writes: "In fact, while rarely acknowledged e[...]
Fri, 05 Aug 2016 12:05:00 -0400The word "Libya" appears nowhere in former CIA Acting Director Michael Morrell's endorsement of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the New York Times today. In fact, he spends much more time on Trump's dangerous deficiencies than he does Clinton's competencies. And when he does, here's what he has to say about her decision-making: I also saw the secretary's commitment to our nation's security; her belief that America is an exceptional nation that must lead in the world for the country to remain secure and prosperous; her understanding that diplomacy can be effective only if the country is perceived as willing and able to use force if necessary; and, most important, her capacity to make the most difficult decision of all — whether to put young American women and men in harm's way. Mrs. Clinton was an early advocate of the raid that brought Bin Laden to justice, in opposition to some of her most important colleagues on the National Security Council. During the early debates about how we should respond to the Syrian civil war, she was a strong proponent of a more aggressive approach, one that might have prevented the Islamic State from gaining a foothold in Syria. Trump has argued (and evidence actually supports) that America's meddling in Syria (including efforts by the CIA) actually helped create the foothold for ISIS to grow stronger in the country. And there's no mention of how the Clinton-endorsed "smart power" of military intervention in Libya helped hasten that country's destabilization and decline. That's because Clinton is the right kind of war hawk: She shares the same belief in noble intentions driving foreign policy interventions that matches guys like Morrell and other CIA and foreign policy leaders. Morrell argues that because Clinton is "thoughtful and inquisitive" that makes her preferable to Trump, whom Morrell blasts for his "carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law." Oh, there's no mention of her little problems with her private email servers and her stubborn and untruthful handling of the scandal, which makes that list of critiques of Trump rather ironic. He does accuse Trump of being an unwitting Russian agent for "endorsing Russian espionage against the United States" but not the context in which it happened (revealing Clinton's hidden emails). But the critique of Trump isn't wrong. The horrible reality of this presidential cycle is that we know that Clinton has made many bad decisions and is one of the more openly military interventionist Democrats to pursue the presidency in modern times. But the alternative of Trump leaves us with an extremely unpredictable president who says he will be less of an interventionist, but he's so openly and obviously reactionary to both appeals to his ego and attacks upon them that it's really impossible to trust his policy positions as an indicator of what he'd do in office. That a former CIA head is openly endorsing Clinton in a major newspaper would be, in a completely different election cycle, a cause for concern among big chunks of the electorate.[...]
Tue, 26 Jul 2016 15:54:00 -0400A big part of the reason Bernie Sanders stuck around in the primary process for as long as he did was to ensure the inclusion of a number progressive issues into the Democratic Party platform that otherwise stood no chance of being included. His stubborn (and often wrongheaded) longevity paid off in a number of ways—he got Hillary Clinton to embrace a $15 minimum wage, for example. But one plank his supporters could not get adopted to the platform was a call for "an end to [Israeli] occupations and illegal settlements" in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Though the five Sanders supporters on the platform drafting committee were able to get the language included in the draft, it was defeated 73-95 at a DNC conference earlier this month, and a substantial number of Sanders delegates have been sporting "I Support Palestinian Human Rights" signs, buttons, and stickers at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to express their dissatisfaction with the party's current policy. One of these Sanders supporting delegates, Ayman Eldarwish of Virginia (who described himself as an American-born of Arab descent) told Reason, "We are disappointed that it did not enter the platform of the Democratic Party. We understand the dynamics of our country (but) the justice scale has to find its resting place correctly." Eldarwish added, "Our unlimited support for Israel is very unreasonable and it distorts the understanding of the reality on the ground. There are people without a land and freedom. They have to find their place on Earth, just like the Israelis want." Walter Conklin from Rhode Island said he thought the U.S.' position regarding Israel and the Palestinians was "absurd," and that despite the violence perpetrated by both sides, there needs to better recognition of the fact that Palestinians "are people." Wife and husband delegates Aila Amany and Iyad Afalqa of California—both supporters of the democratic socialist from Vermont—were decked out in Robin Hood hats (get it?)—and told Reason of their disappointment with their party's platform. The Jerusalem-born Afalqa says, "Bernie Sanders was the only presidential candidate who acknowledged the human rights of Palestinians. At the same time, he acknowledged Israel's right to exist, and as a Jewish man that was a big deal." He added that he believes the U.S. has a responsibility to be an "honest broker" in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and that some of his fellow delegates were considering leaving the party because they see no hope that a Hillary Clinton administration will be that "honest broker." Clinton, Afalqa says, will not be a "peace president, she will be a war president," adding that under her husband Bill's administration, "we were not at peace." He cited the sanctions on Iraq as a form of "collective punishment" on civilians and said he would not commit to voting for Clinton in the general election. Afalqa's wife, the Iranian-born Amany, says one reason she supported Sanders in the first place was because he refused to attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech before Congress opposing the Iran nuclear deal. The American political relationship with Israel is currently in a rockier state than it has been in decades, which can be seen not only in the pronounced personal tensions between President Obama and Netanyahu—which could very well have lasting implications for the once-intractable alliance between the two countries—but also because young American liberals are increasingly sympathetic to the Palestinian plight and no longer on board with U.S. support for Israel as a default position. At this year's American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Clinton went toe-to-toe with the many Republican presidential contenders in attendance in co[...]
