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Published: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2017 10:06:19 -0500


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

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

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

Rudy Giuliani Says "Anything is Legal" in War, Including Taking Iraq's Oil

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:

Gary Johnson's Aleppo Gaffe Is an Inexcusable Blunder, But Hardly Unique to Presidential Candidates

Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:15:00 -0400

Libertarian 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="" 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 which to hold Johnson accountable. But does it really serve as an unforgivable disqualifier, especially consideri[...]

Rep. Barbara Lee: I Didn't Support Libya Intervention, But I Support Hillary Clinton

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 22:30:00 -0400

(image) Rep. 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="" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen" width="560" height="340" frameborder="0">

200+ Killed in Baghdad Terror Attack, Wave of Suicide Bombers in Saudi Arabia

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.

Obama Prolongs Unwinnable Wars

Thu, 09 Jun 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Barack Obama came into office intending to correct his predecessor's biggest mistakes by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He didn't, because he made his own grievous mistake: choosing to prolong failure rather than admit it.  The error is not original with Obama. George W. Bush did the same thing in those wars, persisting in them mainly because he didn't know what else to do. So did Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon in Vietnam.  LBJ once confided his dilemma: "I can't get out. I can't finish it with what I have got. So what the hell can I do?" Nixon ran on a promise to end the war in Vietnam, but some 20,000 Americans died there under him—without changing the dismal outcome.  Even Obama's fiercest critics would not have imagined he would complete two terms in the White House without extricating the United States from either war. The peace candidate has been a war president. After withdrawing all forces from Iraq in 2011 and setting forth a plan to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, Obama let himself be sucked back in. We now have some 5,500 troops in Iraq and nearly 10,000 in Afghanistan—far fewer than under Bush but far more than zero.  The reason for staying was simple: to avert defeat, if only for the time being. After the U.S. vacated Iraq, the Islamic State emerged as a new threat to the Baghdad government and others in the region. As we headed for the exit in Afghanistan, the Taliban came roaring back.  Hawks took these developments as vindication, saying: "See? We should have continued the wars at full strength." But the outcomes only confirmed the futility of our efforts. The goal of invading Afghanistan and Iraq was not to put them under permanent U.S. occupation. It was to topple the ruling governments and enable their people to flourish on their own.  In that, we obviously came up pitifully short in both countries. They entered years of violent turmoil from which neither shows any sign of emerging. Yet Obama operates as though with more time and more American help, they can attain peace and fulfill our hopes.  What possible reason does he have to believe that? Bush insisted that the 2007 surge in Iraq would not only produce military success but bring about "a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties and answers to its people." In the ensuing years, Iraq failed to realize his shimmering vision. No surprise there. The question is why anyone ever dreamed it could.  Ditto for Afghanistan, where we have been mired for nearly 15 years. The point of Obama's surge, announced in 2009, was simple: to "create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans." Yet here we are 6 1/2 years later, still waiting for them to take ownership of their future.  The chief reason Obama made these new military commitments was simple: He treated defeat as intolerable. But the American efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are not likely to prevent defeat—only to postpone it.  Even if we could eliminate the militants, the conditions that spawned them would not abate. We crushed the insurgency once in Iraq, but the Baghdad regime didn't take advantage of the success to overcome the country's lethal divisions. The Kabul government has managed to preserve its hard-earned reputation for corruption and incompetence year after year.  One thing the U.S. government has demonstrated in this century is that we know nothing about nation building. We can't solve the problems afflicting these countries, and we have aligned ourselves with governments that also lack that capability. Our presence does more to create radicalism than to kill it.  Nor can we outlast homegrown enemies. It's their country, and their attachment will always exceed ours. They don't have to beat us on the battlefield. All they have to do is survive until we run out of patience, which will happen sooner or late[...]

