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Ed Webb

How Biden Kept Screwing Up Iraq, Over and Over and Over Again - 0 views

  • Reviewing Biden’s record on Iraq is like rewinding footage of a car crash to identify the fateful decisions that arrayed people at the bloody intersection. He was not just another Democratic hawk navigating the trauma of 9/11 in a misguided way. He didn’t merely call his vote for a disastrous war part of “a march to peace and security.” Biden got the Iraq war wrong before and throughout invasion, occupation, and withdrawal. Convenient as it is to blame Bush—who, to be clear, bears primary and eternal responsibility for the disaster—Biden embraced the Iraq war for what he portrayed as the result of his foreign policy principles and persisted, most often in error, for the same reasons. 
  • “I think the vast majority of the foreign policy community thinks [my record has] been very good.” That will be important context should Biden become president. He’s the favorite of many in Democratic foreign policy circles who believe in resetting the American geopolitical position to what it was the day before Trump was elected, rather than considering it critical context for why Trump was elected. 
  • National Democrats embraced the war on terrorism with enthusiasm and, with few exceptions, were disinclined to challenge Bush on foreign policy even as that foreign policy became more militant and extreme
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  • Biden’s hearings highlighted the dangers of occupation, such as the basic uncertainty around what would replace Saddam Hussein, as well as the bloody, long, and expensive commitment required to midwife a democratic Iraq. “In many ways, those hearings were remarkably prescient about what was to happen,” said Tony Blinken, Biden’s longtime aide on the committee and a deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. “He and [GOP Sen. Richard] Lugar talked about not the day after but the decade after. If we did go in, they talked about the lack of a plan to secure any peace that followed the intervention.”
  • But the balance of expert testimony concerned guessing at Saddam’s weapons program, the pragmatic questions of invading, and the diplomatic legwork of an action whose justice—if not necessarily its wisdom—was presumed
  • the regnant foreign policy consensus in America: Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction and had sealed his fate by doing so. It was an enormous factual mistake born out of an inability to see that Saddam believed that transparent disarmament would spell his doom at the hands of Iran. This misapprehension led advocates to accept that the U.S.—preferably with others, but alone if necessary—was justified or even obligated to get rid of Saddam
  • Bush’s secretary of state, Colin Powell, convinced the White House to attempt securing United Nations support for the war. It was a cynical maneuver: the Security Council could accept additional weapons inspections but not war; Bush could claim he tried for an internationalist solution before invading unilaterally. Its primary effect was to legitimize the war in the eyes of uncomfortable congressional Democrats who had made the tactical error of disputing the war for insufficient multilateralism rather than arguing it was wrong
  • For Biden, the critical point, “what this is about,” was America daring to “enforce” U.N. Security Council disarmament resolutions that the U.N. was saying did not justify war. When the world stood against America, in the forum Biden considered critical and Bush considered pretextual, America would simply act in the world’s name. He approvingly quoted the infamous Henry Kissinger: “As the most powerful nation in the world, the United States has a special, unilateral capacity, and indeed obligation, to lead in implementing its convictions, but it also has a special obligation to justify its actions by principles that transcend the assertions of preponderance of power.” America’s confidence in its nobility was, in the end, all the justification it required. 
  • Biden acknowledged that the “imminence and inevitability” of the threat Iraq posed was “exaggerated,” although that recognition was irrelevant to both his reasoning and his vote. He performed an end-zone dance over Bush advisers who favored what he called the doctrine of preemption—a euphemism for wars of aggression—as if his vote did not authorize exactly the preemptive war those advisers wanted. The trouble Biden saw was that elevating preemption to a foreign policy “doctrine” would grant “every nation an unfettered right of preemption.” Left unsaid was that it would be better for America to keep that unfettered right for itself.
  • Biden was unprepared to break from prevention, which is always the prerogative of hegemonic powers. Boxed in, he continued to argue that the trouble was Bush elevating preemption to centrality in foreign policy, and fretted that predatory states would cite that “doctrine” to prey on weaker ones. He neglected to see that all those states needed was the example of the Iraq war itself. Eleven years later, when Biden was vice president, Vladimir Putin cited Iraq as a reason the U.S. had no standing to criticize him for invading Ukraine. 