Mon, 25 Jul 2016 22:30:00 -0400Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is perhaps best known for casting the one vote in Congress against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Afghanistan days after 9/11. For her vote of conscience, she was pilloried by a traumatized, terrified, and hyper-patriotic American populace. She defended her bold and lonely vote on the floor of the House by arguing that "military action will not prevent further acts of terrorism against the United States." She added that she had "agonized" over the vote but felt it necessary for someone to urge "restraint." In hindsight, Rep. Lee's call for caution proved prescient, as that AUMF has been used to authorize military actions which had nothing to do with 9/11, but were instead vaguely lumped into what was once called the Global War on Terror, but which the Obama administration prefers to not define at all while it bombs countries and combatants that also had nothing to do with 9/11. On the floor of the Democratic National Convention (DNC), I asked Rep. Lee—a Hillary Clinton supoporter—if she has any issues with Clinton's career-long track record supporting military intervention. Of the U.S. military intervention in Libya, which many believe was a well-intentioned humanitarian mission that ultimately helped produce a failed state (and which Clinton still describes as an example of "smart power" even while President Obama calls it his greatest foreign policy "mistake") Lee makes very clear that "I did not support that." However, the congresswoman wanted me to know that she believes "Secretary of State Clinton's foreign policy does emphasize diplomacy and development. Where I disagree [with Clinton] is often times with the use of force." Lee pointed to her votes against the AUMF in both Afghanistan and Iraq and added, "I've been calling for a new authorization and congressional debate on this new war footing," but said she believed in Clinton's ability to provide a "comprehensive strategy" and identify "the root causes of terrorism." She added that President Obama had submitted a new AUMF to Congress but that Congress has yet to put it up for a vote. Watch Lee's speech from 9/14/01 below: src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Zh_sxilhyV0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">[...]
Wed, 20 Jul 2016 14:01:00 -0400A U.S. air strike killed at least 60 civilians in Syria after they were mistaken for ISIS fighters, according to The Telegraph, which reports eight families were targeted while trying to flee a village in Northern Syria. The deadly air strike is indicative of some of the bigger problems the U.S. and coalition forces face in their campaign against ISIS. Absent a significant amount of boots on the ground, the coalition relies heavily on airstrikes, which tend to have more civilian casualties than ground fighting. Although Syria was certainly mentioned at the Republican convention—including to blame Hillary Clinton for the chaos—proposals about foreign policy toward Syria were light. According to Republicans, Hillary Clinton, more or less, did not do enough, even as she's blamed for interventions in places like Libya, which led to a terrorist presence, including of ISIS, that did not exist before the civil war. Democrats don't offer much more. Clinton has rejected the idea that her support of interventionism is in part responsible for the crisis in Libya, and has in general shown little indication of offering any kind of foreign policy that might be influenced by reflections on past errors. American voters have not punished either side. Candidates who preached caution in the Republican party did not fare well in the polls, while Democrats hardly offered any alternatives to Clinton's interventionism (her primary primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, largely focused on economic issues). It's not stopping Americans for getting self-righteous on social media over the airstrike in Syria. A #PrayforSyria hashtag on Twitter is full of users congratulating themselves for being aware of the attack, and lambasting the media for not covering it even while they share links about the incident from the media, through whom they found out about it in the first place. The hashtagging of the airstrike in Syira is illustrative of the problem with the way the American electorate engages with foreign policy, if it engages at all. One of the main arguments supporters of Hillary Clinton advance in favor of their candidate is that she has the experience. Yet, when it comes to foreign policy, her experience largely consists of mistakes rooted in her faith in the power of interventionism, from Iraq to Libya. She was a supporter of more intervention in Syria, and pushed, as Trump did, for more airstrikes on ISIS after the Orlando shooting, perpetrated by a gunman who pledged allegiance to ISIS but spent no time in Iraq or Syria. American voters ended with these two choices from the mainstream because not enough of them gave a shit about it, morally preening hashtags notwithstanding. Fortunately for those Americans concerned with the wages of U.S. foreign policy, third party options like Libertarian Gary Johnson, a self-described skeptic of interventionism, and the Green party's Jill Stein, are available, so it is possible to make a choice that reflects an interest in reducing U.S. violence overseas. The most diehard Clinton supporters argue voting for Jill Stein, who argues Hillary Clinton could be worse than Donald Trump, is too dangerous because she could "help" Trump win. A clip of Dan Savage shitting on the Green party for helping Republicans is making the rounds in this election cycle. He posits that the Greens, like most third parties, only show up for presidential elections, an attractive if untrue sentiment. While Democrats paint Donald Trump as some kind of particularly vile and unacceptable Republican candidate, they've made the same arguments about previous candidates. Savage dismissed the Greens as idealism. But what's happening is Democratic voters are privileging getting their favored domestic policies in place ove[...]