Trump's Thin Skin vs. Clinton's Thick Head

Wed, 08 Jun 2016 00:01:00 -0400

Hillary Clinton warns that Donald Trump is "temperamentally unfit" to be commander in chief, and she may be right about that. But Clinton's eagerness to wage war suggests she is ideologically unfit for the job. "This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes," the former secretary of state said last Thursday, "because it's not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin." Given Clinton's record of supporting pretty much every proposed and actual use of military force during her career in public life, it is even easier to imagine her leading us into war for reasons unrelated to national security. In a speech that was billed as a major foreign policy address and a sharp rebuke to her Republican opponent in this year's presidential election, Clinton mentioned Iraq twice: once in reference to the country's "sectarian divide" and once in reference to ISIS "strongholds" there. She did not mention that the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which she supported as a senator and did not repudiate until 2014, ripped that sectarian divide wide open, creating the chaotic conditions that allowed ISIS to take over those strongholds. "We honor the sacrifice of those who died for our country," Clinton said, "by carrying out a smart and principled foreign policy." The 4,400 or so members of the U.S. armed forces who died during the Iraq war did not die for their country; they died for George W. Bush. Their sacrifice did not make this country (or Iraq) any safer. That's leaving aside the 134,000 civilians who were killed during this Clinton-endorsed war, along with more than 16,000 Iraqi allies of the United States and some 27,000 insurgents—not to mention the cost to American taxpayers, which is expected to total more than $2 trillion. For more than a decade, from 2003 until 2014, that was Clinton's idea of "smart and principled foreign policy." Clinton learned nothing from the catastrophe in Iraq. As secretary of state, she was instrumental in pushing President Obama to pick sides in Libya's civil war, overthrowing another Middle Eastern dictator and creating another lawless zone hospitable to terrorists. Testifying before Congress last October, Clinton described the Libyan intervention as "smart power at its best." Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations a month later, she insisted "it's too soon to tell" whether the operation created more problems than it solved. I don't want to say that no one else on Earth shares that view, but it is not widely held. Michael T. Flynn, who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2012 to 2014, offered a more common assessment when he told The New York Times, "This was not a failure. This was a disaster." Unfazed by the Libyan debacle, Clinton pushed for more aggressive U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war. She argues that Obama made a big mistake by not following her advice. Trump, whose inconsistency is his main consistency, did not always oppose U.S. intervention in these countries, and last Sunday he waffled again on Libya. But during his campaign for the Republican nomination, he repeatedly warned that toppling dictators, no matter how nasty they are, tends to have unanticipated costs that swamp the benefits—a possibility that seems never to cross Clinton's mind. Trump says "we can't continue to be the policeman of the world." Clinton wants "a strong, confident America that leads," which is code for unending meddling. Even as first lady, Clinton was pushing wars completely unrelated to national defense. She urged her husband to bomb Serbia (which he did) and, according to both of them, intervene in Rwanda (which he didn't).   "A president has a sacred responsibility to send our troops into battle only if we absolutely must, and only with a clear and well-thought-out strategy," Clinton said last week. She has already failed that test, over and over again. © Co[...]