  • Iraq was an abstraction to Biden—as it was, ironically, to the neoconservatives Biden had criticized—a canvas on which to project theories of American power
  • Nothing that followed went the way Biden expected. Bush did not share Biden’s distinction between the U.N. weapons-inspection process and the invasion. Iraq did not passively accept its occupation. And Biden did not reap the political benefit of endorsing the war that seemed so obvious to the Democratic consultant class in the autumn of 2002. 
  • Biden praised the leadership of the Coalition Provisional Authority, a shockingly corrupt and incompetent organization. Its chief, Jerry Bremer, was “first-rate,” Biden said mere months after Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, the greatest gift America could have given the insurgency
  • Rebuilding Iraq’s police force was left to former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, whom Biden called “a serious guy with a serious team.” Iraq’s police would soon become indistinguishable from sectarian death squads; Kerik would soon plead guilty to tax fraud and other federal corruption charges
  • By the next summer, with Iraq in flames, Biden continued his misdiagnosis. The original sin wasn’t the war itself, it was Bush’s stewardship—the same stewardship Biden praised in 2002. “Because we waged a war in Iraq virtually alone, we are responsible for the aftermath virtually alone,” he thundered at the 2004 Democratic convention. The intelligence “was hyped to justify going to war,” Biden continued, causing “America’s credibility and security [to] have suffered a terrible blow.” Yet Biden made no call for withdrawal. It was easier to pretend that Bush was waging a different war than the one he empowered Bush to wage. 
  • The U.S., unable to win the war it chose, would be better off reshaping the map of Iraq into something that better suited it. The proposal was a natural outgrowth of viewing Iraq as an abstraction. Now that Iraq had undermined American power, Iraq would be subject to a kind of dismemberment, a theoretically cleaner problem to solve than a civil war or a weak client state. In September 2007, Biden prevailed upon his fellow senators to endorse his proposal on a staggering 75-23 vote. There was no support for the idea among actual Iraqis outside Kurdistan, but they were beside the imperial point.
  • 2007 saw Biden’s most valorous act on Iraq. With the war a morass, Biden secured $23 billion, far more than the Pentagon requested, to buy Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, whose hull design proved more survivable against the insurgency’s improvised bombs. Replacing insufficiently armored Humvees with MRAPs was “a passion,” he said. While the number of lives MRAPs saved over the course of the program’s $45 billion lifespan has been disputed, the Pentagon estimated in 2012 that over 2,000 service members are alive today because of the vehicle. Biden counted securing the funding for the MRAP among his greatest congressional achievements.
  • Barack Obama had opposed the Iraq war, but was hardly afflicted with the “distrust of the use of American power” that Biden feared in 2004. Selecting Biden as his vice president laundered Biden’s reputation. No longer was Biden the man whose faith in American exceptionalism had driven the U.S. into a morass. He was the lovable uncle in aviators who washed his metaphorical Trans Am on the White House lawn. Obama gave him responsibility for a three-year project of U.S. withdrawal, one that Biden considers an accomplishment. 
  • Biden and other U.S. officials appeared at times dangerously unconcerned about Maliki’s consolidation of power that once again marginalized Sunni Iraq, which the war had already proven would give jihadis the opportunity they needed
  • Biden reflected America’s schizophrenic attitude toward ending post-9/11 wars, in which leaving a residual force amidst an unsettled conflict does not count as continuing a war.
  • “I’ll bet you my vice presidency Maliki will extend the SOFA,” the Times quoted him. Instead, the following year, the Iraqi parliament did no such thing
  • Biden is the last of the pre-Obama generation of Democratic foreign policy grandees who enabled the Iraq war. John Kerry and Hillary Clinton both lost their presidential bids, saddled in both cases with the legacy of the war they supported
  • A President Biden is likely to find himself a man out of time. Writing in The Guardian, David Adler and Ben Judah recently described Biden as a “restorationist” in foreign policy, aiming at setting the American geopolitical clock back to what it was before Trump took office. Yet now an emergent China, a resurgent Russia, and the ascent of nationalism and oligarchy across Europe, India, and South America have fragmented the America-centric internationalist order that Biden represents. While Trump has accelerated these dynamics, he is far less responsible for them than is the martial post-9/11 course of U.S. foreign policy that wrecked itself, most prominently in Iraq.
Ed Webb

