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Ed Webb

Monsters of Our Own Imaginings | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • Terrorist attacks have occurred in Europe, America, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and many other places, and no level of surveillance, police presence, border controls, drone strikes, targeted killings, or enhanced interrogation is going to prevent every one of them. Even if we could provide absolutely air-tight protection around one type of target, others targets would remain exposed
  • the belief that we could eliminate the danger entirely is no more realistic than thinking better health care will grant you eternal life. For this reason, condemning politicians for failing to prevent every single attack is counterproductive — and possibly dangerous — because it encourages leaders to go overboard in the pursuit of perfect security and to waste time and money that could be better spent on other things. Even worse, the fear of being blamed for “not doing enough” will lead some leaders to take steps that make the problem worse — like bombing distant countries — merely to look and sound tough and resolute.
  • there is no magic key to stopping terrorism because the motivations for it are so varied. Sometimes it stems from anger and opposition to foreign occupation or perceived foreign interference — as with the Tamil Tigers, Irish Republican Army, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or Hamas.

    In other cases, it arises from opposition to a corrupt and despised ruling elite. Or it could be both: Osama bin Laden was equally angry at “crusader” nations for interfering in the Muslim world and at the Arab governments he believed were in cahoots with them. In the West, homegrown terrorists such as Anders Breivik or Timothy McVeigh are driven to mass murder by misguided anger at political systems they (falsely) believe are betraying their nation’s core values. Sometimes terrorism arises from perverted religious beliefs; at other times the motivating ideology is wholly secular. Because so many different grievances can lead individuals or groups to employ terrorist methods, there is no single policy response that could make the problem disappear forever.

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  • Compared with other risks to human life and well-being, contemporary international terrorism remains a minor problem
  • The Islamic State wouldn’t have to use terrorism if it were strong enough to advance its cause through normal means or if its message were attractive enough to command the loyalty of more than a miniscule fraction of the world’s population (or the world’s Muslims, for that matter). Because it lacks abundant resources and its message is toxic to most people, the Islamic State has to rely on suicide attacks, beheadings, and violent videos to try to scare us into doing something stupid. The Islamic State cannot conquer Europe and impose its weird version of Islam on the more than 500 million people who live there; the most it can hope for is to get European countries to do self-destructive things to themselves in response. Similarly, neither al Qaeda, the Islamic State, nor other extremists could destroy the U.S. economy, undermine the U.S. military, or weaken American resolve directly; but they did achieve some of their goals when they provoked us into invading Iraq and when they convinced two presidents to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into the bottomless pit in Afghanistan.
  • the same toxic blend of media and politics that brought us Donald Trump’s candidacy makes it nearly impossible to have a rational assessment of terrorism
  • Newspapers, radio, cable news channels, and assorted websites all live for events like this, and they know that hyping the danger will keep people reading, listening, and watching. The Islamic State and its partners really couldn’t ask for a better ally, because overheated media coverage makes weak groups seem more powerful than they really are and helps convince the public they are at greater risk than is in fact the case. As long as media coverage continues to provide the Islamic State et al. with such free and effective publicity, why should these groups ever abandon such tactics?
  • The Islamic State killed 31 people in Brussels on Tuesday, but more than half a billion people in Europe were just fine on that day. So when the British government raised the “threat level” and told its citizens to avoid “all but essential travel” to Belgium following Tuesday’s attacks, it is demonstrating a decidedly non-Churchillian panic. Needless to say, that is precisely what groups like the Islamic State want to provoke.
  • Terrorism is not really the problem; the problem is how we respond to it
  • At the moment, the challenge of contemporary terrorism seems to be bringing out not the best in the West — but the worst. Instead of resolution and grit, we get bluster and hyperbole. Instead of measured threat assessments, patient and careful strategizing, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be achieved, we get symbolic gestures, the abandonment of our own principles, and political posturing.
  • how would a grown-up like Marshall or Dwight D. Eisenhower respond to this danger? No doubt they’d see it as a serious problem, but anyone who had witnessed the carnage of a world war would not be cowed by intermittent acts of extremist violence, no matter how shocking they are to our sensibilities. They’d use the bully pulpit to shame the fearmongers on Fox and CNN, and they’d never miss an opportunity to remind us that the danger is not, in fact, that great and that we should not, and cannot, live our lives in fear of every shadow and in thrall to monsters of our own imaginings. They would encourage us to live our daily lives as we always have, confident that our societies possess a strength and resilience that will easily outlast the weak and timorous groups that are trying to disrupt us. And then, this summer, they’d take a European vacation.
Ed Webb