Marco Rubio vs. Rand Paul on Foreign Policy - and Fantasy vs. Reality

Tue, 17 May 2016 18:49:00 -0400

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) recently called a Foreign Relations Committee to discuss "America's Role in the World." It's pretty riveting stuff, especially coming after at least 15 years of utter incompetence on the part of the United States when it comes to diplomacy and war-making. Whatever else you can say about how George W. Bush and Barack Obama have mismanaged domestic concerns, you've got to admit that they handled foreign policy even more poorly. Among the guests of honor at Corker's hearings were former Secretary of State James Baker (under George H.W. Bush) and former National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon (under Barack Obama). Corker, for what's it worth, has expressed confidence in Donald Trump's foreign policy as laid out in the billionaire's recent "America First" speech. Baker, who also served in the Reagan administration and was involved in the managing America's response to the end of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War, has been widely portrayed as dismissing Trump's foreign policy vision, which emphasizes getting allies to pay more of the costs associated with security ("burden-shifting") and generally being less gung-ho in terms of military intervention. In fact, Baker's response was pretty mediated, as elements of Trump's plan (such as it is) reflect Baker's own ideas about "selective engagement," which argues for a compelling American interest in all military interventions. Rubio got him to say that anything that reduced NATO's presence in Europe would destabilize the world and Baker also smacked away Trump's suggestion that letting South Korea and Japan gain nuclear weapons would be a good idea. By the same token, Baker embraced the idea that our allies, whether in Asia, the Middle East, or Europe should be footing more of the defense bill in terms of both dollars and bodies. You can watch the full hearing here (thank you, C-SPAN!) but first check out these two this transcription of Rubio's comments and a short, incredible exchange between Baker and Rubio and then Baker and Paul. Note: These clips are hosted on Rand Paul's YouTube channel, which is worth keeping in mind while evaluating them(New note: The Rubio vid has been taken off line). Rubio wants to "revisit this Libya-Syria situation." Don't you see that it wasn't the United States causing any sort of chaos in these countries, he says. It was the people rising up against tyrants. We just got involved because it was the right thing to do and because, says Rubio, otherwise the Qaddafi and Assad regimes would be toppled and a power vacuum would develop...and radical Islamists would rush in: I think it's important when we talk about [these interventions] to remind ourselves these were not efforts by the U.S. government to go in and overthrow dictators. It was the people of those countries... In the case of Qaddafi, if he had gone into Benghazi and massacred all these people, what you would have seen emerge there would have been all these militias taking up arms, staying in perpuity, leading to the kind of instability we see now anyway.... It was in our national interest to ensure that whatever resistance there was to those dictators would be make up of people more stable and who we could work with, because in the absence of those sorts of developments, those vacuums would be filled by the radical elements that have now filled those vaccums in the absence of our leadership....[emphasis added] This is where the hawks start chewing their own talons off: "There would have been all these militias taking up arms, staying in perpuity, leading to the kind of instability we see now anyway." Seriously, AYFKM? Our actions have led to worst-case outcomes and yet that's what exactly proves we did the right thing? Rubio, who still defends the Libya intervention and clearly wishes that Obama had followed through on his idiotic, improvised "red line" comments wit[...]

ISIS Terrorist Attacks in Baghdad Amid Continued Political Chaos

Wed, 11 May 2016 15:43:00 -0400

More than 90 people have been killed in a string of terrorist attacks in Baghdad for which the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility, CNN reports. A car bombing in the Shiite neighborhood Sadr City killed more than 60, and a suicide bomber in another Shiite neighborhood killed at least 17.

There have been several terrorist attacks in Iraq for which ISIS claimed responsibility, including in and near Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, including an attack earlier this month deep in the majority Shi'ite south of the country.

The attacks come as Iraqi, U.S., and allied forces continue to attempt to retake Mosul from ISIS. Meanwhile, the Iraqi government is in turmoil. In late March, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi tried to submit a new cabinet in late March, consisting of technocrats who were not affiliated with the various political parties in Iraq's parliament, in an attempt to tackle government corruption. Amid the crisis, Vice President Joe Biden called the prime minister, noting "ongoing U.S. efforts to mobilize assistance for Iraq's economic recovery."

Writing in The New York Times last month, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilizad noted that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other activists had spent months "calling for a range of reforms, including shrinking the size of government, improving services, cutting wasteful spending and fighting corruption," though al-Sistani did not back al-Abadi's cabinet move.

Al-Abadi and the United Nations warned last month that the political chaos surrounding anti-corruption attempts would benefit ISIS. "The conflict has crippled parliament and could obstruct the work of the government, impacting the heroic operations to free our cities and villages (from Islamic State)," the prime minister insisted in April.

Last weekend, protesters stormed the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, where the seat of Iraqi government is, briefly occupying the parliament building and demanding a vote on a revised list of cabinet appointments, which included nominees affiliated with the various political parties. The parliament failed again yesterday to vote on the cabinet appointments—a quorum of a simple majority of members of parliament was not met.