10 new wars that could be unleashed as a result of the one against ISIS - The Washingto... - 1 views

  • the U.S. strategy for defeating the Islamic State relies on a variety of regional allies and local armed groups who are often bitterly at odds. Though all of them regard the Islamic State as an enemy, most of them regard one another as enemies, too. As they conquer territory from the militants, they are staking out claims to the captured lands in ways that risk bringing them into conflict with others who are also seizing territory. New wars are brewing, for control of the post-Islamic State order.
  • WAR NO. 1: U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish-backed Arab forces This is one of the wars that have already started, and it is also one of the more complicated ones.
  • when Turkey intervened in Syria two weeks ago to help Syrian rebels capture Islamic State territory, it was clear that the Kurds were as much of a target as the Islamic State
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  • WAR NO. 2: Turkey and the Syrian Kurds This war would be similar to war No. 1, but bigger
  • WAR NO. 3: Syrian Kurds and the Syrian government The Syrian government also feels threatened by the territorial ambitions of the Kurds. Until recently, they had maintained an uneasy alliance, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad boasted on a number of occasions that his government provides the Kurds with arms. But the relationship has soured since the autonomy declaration by the Kurds, and the two sides have fought brief battles in areas where they both have forces.
  • WAR NO. 4: The United States and Syria This is a war that could have erupted on any number of occasions in the five years since President Obama called for the ouster of Assad.
  • WAR NO. 5: Turkey and Syria The Turkish intervention in Syria has for now been confined to fighting the Islamic State and Kurdish forces. Turkey has also taken steps to mend fences with both Russia and Iran, Assad’s most important allies, who appear to have given a green light to Turkey’s intervention in northern Syria. If Turkey’s fight against the Islamic State goes well, however, the Turkish forces will soon find themselves up against Syrian government front lines around the contested city of Aleppo. That could get messy.
  • WAR NO. 8: Kurds against Kurds
  • Iraqi Kurds moved into areas of Iraq that were once under Iraqi government control. The U.S.-backed Iraqi government says it intends to reclaim these areas once the Islamic State has been fully vanquished. The U.S.-backed Kurds have said they won’t let go of any territory Kurds have shed blood to conquer.
  • WAR NO. 7: Iraqi Kurds and Shiite militias This would take place for reasons similar to war No. 6, except that it has already started to simmer.
  • WAR NO. 6: Iraqi Kurds and the Iraqi government
  • WAR NO. 9: Sunni Arabs against Shiites and/or Kurds In pursuit of the goal of defeating the Islamic State, towns and villages that are predominantly Sunni are being conquered by forces that are mostly Kurdish or Shiite. Many Sunnis are teaming up with them to help defeat the militants. Many are overwhelmingly relieved when their oppressors are driven out.
  • In the absence of genuine reconciliation, including political solutions that empower Sunnis, a new form of Sunni insurgency could emerge.
  • WAR NO. 10: The remnants of the Islamic State against everyone
Ed Webb

Buzan on GWoT 2006 - 1 views

shared by Ed Webb on 15 Nov 16 - No Cached
  • Washington is now embarked on a campaign to persuade itself, the American people and the rest of the world that the ‘global war on terrorism’ (GWoT) will be a ‘long war’. This ‘long war’ is explicitly compared to the Cold War as a similar sort of zero-sum, global-scale, generational struggle against anti-liberal ideolo-gical extremists who want to rule the world.
  • When the Cold War ended, Washington seemed to experience a threat defi cit, and there was a string of attempts to fi nd a replacement for the Soviet Union as the enemy focus for US foreign and military policy: fi rst Japan, then China, ‘clash of civilizations’ and rogue states
  • the GWoT had the feel of a big idea that might provide a long-term cure for Washington’s threat defi ci
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  • the explicit ‘long war’ framing of the GWoT is a securitizing move of potentially great signifi cance. If it succeeds as a widely accepted, world-organizing macro-securitization, it could structure global security for some decades, in the process helping to legitimize US primacy
    • Ed Webb
       
      Securitization is a newer concept in IR, mostly associated with the Copenhagen School, although Buzan is English School. The argument here is that a successful rhetorical or framing move can have systemic effects.
  • This article is about the strength and durability of that belief, and whether as a social fact it can be used to create a new political framing for world politics. In addressing this question I diff erentiate between a traditional materialist analysis of threat (whether something does or does not pose a specifi c sort of threat, and at what level) and a so-called securitizationanalysis (whether something can be successfully constructed as a threat, with this understanding being accepted by a wide and/or specifi cally relevant audience).4These two aspects of threat may run in close parallel, but they can also be quite separate. States, like people, can be paranoid (constructing threats where none exist) or complacent (ignoring actual threats). But since it is the success (or not) of the securitization that determines whether action is taken, that side of threat analysis deserves scrutiny just as close as that given to the material side
    • Ed Webb
       
      Note how this argument applies long-standing IR concepts from several schools of thought: perception and misperception (Jervis); balance of threat (Walt); ideas as frames for world politics/the international system (Wendt).
  • the only thing that changed is the belief that something had changed
    • Ed Webb
       
      There is no consensus on this, but quite a few IR scholars take this view of 9/11
  • reformulate the GWoT
    • Ed Webb
       
      Obama decided to declare it "over" in 2013: http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/05/23/obama-global-war-on-terror-is-over But the rhetorical shift has not led to any notable reduction in GWoT-related drone strikes etc.
  • Immediately following 9/11 NATO invoked article 5 for the fi rst time, thereby helping to legitimize the GWoT securitization.
  • In the case of Russia, China, Israel and India, the move has been to link their own local problems with ‘terrorism’ to the wider GWoT framing.
  • tied together several longstanding security concerns arising within the liberal order, most notably crime and the trades in drugs and the technologies for weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Within the frame of the liberal international economic order (LIEO), it is well understood that while opening state borders to fl ows of trade, fi nance, information and (skilled) people is generally to be promoted, such opening also has its dark side in which illiberal actors, mainly criminals and terrorists, can take advantage of liberal openness in pursuit of illiberal ends
    • Ed Webb
       
