Tag Archives: middle-east

Your Terrifying Quote For The Day

Tea Party tax day protest 2010

“President Obama waived a ban on arming terrorists in order to allow weapons to go to the Syrian opposition. Your listeners, US taxpayers, are now paying to give arms to terrorists including Al Qaeda. … This happened and as of today the United States is willingly, knowingly, intentionally sending arms to terrorists, now what this says to me, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ, as I look at the End Times scripture, this says to me that the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times, which is your ministry, we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history. … Rather than seeing this as a negative, we need to rejoice, Maranatha Come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand.”

Michele Bachmann

…an active member of Congress.


Photo: Fibonacci Blue


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The Astonishingly Bad Arguments For Another Middle-East War


During the absurd Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring three senior American officials — Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, and John Kerry, Secretary of State — on why the Administration is justified in seeking Congressional approval for a strike against Syria, Kerry argued — with a straight face — that, “We don’t want to go to war in Syria either … The President is not asking you to go to war.”

Except that’s exactly what he’s asking. What is Kerry trying to argue? That just because the ships launching the missiles will be safe from retaliatory fire, it’s not war? Do we only label something as war when other nations kill Americans, not the other way around? I get that it’s kind of been an American thing to launch bombs against other countries, but have we become so jaded about the seriousness of war that we hesitate in labeling a massive bombing campaign against another state’s infrastructure (and people) as such?

The rest of the arguments for intervention — heard during the hearing — were just as illogical, and because I don’t want you to have to sit through the same excruciating video I did, here’s my summary:

    • Assad used chemical weapons, so we should make an example of him to deter other dictators from using chemical weapons in the future. BUT, we don’t mean we should punish him to the point of removing him from power, since Syria would “implode”. Instead, the punishment would focus ONLY on his chemical weapons capabilities. So, while our policy is that Assad has to go, we won’t force him to go. In that case, we’ll launch surgical air strikes directed at his chemical weapons capabilities, but not his ability to rule over Syria. And, we’ll just have to live with the fact that we’re NOT accounting for the other weapons that have killed 99% of Syrians during this conflict. Please vote yes.

Here’s the video (it’s really long):

While reinforcing some abstract international norm — that nations like the United States have willingly broken themselves by allowing Saddam’s regime to use chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War — sounds good as a talking point, it hardly motivates anyone to throw their support behind another war. According to The Independent, about 80% of the British people oppose exactly what Obama’s proposing. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found nearly 70% of Americans are likewise against it.

But even while Obama enjoys considerably less domestic support than Bush had with Iraq, as well as no British backing, and open condemnation from much of the UN for immediate intervention, his proposition for air-strikes against Syria may very well pass — by the skin of it’s teeth — in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Our only hope is that — as we saw in the House of Commons — the representatives of the American people will actually listen to their constituents, and save us all from yet another bloody, costly, unjustified and unpopular sectarian war in the Middle East.

(Photo: Chair. Joint Chiefs)

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What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

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Photo Of The Day: “Not All Violence Is Physical”


Copyranter explains the brutal ad against domestic violence, from Lebanon:

    Not all violence is physical.
    The scars are shaped like the sound waves of the violent words — pretty shocking and effective.

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Prison Break: Abu Ghraib Style

Joint salute

One thing should be very, very clear, “the [Iraqi] government [has] lost any semblance of control over security”:

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, formed earlier this year through a merger of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq, said it had stormed Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib jail and another, some 20 km (12 miles) north of capital, after months of preparation.

Monday’s attacks came exactly a year after the leader of al Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, launched a “Breaking the Walls” campaign that made freeing its imprisoned members a top priority, the group said in a statement.

Sunni Islamist militants have in recent months been regaining momentum in their insurgency against Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government, which came to power after the U.S. invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

The group said it had deployed suicide attackers, rockets, and 12 car bombs, killing 120 Iraqi guards and SWAT forces in the attacks in Taji, north of Baghdad, and Abu Ghraib, the prison made notorious a decade ago by photographs showing abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers.

And if you guessed that the released prisoners just punched a one-way ticket to the war in Syria, you’d be right:

Sectarian tensions across the region have been inflamed by the civil war in Syria, which has drawn in Shi’ite and Sunni fighters from Iraq and beyond to fight against each other.

A senior Iraqi security official said security forces were on high alert and had received information that some of the most high-profile al Qaeda operatives who managed to escape were now on their way to Syria.