Navy SEAL Killed in Iraq War Fight Against ISIS

Tue, 03 May 2016 14:57:00 -0400

A Navy SEAL became the third U.S. casualty in Iraq since combat troops were returned to the country in 2014.  A defense department spokesperson said the unidentified SEAL was killed in a firefight "three to five kilometers behind the forward line of troops", near Mosul, after Islamic State (ISIS) fighters broke through the line, according to CNN. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters in Germany that the casualty illustrated "it's a serious fight that we have to wage in Iraq." There are 3,000 U.S. troops conducting combat missions in Iraq, and they've been joined by 250 additional troops in Syria, bringing the official total in that country of U.S. troops to 300. The Obama administration has resisted the idea that there are "boots on the ground" in Iraq and Syria. "They are wearing boots and they are on the ground," a State Department spokesperson explained in a daily press briefing last week. "But that doesn't mean that they are in large-scale ground combat operations." The spokesperson, John Kirby, insisted the press was "wrapped around the axle on the phrase 'boots on the ground.'" "Yes, there's boots on the ground.  We've got pilots that have been flying airstrikes since August of 2014. Don't tell me and don't tell them or their families that they're not involved in actual combat over Iraq and Syria," Kirby continued. "But that's a big difference between that and saying we're going to involve ourselves in conventional ground troops and ground force operations on the ground, which we have not done and there are no plans to do it." The Navy SEAL killed today was characterized by defense officials as an advisor to the Peshmerga, Kurdish forces. An anonymous official told the Washington Post ISIS broke through the front line using armored vehicles carrying explosives that were followed bv combat troops behind them. A commander with the Nineveh Protections Unit, a mostly Christian local militia recognized by the government in Baghdad, described the attack to the Post. "American special forces came to rescue us with four vehicles," Bahnam Aboush told the Post. "They opened the way for us to retreat then one of their vehicles was hit." Aboush blamed "limited capabilities" and "old rifles" on the inability of his forces to defend against the ISIS attack. U.S. troops returned to Iraq in the campaign against ISIS in 2014. The last U.S. combat troops previously departed Iraq in 2011 after President Obama tried, but failed, to extend the presence of combat troops in the country. He took credit for ending the Iraq war in his 2012 re-election bid, but later insisted the 2011 pull-out was not his decision. When it bothers to, the Obama administration argues the campaign against ISIS is covered by the 9/11-rleated authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda (of which ISIS is an offshoot-cum-competitor) and "associated forces." President Obama requested authorization of the use of military force specifically for ISIS but has not received it. A 2014 effort to repeal the 2002 AUMF on Iraq failed, with both it and the 2001 AUMF remaining in force and Congress doing little about it and the U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere that those AUMFs have helped justify.[...]

Turkey Strikes Kurdish Positions After Ankara Terror Attack

Thu, 24 Mar 2016 14:17:00 -0400

(image) Turkey has launched airstrikes against bunkers, ammunition depots, and shelters in the Kurdish region of Iraq, across Turkey’s southern border, it says belong to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey says it killed 27 fighters, and that it’s killed more than a thousand since last July, when a two-year long ceasefire with the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist group in Turkey, the U.S., and Europe, fell apart. In August, a Turkish bombing killed nine civilians in Iraqi Kurdistan. As Erdogan expands his anti-PKK campaign, Kurdish Iraqi leaders begrudge what they see as a lack of such dedication against ISIS.

The strikes come as a response to the March 13 car bombing in Ankara which killed 37 people and which Turkish authorities say was perpetrated by the PKK. An off-shoot of the group, the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack last week. In February, TAK claimed responsibility for an attack in Ankara against a convoy carrying military personnel that killed 28.

The Turkish government says it has killed more than a thousand militants since last summer, while critics of the campaign say Turkish security forces have killed at least 250 civilians in the campaign so far, with the fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK displacing more than 300,000.

Meanwhile, an ISIS bombing in Istanbul killed five people and injured 12, mostly tourists, with at least two other terrorist attacks in Turkey for which ISIS took responsibility since twin bombings killed nearly a hundred people at a peace rally in Ankara last October. Turkish authorities attribute that terrorist act to ISIS but the group did not claim responsibility.