      This is Naim's "Five Wars of Globalization"
  • There are fi ve obvious types of event that could signifi -cantly reinforce or undermine the GWoT securitization:ü the impact of further terrorist plans and/or attacks (or plans or attacks success-fully attributed to terrorists);ü the commitment of the United States to the GWoT securitization;ü the legitimacy of the United States as a securitization leader within interna-tional society;ü the (un)acceptability and (il)legitimacy of both the GWoT securitization as a whole or of particularist securitizations that get linked to it;ü the potency of securitizations competing with the GWoT
  • The escalation option would strengthen the GWoT securitization, and the reduction option would weaken it. More of the same does not look suffi cient to sustain the costs of a long-term macro-securitization unless the fear of escalation can be maintained at a high level.
  • Americans, like most other citizens of democracies, quite willingly surrender some of their civil liberties in times of war. But it is easy to see the grounds within American society for reactions against the GWoT securitization, especially if its legitimacy becomes contested. One source of such reactions would be civil libertarians and others opposed to the reasser-tion of government powers through a state of permanent fear and emergency. Another would be isolationists and ‘off shore balancers’ who oppose the current levels and logics of US global engagement
  • Grounds for opposition include its costs, in terms of both money and liberty, and the ineff ectiveness of a permanent increase in the state’s surveil-lance over everything from trade and fi nance to individual patterns of travel and consumption
  • US military expenditure remains largely aimed at meeting traditional challenges from other states, with only a small part specifi cally allocated for the GWoT. The signifi cance of the GWoT is much more political. Although a real threat from terrorists does exist, and needs to be met, the main signifi cance of the GWoT is as a political framing that might justify and legitimize US primacy, leadership and unilater-alism, both to Americans and to the rest of the world. This is one of the key diff erences between the GWoT and the Cold War. The Cold War pretty much wasUS grand strategy in a deep sense; the GWoT is not, but, as a brief glance at the USNSS of 2006 will show, is being promoted as if it were
    • Ed Webb
       
      Contrast with the Cold War here is important. Notice the disconnection between political framing and budgetary decisions in GWoT. Why is that?
  • The US successfully generated and led the macro-securitization of the Cold War against communism generally and the military power of the Soviet Union in particular. It was aided in this both by the broad acceptability of its own qualities as a leader in the West, and up to a point even in the Third World, and by the fact that other states, especially west European ones, plus Turkey, Japan and South Korea, shared the fear of communism and Soviet military power
  • A weight of punditry agrees that the Atlantic has got wider, to the point where even the idea that there is a western community is now under serious threat.
    • Ed Webb
       