And the beat goes on.

(photo by The U.S. Army)

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Poll: Americans Would Rather Drone Syria Than Arm It

A BQM-74E aerial drone launches from USS Thach

Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to the Obama administration’s decision to provide arms to Syrian rebels, but according to a new Quinnipiac University national poll, nearly half would be totally fine with using drones and cruise missiles to attack Syrian government targets.

The poll found that 61 percent of Americans say that it is not in the nation’s best interest to be involved in Syria, while only 27 percent say otherwise, and 59 percent think that providing arms to anti-government groups is not such a hot idea.

But 49 percent of respondents, when asked if the U.S. “should or should not use weapons which don’t risk American lives, such as drones and cruise missiles, to attack Syrian government targets”, said it should, while 38 percent stood opposed.

With polling, every single word matters, and the phrasing of the question can go a long way to determining the outcome. It’s true that American lives will be spared if drones are used, but arming Syrian rebels won’t necessarily put American lives in danger either. My guess is that Americans are more worried about rebel groups getting their hands on weapons, than the actual use of them against the Syrian government. Fair enough, I have the same worry. But imagine a scenario where an American drone mishits a target, and kills an exorbitant number of rebel soldiers, or worse, innocent civilians. At that point, we’ll have succeeded in creating another Egypt, where both sides of the coin hate the U.S. and rally behind that sentiment.

(photo courtesy of U.S. Navy

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Leaving Afghanistan’s Future Up To The Afghans


The New York Times reports that the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan has soured so badly that President Obama is strongly considering a “zero option” withdrawal, which would leave no American troops there after next year:

A videoconference between Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai designed to defuse the tensions ended badly, according to both American and Afghan officials with knowledge of it. Mr. Karzai, according to those sources, accused the United States of trying to negotiate a separate peace with both the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan’s fragile government exposed to its enemies.

Mr. Karzai had made similar accusations in the past. But those comments were delivered to Afghans — not to Mr. Obama, who responded by pointing out the American lives that have been lost propping up Mr. Karzai’s government, the officials said.

The option of leaving no troops in Afghanistan after 2014 was gaining momentum before the June 27 video conference, according to the officials. But since then, the idea of a complete military exit similar to the American military pullout from Iraq has gone from being considered the worst-case scenario — and a useful negotiating tool with Mr. Karzai — to an alternative under serious consideration in Washington and Kabul.

I don’t know if this is welcome news, but it’s hardly unexpected at this point. We’ve been in Afghanistan for nearly 12 years now, and the Taliban still remains a vital ingredient in that state’s politics and identity. If Karzai and the Afghans can’t stand on their own after more than a decade of military and financial support, a small residual force of American soldiers will hardly improve things once the withdrawal is complete next year. Adding to that is the plain and distressing fact that Afghanistan is likely to implode once more in the near future; better to not have American soldiers there when it happens.

Photo by flickr user isafmedia)

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Should The U.S. Intervene In Syria? The Economist Says Yes

Syria Independence Flag behind a Free Syrian Army member

In the Leaders print edition, The Economist argues that the rise of “Persian power” in the region is reason enough for the West to intervene in Syria:

The growing risk of a nuclear Iran is one reason why the West should intervene decisively in Syria not just by arming the rebels, but also by establishing a no-fly zone. That would deprive Mr Assad of his most effective weapon—bombs dropped from planes—and allow the rebels to establish military bases inside Syria. This newspaper has argued many times for doing so on humanitarian grounds; but Iran’s growing clout is another reason to intervene, for it is not in the West’s interest that a state that sponsors terrorism and rejects Israel’s right to exist should become the regional hegemon.

The West still has the economic and military clout to influence events in the region, and an interest in doing so. When Persian power is on the rise, it is not the time to back away from the Middle East.

Daniel Larison scoffs at the Economist’s reasoning, after the jump:
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Americans Still Say ‘Hell No’ To Syria

YouGov provides even more proof that Americans seem to have a better handle on the Syria question than the President and his administration:


So a plurality of Americans do not agree that there is a moral obligation to do something about Syria, while a fourth of respondents aren’t sure. So much for McCain’s crusade of moral shaming.