Turkey’s anti-terror campaign and cycle of terror has run concurrently with an assault on speech and a free press led by Recep Erdogan, president of Turkey since 2014, and prime minister before that since 2003.

Turkey, a member of NATO due to Cold War realities, first applied to join the European Union in 1987, but the move toward accession talks in the mid-2000s fell apart due to opposition by EU member states.

No One’s Going to Be Honest About Libya

Fri, 26 Feb 2016 12:47:00 -0500

In a way, the mainstream debate over Libya is sort of like an exercise in avoiding the passive voice. The Libyan government collapsed. Weapons spread from Nigeria to Syria. People died. You've got your subject and verb, and little about actual responsibility. "We didn't topple Qaddafi," Marco Rubio said at last night's CNN Republican debate, referring to the ruler of Libya until a U.S.-backed intervention in the Libyan civil war. "The Libyan people toppled Qaddafi." The only choice for President Obama, according to Rubio, was whether it was going to "happen quickly" or "take a long time." Qaddafi was caught by Libyan rebels, with U.S. air support, sodomized and killed five months after the NATO intervention started. That delay (in getting the people of Libya to topple Qaddafi) Rubio said was where "'leading from behind' came from". Of course, the Arab spring-turned-civil war in Libya started around the same time as the one in Syria, where the dictator Bashar Assad is still clinging to power. The U.S., and U.S.-backed rebels on multiple sides of the conflict, insist he must go. Libya came up last night, actually, in an answer from Ted Cruz about the ceasefire arranged for Syria by the U.S. and Russia, to go in effect at midnight (5pm ET) tonight in Damascus. The ceasefire is an opt-in for the warring parties on the ground. Cruz said there was "reason to be skeptical" about the ceasefire because of Russia's strengthened position due to "Obama's weakness in the Middle East." Cruz argued only he could "lay out a clear difference" between himself and Hillary Clinton. "So for example, in Libya, both of them agreed with the Obama/Clinton policy of toppling the government in Libya," Cruz said. "That was a disaster. It gave the country over to radical Islamic terrorism and it endangered America." But he didn't explain how his approach to Libya (making sand glow?) would be different or yield different results. Instead, he moved on to calling John Kerry "the most anti-Israel secretary of state this country has ever seen." Donald Trump denied he supported toppling the Qaddafi government. Cruz said he would post evidence later, but didn't offer it at the debate. Trump supported U.S. intervention to remove Qaddafi in a 2011 video blog, saying it would be "very easy and very quick." We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives," Trump said in 2011. "This is absolutely nuts. We don't want to get involved and you're gonna end up with something like you've never seen before." Arguably, Syria fits that description, but I wouldn't expect Trump to pick up on that "told you so" moment. Would he take Rubio's route, and say it should have been done even faster and more surgically? John Kasich, another Republican candidate for president, did bring up Syria in his answer. "Libya didn't go down because there was some people revolution," Kasich said. "Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and all these other people convinced the president to undermine Gadhafi. They undermined him, and now they have created a cesspool in Libya." Now, Kasich argued, the U.S. was "gonna have to deal with" it, referring to the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya. "Then we have ISIS in Syria, and we have ISIS in Iraq," he continued. "Because this administration has not had a strong and firm foreign policy, we are going to inherit, one of us here is going to inherit a total mess." There was, of course, some kind of revolution in Libya, but Clinton and other liberal interventionists, like Samantha Power, did convince Obama to go along with calls from the United Nations, the European Union, and the Arab League to act in Libya. Members of Congress, including Rubio and Cruz, didn't do anything to asset their authority in the war decision-making process[...]