      That this argument was being advanced halfway through the second GW Bush term, and yet the transatlantic alliance has held firm, should probably give us hope for the relationship surviving the Trump administration.
  • states might support or oppose the GWoT not only on its merits, but also because of how it plays into the global hierarchy of power
  • In terms of the GWoT securitization as a whole, some of the lines of opposition are the same in the rest of the world as they are in US domestic debates, particu-larly over what kinds of emergency action it legitimizes. To the extent that the GWoT becomes associated with actions that seem to contradict the values that the West seeks to represent against the likes of Al-Qaeda, the legitimacy of the securitization is corroded
  • By hardening borders, homeland security measures erode some of the principles of economic liberalism that they are designed to defend; and the same argument could be made about the trade-off between enhanced surveillance under the GWoT and the civil liberties that are part of the core referent object of western civilization
  • Most western leaders (the ever undiplomatic Berlusconi having been a notable excep-tion) have tried hard right from the beginning not to stage the GWoT as a war between the West and Islam. They have trodden the diffi cult line of maintaining that, while most of the terrorists speak in the name of Islam, that does not mean that most adherents of Islam are terrorists or supporters of terrorists. But despite this, the profoundly worrying relinking of religion and politics in the United States, Israel and the Islamic world easily feeds zero-sum confl icts. This linkage could help to embed the securitization of the GWoT, as it seems to have done within the United States and Israel. If religious identities feed the growth of a ‘clash of civilizations’ mentality, as seems to have happened in the episode of the Danish cartoons, this too could reinforce the GWoT securitization. It could, equally, create a reaction against it from those who feel that their particular religion is being mis represented by fundamentalists, and/or from those who object to religious infl uence on politics. The latter is certainly part of what has widened the gap between the US and Europe
  • Al-Qaeda and its like, while clearly posing a threat to the West, do not represent a plausible political alternative to it, Islamist fantasies about a new caliphate notwithstanding. The contrast with the Cold War could not be more striking. Then, the designated opponent and object of securitization was a power that represented what seemed a plausible political alternative: one could easily imagine a communist world. The post-9/11 securitization focused neither on an alternative superpower nor on an alternative ideology, but on the chaos power of embittered and alienated minori-ties, along with a handful of pariah governments, and their ability to exploit the openness, the technology, and in some places the inequality, unfairness and failed states generated by the western system of political economy
  • Iraq. The US and British governments attempted to justify the invasion by linking Saddam Hussein’s regime to both terrorists and WMD. This securitizing move was successful within the United States, but vigorously contested in many other places, resulting in serious and damaging splits in both the EU and NATO. Russia was generally very supportive of the GWoT securitization, seeking to link its own diffi culties in Chechnya to it, but Putin joined Germany and France in strong opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq. The ill-prepared occupation that followed the successful blitzkrieg against Iraq only deepened the splits, with many opponents of the war agreeing with Dana Allin’s assessment that ‘Iraq was probably the war that bin Laden wanted the United States to fi ght’,29and Wilkinson’s that it was ‘a gratuitous propaganda gift to bin Laden’.30 During the 2004 US election, even John Kerry began to argue the point that invasion of Iraq was distracting eff ort away from the GWoT.31 As the political disaster in Iraq continues to unfold, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that it was both a tactical and strategic blunder of epic proportions in relation to the problem of global terrorism represented by Al-Qaeda
  • There are quite a variety of possible candidates for competing securitizations. Rising sea levels or approaching asteroids, or the spread of a new killer plague, could easily put planetary environmental concerns at the top of the securitiza-tion agenda. But in conventional mode the most likely threat to the GWoT as dominant macro-securitization comes from the rise of China
  • It was perhaps only the perceived remoteness in time of China achieving superpower status that prevented this securitization from becoming the dominant rhetoric in Washington during the 1990s. As time marches on, the rise of China becomes more real and less hypothetical
  • Given an ongoing disposition within Washington to construct China as a threat, the likely increase in Chinese power, both relative and absolute, and the existence of tensions between the two governments over, inter alia, Taiwan, trade and human rights, it is not diffi cult to imagine circumstances in which concerns about China would become the dominant securitization within the United States
    • Ed Webb
       
      Is this a new "pivot to Asia" we can imagine happening under the Trump administration?
  • o long as China conducts its so-called ‘peaceful rise’ in such a way as not to threaten its neighbours or the general stability of interna-tional society, many outside the United States might actually welcome it. Europe is likely to be indiff erent, and many countries (e.g. Russia, China, India, Iran, France, Malaysia) support a rhetoric of multipolarity as their preferred power structure over the predominance of the United States as sole superpower.
  • Because a world govern-ment is not available, the problem pits international society against global uncivil society
  • Wilkinson, who has solid credentials as a hard foe of the terrorists, echoes a sentiment widely held across the political spectrum when he says that ‘If we undermine or destroy our hard-won liberties and rights in the name of security against terrorism we will give the terrorists a victory they could never win by the bomb and the gun.’28 In this respect it is of more than passing interest that all of the current strategies being used to pursue the GWoT seem actively to damage the liberal values they purport to defend.
  • War is seldom good for liberal values even when fought in defence of them
  • Equalizing starts from the assumption that the root causes of terrorism lie in the inequalities and injustices that are both a legacy of human history and a feature of market economies. The long-term solution to terrorism in this perspective is to drain the waters in which the terrorists swim by redressing the inequalities and injustices that supposedly generate support for them. It is not my concern here to argue whether this contested cause–eff ect hypothesis is correct or not. My point is that if a policy along these lines is pursued, it cannot avoid undermining the foundations of a competitive market economy
  • f inequality is the source of terrorism, neo-liberal economics does not provide a quick enough solution
  • terrorism poses a double threat to liberal democratic societies: open direct assaults of the type that have become all too familiar, and insidious erosion as a consequence of the countermeasures taken
    • Ed Webb
       
      This is an essential point to understand about terrorism, suggesting why groups continue to adopt the tactic and why, sometimes, it can succeed.
  • f it is impossible to elimi-nate terrorists, as is probably the case, then this drive risks the kind of permanent mobilization that inevitably corrodes liberal practices and values
  • If the priority is to preserve liberal values, one is pushed towards the option of learning to live with terrorism as an everyday risk while pursuing counter-measures that stop short of creating a garrison state.
  • The necessary condition for doing so is that state and society raise their toleration for damage as a price they pay for openness and freedom. Kenneth Waltz long ago made the point that ‘if freedom is wanted, insecurity must be accepted’,38 though it has to be said that this part of his analysis has made little impact on US thinking about national security
  • if terrorism is a problem of the long term, as it well might be for advanced industrial societies, it would require a level of democratic sophistication and commitment rather higher than anything yet seen
  • Europe is more resilient and better able to defend its values without resorting to excesses of securitization. By comparison, the United States seems a softer target, too easily pricked into intemperate reactions that in themselves work to under-mine what it claims to stand for
    • Ed Webb
       