How about arming the rebels?:
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Americans Say No To Syrian Intervention, continued…

A new poll by Pew Research Center released Monday finds that 70 percent of Americans oppose President Obama’s recent capitulation to send arms to Syrian rebels, while 68 percent believe the US military is too overcommitted to get involved:










Previous thoughts on this issue can be read here, here and here.

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The Best Of The Week On Left And Center

The most popular posts this week were The Youth Of Today Basically Can’t Read Anymore, Cato’s really awesome New Atheism’s Problem Is Our Problem Too, What Happens To Women Who Can’t Get An Abortion, and finally, my rant against the President’s plan to arm Syrian Rebels, titled Obama Caves On Syria, Betrays Us All.

Other popular posts from the week were Mnemosyne’s cogent argument about Why Authoritarian Leaders Can Have All The Fun But Not Get Away With It, my takedown of the now famous NSA leaker Edward Snowden: Neither Hero Nor Whistle-Blower, and Cato’s explanation about how The U.S Federal Government Is Making You Fat.

Other noteworthy posts that were lost in the haze of a crazy week were Drugs and Prostitutes: State Department Style, a new revelation out of Hong Kong that led me to ask Is Edward Snowden Handing Materials Over To China?, and finally, the newly posted Lord of the Rings analogy of the Iranian presidential election, Why It Doesn’t Matter Who Wins The Iranian Election.

Thanks for stopping by,


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Why It Doesn’t Matter Who Wins The Iranian Election

Remember the Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship of the Ring? There’s a part in the film where Saruman breeds an Uruk-hai warrior named Lurtz — and intrigued by his ferocity, anoints him Lord of the Uruk-hai and commander in battle. Here’s the scene, to jot your memory:

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Telling the good guys from the bad guys

070827-A-3715G-275Sen. John McCain (cc photo by Jim Greenhill)

Seantor John McCain has been adamant for years that we know very well who to arm and support in the ongoing Syrian civil war – that the good guys are clearly the rebels, and they need our help. The old school Senator went to the warn torn country recently and met with a number of rebel leaders, and accidentally or not, posed for a photograph with rebels who had committed terrible crimes, like kidnapping 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims:

The photo, released by McCain’s office, shows McCain with a group of rebels. Among them are two men identified in the Lebanese press as Mohamed Nour and Abu Ibrahim, two of the kidnappers of the group from Lebanon.

A McCain spokesman said that no one who met with McCain identified themselves by either of those names.

“In coordination with the Syrian Emergency Task Force, Senator John McCain traveled to and from Syria with General Salim Idris, the chief of staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Syrian opposition, to meet with two senior Free Syrian Army commanders,” said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers on Wednesday in an email to BuzzFeed. “None of the individuals the senator planned to meet with was named Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim. A number of other Syrian commanders joined the meeting, but none of them identified himself as Mohamad Nour or Abu Ibrahim.”

Rogers goes on to call the situation “regrettable” if indeed it turns out to be verified – which it has.

Joe Klein has the right perspective on this, I think:

I don’t blame McCain for this. It’s hard to advance a trip into rebel territory….The point is: We just don’t know these places well enough to go over and draw grand conclusions about policy. In a way, McCain’s trip is a perfect metaphor for the problem of involving ourselves with the Syrian rebels. We may be siding with the greater evil. We may be throwing fuel on a fire that could consume the region. Our track record when it comes to such things is dismal.

I don’t think McCain knowingly posed for a photo and subsequently exchanged pleasantries with Nour or Ibrahim, but that’s not the real point here. We simply can’t codify this conflict the way McCain claims we can, where the good guys are clear as day and eagerly awaiting our help to take over the country. This is a perfect example of why.

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Syria is not our fight, ctd…

Salaheddin, AleppoSalaheddin, Aleppo (cc photo by Freedom House)

Daniel Larison competently argues that despite the neo-con base clamoring for military intervention into the bloody sectarian Syrian conflict, there is no good reason for the US to do so:

Like the Iraq War, a U.S. war in Syria would be unauthorized and illegal under international law, and America would have even fewer allies than it had in Iraq. Like Iraq, the costs and duration of a Syrian war have been minimized to make it appear to be a quick, easy, and cheap intervention. Unlike Iraq, there wouldn’t even be the pretense that the U.S. was acting to eliminate a potential threat to our security. Instead, the U.S. would be fighting solely for the purpose of overthrowing another government. While the Iraq War was mostly limited to that country, U.S. intervention in Syria would draw us directly into a proxy war with Assad’s patrons that would likely not remain confined to Syria. Finally, a Syrian war would be waged with the knowledge of all the things that went so horribly wrong in Iraq, which makes the impulse to intervene in Syria both inexcusable and inexplicable.