Seven Ways to Steady a Tunisia under New Attack | Crisis Group - 0 views

  • The Ben Guerdane attack was repulsed by security forces but marks a new departure. It is unprecedented since the “Gafsa coup” of 27 January 1980, when a raiding party armed by Libya and supported by Algerian military intelligence took control of the central Tunisian city of Gafsa and called for a popular revolt
  • It was an attempt at a local insurrection, coordinated by some 50 members of IS sleeper cells in Ben Guerdane
  • The mental geography espoused by IS does not adhere to the borders established in North Africa in the twentieth century. Experts on the group say IS members dream of re-establishing the historic borders of the Aghabid dynasty (800-901), which ruled a semi-independent emirate roughly based on the ancient Roman province of Africa Proconsularis, including Tripolitania (western Libya), most of modern day Tunisia and the eastern half of Algeria. In this vision, Ben Guerdane is a strategic nexus point of a “liberated” zone that would tie south-eastern Tunisia to western Libya. The city’s business life has long been dominated by a parallel economy based on an informal foreign currency exchange market and smuggling; it could become a convergence point between jihadis and regional criminal networks.
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  • Tunisia will have to do more to preserve the culture of compromise and civil society inclusion in 2013-14
  • The Tunisia-Libya border cannot be secured without the close collaboration of the local population, especially the smuggling cartels operating in the area. Trying to combat these at the same time as jihadis would dissipate energy and likely feed local resentment of the state, since so much of the local economy depends on this smuggling. In order to secure their cooperation, Crisis Group has argued that the government should consider the creation of free trade zones at the border that would legitimise at least part of the border trade.
Ed Webb

The West is playing an old game with the minorities of the Orient | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • This is the big door through which we may penetrate into the affairs of the East …. In addition to the big door there is a smaller one. Syria, and the Christian population of Lebanon in particular, have the right to obtain from the Sultan, by virtue of a European intervention, guarantees, and in particular an administrative regulation, which may provide them with protection from the abuse they suffered under different rulers and that may secure Syria against sliding once more into chaos … We believe that it is the duty of the Christian powers, even their honour, to support this approach and push forward toward accomplishing a positive practical outcome
  • Guizot thought that obtaining the consent of Russia and Austria would neutralise Britain and make it less able to hinder the implementation of his project. Russia had been pursuing an expansionist approach within the Ottoman sphere of influence. It had close links with the Orthodox and Armenians of the Sultanate, who – and not the Catholics – constituted the majority of the Christians of the Orient.
  • The new entity would include the Christians of the East, foremost among them the Catholics of Lebanon, and would be placed under the protection of the European powers, particularly France, Russia and Austria
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  • he was seeking to establish an independent, or semi-independent, administrative status in the district of Jerusalem, which was at the time part of the Damascus governorate
  • What is astonishing is that Guizot did not ask if the Christians of the Orient, who were scattered all over the Orient, would agree to emigrate from their historic homelands to live in such a European protectorate. He did not even ask if the Muslims, who were the majority of the inhabitants of the Jerusalem Province and who also sanctified the city, would accept his project.
  • Reflecting the French Revolution’s legacy, and the spirit of state hegemony over its people, Guizot – throughout his long years in the Ministry of Education in the 1830s – endeavoured to spread public education across the country and establish at least one primary school in every community.

    In the meantime, the French colonial administration had started to secularise management and education in Algeria, which France had been occupying since 1830. If there is a degree of peculiarity in the Christian foreign policy of a secular and liberal minister, it is even more peculiar that Guizot was not a Catholic but a Protestant.