      This is broadly, historically true. But note France's ongoing state of emergency since the Paris attacks. The move from resilience toward garrison-state approaches is tempting for any government in times of popular uncertainty and fear.
Ed Webb

20 Years After Iraq War Began, a Look Back at U.S. Public Opinion | Pew Research Center - 0 views

  • The bleak retrospective judgments on the war obscure the breadth of public support for U.S. military action at the start of the conflict and, perhaps more importantly, in the months leading up to it. Throughout 2002 and early 2003, President George W. Bush and his administration marshaled wide backing for the use of military force in Iraq among both the public and Congress. The administration’s success in these efforts was the result of several factors, not least of which was the climate of public opinion at the time. Still reeling from the horrors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Americans were extraordinarily accepting of the possible use of military force as part of what Bush called the “global war on terror.”
  • Two of the administration’s arguments proved especially powerful, given the public’s mood: first, that Hussein’s regime possessed “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD), a shorthand for nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; and second, that it supported terrorism and had close ties to terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, which had attacked the U.S. on 9/11.
  • Two decades after the war began, a review of Pew Research Center surveys on the war in Iraq shows that support for U.S. military action was built, at least in part, on a foundation of falsehoods.
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  • The same month that Congress approved the use of force resolution against Iraq, 66% of the public said that “Saddam Hussein helped the terrorists in the September 11th attacks”; just 21% said he was not involved in 9/11. In February 2003, a month before the war began, that belief was only somewhat less widespread; 57% thought Hussein had supported the 9/11 terrorists.
  • by connecting Hussein to terrorism and the group that attacked the United States, administration officials blurred the lines between Iraq and 9/11. “The notion was reinforced by these hints, the discussions that they had about possible links” with al-Qaida terrorists, the late Andrew Kohut, founding director of Pew Research Center, told The Washington Post after the war was underway in 2003.
  • Powell’s address had a significant impact on U.S. public opinion, even among those who were opposed to war. Roughly six-in-ten adults (61%) said Powell had explained clearly why the United States might use military force to end Hussein’s rule; that was greater than the share saying Bush had clearly explained the stakes in Iraq (52%). Powell was particularly persuasive among those who were opposed to using force in Iraq: 39% said he had clearly explained why the U.S. may need to take military action, about twice the share saying the same about Bush.
  • millions of protestors took to the streets in numerous cities across the world and in the U.S. on Feb. 15. While the largest demonstrations were in London and Rome, several hundred thousand antiwar protesters crowded the streets of New York City
  • The share of Americans saying the U.S. military effort in Iraq was going well, which surpassed 90% in the war’s early weeks, fell to about 60% in late summer 2003.
  • Bush’s reelection as president in November underscored the extent to which the war in Iraq had divided the nation. Among the narrow majority of voters (51%) who then approved of the decision to go to war, 85% voted for Bush; among the smaller share (45%) who disapproved, 87% voted for his Democratic opponent, John Kerry, according to national exit polls.
  • In national exit polls conducted after Obama’s victory over McCain, 63% of voters cited the economy as the most important issue facing the country; just 10% mentioned the war in Iraq.
  • By 2018, the 15th anniversary of the start of the war, just 39% of Americans said the U.S. had succeeded in Iraq, while 53% said it had failed to achieve its goals.
Ed Webb

A Middle East Monarchy Hired American Ex-Soldiers To Kill Its Political Enemies. This C... - 0 views