Fri, 15 Jul 2016 16:10:00 -0400With the country distracted by the terror attack in France, Donald Trump's choice of Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate, and the Republican National Convention starting in three days, Congress pulled a classic summer Friday afternoon news dump, finally releasing the long-classified "28 pages" of a joint congressional inquiry focused on possible Saudi Arabian government support for the 9/11 hijackers. You can read the whole heavily redacted and blurry-scanned document here. The "28 pages" constitute a section of an over-800 page report, and are frustratingly filled with speculative clauses, lots of information attributed to "FBI sources," and unnamed persons with "ties to the Saudi Royal Family." But the juiciest piece of verifiable information concerns former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. (and close confidant of the Bush family) Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who reportedly provided thousands of dollars to Osama Bassnan, a neighbor of two of the hijackers in San Diego, who allegedly boasted to an "FBI asset that he did more...for the hijackers" than another Saudi-connected associate. From page 427 of the report: One at least one occasion Bassnan received a check directly from Prince Bandar's account. According to the FBI, on May 14, 1998, Bassnan cashed a check from Bandar in the amount of $15,000. Bassnan's wife also received at least one check directly from Bandar. The report also states that the FBI considered Bassnan "an extremist and supporter of Usama Bin Ladin, and has been connected to the Eritrean Islamic Jihad and the Blind Shaykh [sic]." In addition, a CIA memo mentions "Bassnan reportedly received funding and possibly a fake passport from Saudi Government officials." Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca.), one of the two senior members of House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement, "I hope that the release of these pages, with appropriate redactions necessary to protect our nation's intelligence sources and methods, will diminish speculation that they contain proof of official Saudi Government or senior Saudi official involvement in the 9/11 attacks," according to USA Today. The committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R-Ca.) said in a statement, "It's important to note that this section does not put forward vetted conclusions, but rather unverified leads that were later fully investigated by the Intelligence Community." It may take a closer examination to come to the conclusion that there truly is "no there there," but Bandar's name included in the report is significant no matter what way Congress chooses to spin it. Still, it's no secret that the Saudi government has long supported Wahabbist extremism, has one of the world's worst human rights records, and continues to wage a devastating proxy war (with U.S. support) in Yemen. They remain a problematic ally, at best.[...]
Tue, 05 Jul 2016 16:52:00 -0400
(image) More than 200 people were killed in a suicide bombing in a shopping mall in a Shia area of Baghdad for which the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. The prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, called for three days of mourning, while facing protesters at his house and of his convoy who blamed lapses by the government for allowing such large amounts of explosives into residential neighborhoods.
ISIS promised more terrorist attacks on the West during Ramadan, but most of the attacks connected to them in the last month have come in majority Muslim countries like Bangladesh and Turkey. The Orlando shooting, in which 49 people were killed and where the shooter called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS, is the only major terrorist attack in the West during Ramadan, while more than 500 people have been killed in terrorist attacks and attacks on military targets attributed to ISIS or its adherents, with hundreds more killed by terror groups affiliating with ISIS, like Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia.
The end of Ramadan saw a suicide bomber detonating himself near the Saudi security office of the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, one of the holiest sites in Islam, after suicide bombers blew themselves up near a Shiite mosque in Qatif as well as near a U.S. consulate and a mosque in Jeddah. Analysts say the attacks represent a challenge by ISIS to Saudi Arabia's authority as guardian of Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina. There have been a number of ISIS attacks in the country in the last year.
Saudi authorities identified the Jeddah attacker as a Pakistani national who had been living in Saudi Arabia for 12 years. Pakistan said it would investigate the claim. A Saudi security spokesperson said the attackers intentions were "still unclear" since there was a mosque, local security forces, and a U.S. consulate in the vicinity of the bomber, whose vest only partially detonated.
Four security officers were killed in the attacks across Saudi Arabia. There were no claims of responsibility but authorities say the attacks bore the "hallmarks" of ISIS.