War, Peace, and the Next President

Mon, 22 Feb 2016 07:15:00 -0500

When President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in 1916, as Europeans slaughtered each other on an unprecedented scale, his slogan was, "He kept us out of war." If Barack Obama were allowed to run for re-election, he could use this slogan: "He kept us out of Syria."  Will his successor? Given that the United States has been continuously at war for more than 14 years, you might think this topic would be a focus of the presidential campaign. But it's been largely ignored. Military involvement in foreign conflicts is no longer unusual enough to warrant much attention from the candidates or the electorate. It wasn't always that way. In the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush expressed deep skepticism about using the American military for peacekeeping, nation building and other humanitarian missions. As his security adviser Condoleezza Rice put it, "We don't need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten." Once in office, however, Bush abandoned this policy of restraint, launching ground wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither was finished, much less won, when he left office.  By that time, Americans appeared weary of the toll. Obama was elected in 2008 in part because he was among the few politicians who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  He stuck to the agreement reached by Bush for the withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. But he ordered a major escalation in Afghanistan, hoping for a success that would facilitate an early exit. His hopes were not realized.  Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops are still there, with no exit date on the calendar. The top American commander in Afghanistan said in December, "My intent would be to keep as much as I could for as long as I could."  That war, of course, is rarely even acknowledged on the campaign trail. It has been pushed aside by the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Some 3,700 U.S. troops are in Iraq, assisting the Iraqi army in fighting the new enemy. Obama has been waging an aerial campaign against the group since August 2014, but he has rejected sending additional ground forces.  Whatever he does, the problem will be awaiting the next president. If history and campaign rhetoric are any guide, the chances are high that we will wade deeper into the conflict.  Some of the Republican candidates have endorsed sending more American troops to fight the Islamic State. John Kasich and Jeb Bush both favor that course. Marco Rubio said if he is elected, "our troop strength in that effort will be determined by what's necessary to achieve victory, not some artificial constraint or an artificial number that I make up in my own head."  Though Donald Trump itches to "bomb the s--- out of" the Islamic State, he has indicated he would put more troops into Iraq. Ted Cruz is also partial to assault from the air, pledging to "carpet-bomb them into oblivion." But he says he would dispatch American combat units "if need be."  Hillary Clinton has been more cautious, without ruling out that option. In November she said the U.S. "should immediately deploy the special operations force President Obama has already authorized, and be prepared to deploy more as more Syrians get into the fight."  Bernie Sanders is the only candidate with a strong aversion to expanding the war. He says the war against the Islamic State should be "led and sustained by nations in the region that have the means to protect themselves."  It's not impossible that he will take oath of office 11 months from now. Barring that, though, our military role in Syria and Iraq will probably expand.  Clinton is not exactly a safe bet to practice restraint, given her long history of erring on the side of aggressive action. The fierce mart[...]

Death of the Anti-War Candidate

Fri, 19 Feb 2016 17:00:00 -0500

I have a student in one of my classes who told me the other day he had to finish the semester early because he was being deployed to Afghanistan for a second time. The class is about the history of American journalism, so the final lectures cover the media's role in pushing wars like the Iraq War, the war in Afghanistan, and even the war on drugs. I hope I get to cover that with him before he leaves. The war to which the student is being sent ended in 2014, according to President Obama, who said the Afghanistan effort was over even though he had left 10,000 U.S. troops there. The withdrawal of those troops has been postponed a number of times, often at the behest of the weak Afghan government. In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned on the idea that he would end the unpopular Iraq War and focus on prosecuting the war in Afghanistan, which he argued President Bush had ignored by starting a second war in Iraq. Today, the Obama administration has been engaged in the war in Afghanistan longer than the Bush administration prosecuted the Iraq War. There are few pronouncements anymore explaining why the U.S. is in Afghanistan, other than to train Afghan troops and support counterterrorism operations, the mission for many years now. Obama launched his presidential campaign as one of the few candidates who had opposed the Iraq war from the beginning (he was a state senator representing Hyde Park in Chicago in 2003). The introduction of positions on the war in Afghanistan complicated the anti-war narrative, but did not dispel all his supporters of it, as Obama apologists argued when President Obama's Afghanistan surge was being announced. Of course there were authentically anti-war candidates in 2008, on the Democratic and Republican side. The most successful of them was Texas Rep. Ron Paul (R), who also ran in 2012, winning six state primaries. The anti-war candidates on the 2008 Democratic side, like Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, were relegated to the fringes quickly. Paul's position on non-intervention and war was unique among Republicans, whose foreign policy platform was captured in the 2000s entirely by philosophies of interventionism. In a 2007 debate, Ron Paul reminded his fellow candidates that George W. Bush ran in 2000 on a platform of "no nation building" and "no policing of the world." There's an even longer tradition of anti-war and non-interventionist sentiments on the right. Yet by the 2008 election, supporters of interventionism argued that "9/11 changed everything." Eight years later, the stalking horse of interventionists is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a terrorist group that metastasized out of terror groups like Al-Qaeda that were able to operate in the region in large part because of the instability and power vacuums the Iraq War created. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Ron Paul's son, brought up this important critique in the 2016 election cycle, but dropped out after a poor showing in Iowa. Of the remaining candidates, the one who suggested he'd like to find out whether sand glowed by carpet bombing Iraq is trying to sell himself as least interventionist to non-interventionists. Paul's critique—the acknowledgement that interventionist U.S. foreign policy contributed to the rise of ISIS—is lost to most of the remaining Republican field because it includes an indictment of the policies of a Republican president. Democrats aren't as shy, and also have no shame. While Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have blamed the rise of ISIS on Bush policies, ISIS now operates in Libya as well, a country in chaos, one long crime against humanity. Libya was destabilized by a U.S.-led intervention under President Obama—one championed by [...]