  • Guizot’s policy was not in any way religiously motivated. Nor was it Catholic. Guizot policy in essence was the policy of supporting minorities and using them to reinforce the status of the European powers in the confrontation with the majorities.
Ed Webb

Widespread Iraqi anger threatens Saudi ties - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • In light of this commotion on the streets, the Iraqi government has distanced itself from the strained Saudi-Iranian ties following the execution of Nimr and other developments, such as the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 and the rupture of ties between the two countries. The government also turned a deaf ear to Iraqi Shiite forces close to Iran that demanded that ties be cut with Saudi Arabia.
  • The official Iraqi position was incomprehensible to some extremist circles. Although it has condemned the execution of Nimr, Iraq also supported the Saudi position against Iran in the closing statement of the Arab League meeting on Jan. 10. This statement condemned the attack against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and supported the Saudi position against Iran, demanding that Iran stop interfering in Saudi affairs.
  • Iraq’s situation is currently complicated by the war against IS and the economic crisis caused by declining oil prices. Abadi seems to be looking to preserve any potential support in the fight against IS, which challenges the existence of the Iraqi state itself.
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    The three-way game between Riyadh, Tehran, and Baghdad begins to reassert itself?
Ed Webb

Can Oman help Saudis save face in Yemen? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • Muscat’s understanding of Yemeni history, where no fighting force has ever been able to seize control of the entire nation. Conflict resolution in Yemen will require a power-sharing agreement in which all sides have a voice at the table, rather than a military campaign aimed at crushing the Houthi rebel movement.
  • the Omani leadership is most unsettled by the threat that a prolonged conflict poses to the security of Oman’s Dhofar governorate, situated along the Gulf Arab nation’s 187-mile border with Yemen
  • As Omanis face the challenges associated with the succession issue, Muscat officials are unsettled by the potential for groups in the historically neglected Dhofar governorate to reject the legitimacy of Qaboos’ successor. Within this context, promoting a peaceful resolution to the Yemeni crisis at the roundtable serves Oman’s national interests.
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  • That Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest Arab country and the world’s top arms importer, cannot defeat an insurgency from the most underserved region of the poorest Arab country is a source of humiliation
Ed Webb

Why the Islamic State is the minor leagues of terror | Middle East Eye - 2 views

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    "The sole advantage the Islamic State has when it comes to this country is that it turns out to be so easy to spook us."
Ed Webb

Russia, Turkey and the rise of the Islamic State | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • One of IS’s great survival skills has been to make itself an enemy of everybody and priority of nobody
  • Foreign donors do contribute to IS, but the amount they contribute has never mattered
  • the real source of its wealth: captive populations
Ed Webb

Why ISIL won't be defeated - Al Jazeera English - 2 views

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    Don't read the comments...
Ed Webb

Blaming Islam for ISIS: A convenient lie to prepare us for more war | Middle East Eye - 2 views

  • We can’t defeat ISIS if we misrepresent what and who ISIS actually is. Far from being the apocalyptic Islamist group that Wood contends they are, actual IS documents and blue prints reveal IS to be methodical state builders, led by secular Baathists – who aim to restore Sunni-Baathist power in Iraq. These documents also make clear that Saddam’s former generals (anti-Islamists) use Islam as a recruitment tool. “They [ISIS founders] reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face,” notes the German newspaper Der Spiegel.
  • recruits are drawn to ISIS for reasons that have little to do with extremist Islam. “They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the Caliphate,”
  • the media welcomes only those who blame Islam or “radical Islam” and not those who speak to the conditions that make ISIS appealing
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  • blaming Islam makes us feel good about ourselves. Blaming Islam is good for television ratings. Blaming Islam makes it easier to sell new wars
Ed Webb

Here's what will happen if Iran joins the WTO - The Washington Post - 3 views

  • While it remains uncertain whether economic and financial sanctions would be technically permissible under the WTO’s national security exception — which allows a member to take measures that it “considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests”– these actions would clearly violate the spirit of the WTO and have therefore been rarely used.
  • the United States has switched to using other tools for coercive diplomacy to punish other recent WTO entrants.
  • Congress therefore created the China Commission, which was specifically formed to monitor China’s human rights practices and maintain pressure on it. Similarly, Congress passed measures designed to allow it to more effectively use visa restrictions and financial asset freezes to coerce Russia, and foreign aid to extract concessions from Vietnam, after these states joined the WTO.
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