  • “There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.”
  • The revelations that a Middle East monarchy hired Americans to carry out assassinations comes at a moment when the world is focused on the alleged murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia, an autocratic regime that has close ties to both the US and the UAE
  • The UAE, with vast wealth but only about 1 million citizens, relies on migrant workers from all over the world to do everything from cleaning its toilets to teaching its university students. Its military is no different, paying lavish sums to eager US defense companies and former generals. The US Department of Defense has approved at least $27 billion in arms sales and defense services to the UAE since 2009.
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  • Spear Operations Group’s private assassination mission marks the confluence of three developments transforming the way war is conducted worldwide:Modern counterterrorism combat has shifted away from traditional military objectives — such as destroying airfields, gun emplacements, or barracks — to killing specific individuals, largely reshaping war into organized assassinations.War has become increasingly privatized, with many nations outsourcing most military support services to private contractors, leaving frontline combat as virtually the only function that the US and many other militaries have not contracted out to for-profit ventures.The long US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have relied heavily on elite special forces, producing tens of thousands of highly trained American commandos who can demand high private-sector salaries for defense contracting or outright mercenary work.
  • militarized contract killing, carried out by skilled American fighters
  • “There were guys that were basically doing what you said.” He was astonished, he said, by what he learned: “What vetting procedures are there to make sure the guy you just smoked is really a bad guy?” The mercenaries, he said, were “almost like a murder squad.”
  • US law makes it illegal to “conspire to kill, kidnap, maim” someone in another country. Companies that provide military services to foreign nations are supposed to be regulated by the State Department, which says it has never granted any company the authority to supply combat troops or mercenaries to another country
  • with some exceptions, it is perfectly legal to serve in foreign militaries, whether one is motivated by idealism or money. With no legal consequences, Americans have served in the Israel Defense Forces, the French Foreign Legion, and even a militia fighting ISIS in Syria. Spear Operations Group, according to three sources, arranged for the UAE to give military rank to the Americans involved in the mission, which might provide them legal cover.
  • The commandos’ plans went awry, and the intelligence proved flawed. And their strike was far from surgical: The explosive they attached to the door was designed to kill not one person but everyone in the office
  • Private mercenaries operate outside the US military’s chain of command, so if they make mistakes or commit war crimes, there is no clear system for holding them accountable
  • Golan insists that he killed only terrorists identified by the government of the UAE, an ally of the US. But who is a terrorist and who is a politician? What is a new form of warfare and what is just old-fashioned murder for hire? Who has the right to choose who lives and who dies — not only in the wars of a secretive monarchy like the UAE, but also those of a democracy such as the US?
  • Golan said that during his company’s months-long engagement in Yemen, his team was responsible for a number of the war’s high-profile assassinations, though he declined to specify which ones. He argued that the US needs an assassination program similar to the model he deployed. “I just want there to be a debate,” he said. “Maybe I’m a monster. Maybe I should be in jail. Maybe I’m a bad guy. But I’m right.”
  • the country embeds foreigners in its military and gave the rank of major general to an American lieutenant colonel, Stephen Toumajan, placing him in command of a branch of its armed forces.
  • The US draws the line at combat; it does not hire mercenaries to carry out attacks or engage directly in warfare. But that line can get blurry. Private firms provide heavily armed security details to protect diplomats in war zones or intelligence officers in the field. Such contractors can engage in firefights, as they did in Benghazi, Libya, when two contractors died in 2012 defending a CIA post. But, officially, the mission was protection, not warfare
  • The people Spear did target, he and Gilmore said, were legitimate because they were selected by the government of the UAE, an ally of the United States that was engaged in a military action supported by the US. Gilmore said that he and Golan told the UAE they would never act against US interests. And Golan claimed that, based on his military experience, he could tell if a target was a terrorist after just a week or two of surveillance.
  • A little-known consequence of the war on terror, and in particular the 17 combined years of US warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, is that the number of special operations forces has more than doubled since 9/11, from 33,000 to 70,000. That’s a vast pool of crack soldiers selected, trained, and combat-tested by the most elite units of the US military, such as the Navy SEALs and Army Rangers. Some special operations reservists are known to engage in for-profit soldiering, said a high-level SEAL officer who asked not to be named. “I know a number of them who do this sort of thing,” he said. If the soldiers are not on active duty, he added, they are not obligated to report what they’re doing.
  • Gilmore said some were members of Al-Islah, some were clerics, and some were out-and-out terrorists — but he conceded he couldn’t be sure.BuzzFeed News has obtained one of the target cards. On it is a man’s name, photograph, telephone number, and other information. At the top right is the insignia of the UAE Presidential Guard.
  • During the Cold War, the CIA played a role in plots to assassinate foreign leaders, such as Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic, and Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam. Later in the Vietnam War, the US launched the Phoenix program, in which the CIA often teamed up with US military units to “neutralize” — or, critics say, assassinate — Viet Cong leaders. Even so, targeted killings were not a central pillar of US military strategy in Vietnam. And after Congress exposed CIA activities in the 1970s, the US banned assassinations of foreign leaders.
  • Under President George W. Bush, the CIA and the military used drones to kill terrorists, and the CIA developed covert assassination capabilities. President Barack Obama halted the agency’s secret assassination program but drastically ramped up the use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Soon the CIA and the military were using the aircraft — piloted remotely using video monitors — to kill people whose names the US didn’t even know, through “signature strikes” based solely on a target’s associations and activities. President Donald Trump has further loosened the rules for drone strikes.
  • Only a uniformed officer can push the button that fires the drone’s missile and kills the target
  • Elisabeth Kendall, an expert on Yemen at the University of Oxford, points out that unlike al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups, which try to seize power through violence, Al-Islah participates in the political process. But, she said, the US rationale for drone strikes has legitimized other countries’ pursuit of their own assassinations: “The whole very watery, vague notion of a war on terror has left the door wide open to any regime saying, ‘This is all a war on terror.’ ”
  • Golan said he models his assassination business on Israel’s targeted killing program, which has been underway since the country was founded, and which, despite some high-profile errors and embarrassments, he claims is done properly. He argues there are some terrorist enemies so dangerous and implacable — and so difficult to arrest — that assassination is the best solution.
  • Golan and Gilmore had another condition: They wanted to be incorporated into the UAE Armed Forces. And they wanted their weapons — and their target list — to come from uniformed military officers. That was “for juridical reasons,” Golan said. “Because if the shit hits the fan,” he explained, the UAE uniform and dog tags would mark “the difference between a mercenary and a military man.”
  • Gilmore acknowledged that some of the targets may have been people who merely fell out of favor with the ruling family. Referring to the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Gilmore said, “There is the possibility that the target would be someone who MBZ doesn’t like. We’d try to make sure that didn’t happen.”
  • Even though it failed to kill Mayo, the mercenaries’ bomb attack seems to have ushered in a new phase in the UAE’s war against Al-Islah. “It was the exclamation point that set the tone that Al-Islah was now going to be targeted,”
  • As 2016 progressed, those watching the deteriorating situation in Yemen began to notice that members of Al-Islah, and other clerics in Aden, were dropping dead at an alarming pace. “It does appear to be a targeted campaign,” said Gregory Johnsen of the Arabia Foundation, who in 2016 served on a UN panel investigating the Yemen war. “There have been 25 to 30 assassinations,” he said, though a few appear to be the work of ISIS.
  • One new member of the team, hired in early 2016, was the veteran of SEAL Team 6, Daniel Corbett, according to three sources and confirmed by photos. Corbett was a superb soldier, say those who know him, and had served multiple combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was still in the reserves, so the US military could deploy him at any moment; he collected a government salary; and he was supposed to report for monthly drills. And yet he was in Yemen on a private contract to work for a foreign military. It is unclear if he himself was involved in missions to assassinate anyone.
  • In a mysterious development, Corbett is currently in jail in Serbia, where he is being investigated for illegal handgun possession. The American veteran has been held there since February 2018.
  • “some variety of the future of warfare.”
Ed Webb