Larison goes on to thoroughly refute Bill Keller’s ridiculous case for intervention:

No two countries and no two conflicts are ever going to be identical, and some of the things that made the Iraq War a debacle may not be relevant to the Syrian case. However, military intervention in Syria would suffer from many of the same flaws as the Iraq War, and it would also have its own set of complications and unintended consequences that might prove to be just as bad or even worse than the Iraq War’s.

Fareed Zakaria, always the sanest voice in these matters, relays the potential consequences of an American intervention:

Would U.S. intervention–no-fly zones, arms, aid to the opposition forces–make things better? It depends on what one means by better. It would certainly intensify the civil war. It would also make the regime of Bashar Assad more desperate. Perhaps Assad has already used chemical weapons; with his back against the wall, he might use them on a larger scale. As for external instability, Landis points out that if U.S. intervention tipped the balance against the Alawites, they might flee Syria into Lebanon, destabilizing that country for decades. Again, this pattern is not unprecedented. Large numbers on the losing side have fled wars in the Middle East, from Palestinians in 1948 to Iraq’s Sunnis in the past decade.

It’s a shame – though not an unexpected one – that fervent supporters of the Iraq war are now willfully ignoring the lessons that should have been gleaned from that horrendous disaster. The Syrian civil war is an intensely complex conflict in one of the more fractured and splintered regions of the Middle East, and while we’d like to believe we can codify conflicts like this in such a way where the enemy is clear, the objective sound and the outcome guaranteed, the basic truth is that there are no good options when it comes to Syria. Furthermore, one need only watch this callous video of animalistic brutality perpetuated by one of the rebel leaders – who apparently Keller and McCain the rest of their cohorts would have us arm – to realize that both sides are descending into equal parts madness and barbarism. That’s the unfortunate truth about how regional, sectarian conflicts that have been brewing for more than a decade work. It’s painstakingly difficult to watch from the sidelines as countless are murdered and displaced, but I’ve said it before: in a situation where no good options exist, non-intervention is clearly the best, bad choice.

Previous posts on this issue here, here, here, and here.

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Was the government justified in obtaining AP phone records?

Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice BuildingRobert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building (cc photo by clif1066)

Something missed through all the fervent condemnation of the DoJ secretly obtaining AP phone records, is why the government was so furiously hell-bent on finding out where the leak came from? A really interesting article in the LA Times clears up that question. It looks like the leak compromised one of the government’s most prized assets – an al-Qaeda mole, recruited by British Intelligence:

His access led to the U.S. drone strike that killed a senior Al Qaeda leader, Fahd Mohammed Ahmed Quso, on May 6, 2012. U.S. officials say Quso helped direct the terrorist attack that killed 17 sailors aboard the U.S. guided-missile destroyer Cole in a Yemeni harbor in October 2000.

The informant also convinced members of the Yemeni group that he wanted to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on the first anniversary of the U.S. attack that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. They outfitted him with the latest version of an underwear bomb designed to pass metal detectors and other airport safeguards, officials say.

The informant left Yemen and delivered the device to his handlers, and it ultimately went to the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Va. Intelligence officials hoped to send him back to Yemen to help track more bomb makers and planners, but the leak made that impossible, and sent Al Qaeda scrambling to cover its tracks, officials said.

While the AP is adamant that they only published the article after government officials gave them the go-ahead, the government was reportedly “incensed” by the leak, and launched an investigation even before the story ran.

I feel like we’re beginning to understand the government’s motivations behind all this. I was already confused as to why people were so up in arms about a relatively meager subpoena of phone records, but with this new information – if verified to be true – I can’t help but think that the DoJ and Obama administration (if involved) were totally justified in their actions.

**Some updated thoughts**

Here’s a short twitter debate I had with Glenn Greenwald a few moments ago, regarding this question:



We don’t so much disagree that the government acted wrongly here – I never said that in my article. It’s more that Glenn sees the governments secret subpoena as a serious infraction, and I’m inclined to agree with him, but if indeed the Times story is proven to be true, this is more a case of negligence than anything else. They were justified in obtaining the records, but they did so in an unjustifiable manner.

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