Trump Was Right About Bush, 9/11, and Iraq

Thu, 18 Feb 2016 08:00:00 -0500

Donald Trump, for all his obnoxious demagoguery, is adding value to the presidential campaign by calling on former President George W. Bush to account for 9/11 and the Iraq war, which set in motion the growth and spread of al-Qaeda and the rise of the Islamic State. Former U.S. rulers rarely face consequences for the horrible things they do in office. Condemnation is considered impolite. So good for Trump. Unfortunately, he shows no sign of having done his homework; so his charges against Bush are little more than soundbites, allowing Bush defenders to dismiss Trump as a kook. But this time he is not a kook. Trump presumably does not mean that Bush knew where and when al-Qaeda would attack. Detailed foreknowledge is not part of the case against Bush. All we need to know is that Bush and his top people, starting with Vice President Dick Cheney, were too busy in their first eight months in office to bother about al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Too busy doing what? Among other things, they were too busy looking for an excuse to overthrow Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, had left Saddam in power after sending the U.S. military to reverse Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991. But the elder Bush and successor Bill Clinton enforced killer economic sanctions, on the pretext of finding weapons of mass destruction but actually in hopes of driving Saddam from power. Saddam wouldn't cooperate in his own regime change, however, so Bush Jr., Cheney, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, and their neoconservative brain trust were determined to complete the mission. Because of this obsession, warnings from the CIA and counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke about al-Qaeda, which had previously attacked U.S. government assets and the World Trade Center in the 1990s, fell on deaf ears, despite growing signs that "Bin Laden [was] Determined to Strike the US." Even the prospect of aircraft hijackings was raised. Clarke wrote in his book, Against All Enemies, that when he finally managed to get a cabinet-level meeting on al-Qaeda, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz objected that "I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden." Clarke responded, "We are talking about a network of terrorist organizations called al-Qaeda, that happens to be led by bin Laden, and we are talking about that network because it and it alone poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States." To which Wolfowitz replied, "Well, there are others that do as well, at least as much. Iraqi terrorism for example." Thus Bush and his top people ignored al-Qaeda despite warnings from their experts and ominous events such as the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (as Peter Beinart explains). Could the attacks have been prevented had the policymakers paid attention? Who knows? But that does not excuse Bush's irresponsibility. As for the Iraq war, Bush and his defenders plead innocent on grounds that everyone thought Saddam had chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, or at least active WMD programs.  That's simply false. Well-sourced reporting at the time said the intelligence had been cooked under White House pressure. It meant little that former President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said they believed in the WMD. People with direct access to the intelligence seriously doubted the WMD existed, and they of course were right. But the establishment news media continue to give Bush a pass, just as as they did in 2002-2003. As I wrote three years ago: Today, like the Bush administration alumni attempting to duck responsibil[...]