The ISIS Beat - The Drift - 1 views

  • even as the new Biden Administration announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, to “end” the twenty-year war, it will continue airstrikes and raids to tackle the ever-looming threat of terrorism.
  • As the persistence of far-right nationalism suggests, ideologies cannot so easily be destroyed — even those we thought we had bombed out of existence seventy years ago. Yet, the world refracted through this war (the “only one” of the 21st century, Bush hoped) has left us not just morally inept, but also woefully misguided about what is to come next
  • The S.D.F. offers a remarkable vision to counter ISIS’s draconian rule — local councils, farmers’ cooperatives, and committees that promote the rights of oppressed minority groups. In the village of Jinwar, a female-controlled town, the S.D.F. has built a commune for women and their children, both Kurdish and Arab, seeking to escape oppressive families and realize a community without patriarchy. According to the constitution of the so-called Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the S.D.F.-linked ruling authority in the region, a post-ISIS Syria will be “a society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs.” In order to realize this vision, part of the S.D.F.’s mandate is not just to govern, but also to annihilate ISIS. Several soldiers and S.D.F. spokesmen told me that the war against ISIS isn’t over — its aim now, with the support of the U.S., is to destroy sleeper cells and root out the ideology.
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  • ISIS has taken control over parts of regime territory in the deserts of central Syria, and slices of S.D.F.-controlled Deir ez-Zor province are witnessing a full-blown ISIS insurgency, underscoring just how central the question of governance is to the group’s appeal. But the U.S. and its allies’ focus on ideology risks ignoring why ISIS gained support in the first place. Raids and detentions, torture and execution, and governance that politically marginalizes certain groups and offers few options for justice or accountability will only build anger. It is these layers of political and social contexts that are lost in most coverage, even if they will shape Iraq and Syria for a long time to come. 
  • a core argument for the war depended on the idea that terrorism was, in essence, a form of religious violence
  • If our enemy is everywhere, we will seek allies in even the most oppressive of regimes (like Egypt and Saudi Arabia) to hunt down “terrorists,” no matter if they are gun-wielding militants or political dissidents who believe that the current state of affairs does not serve them.
  • If a war is a “good war,” or merely conceived of as a necessary one, it matters little why a terrorist group gained support, or how we may be inadvertently contributing to the group’s appeal. Yet, while the current approach to terrorism has been wildly successful in building a cottage industry of extremism and deradicalization experts, it has failed to rid the world of terrorists.
  • Massacres of Iraqi civilians, deaths of Afghan civilians by airstrikes, and indiscriminate detention and torture and rape have all happened at the hands of state security forces, including those allied with the U.S.
  • The Manichean framework helps absolve the West of its role and its responsibility in ending an endless conflict. “Terrorism” has become so synonymous with horrific violence that most Americans are likely unaware that the vast majority of civilian deaths in global conflicts today are caused by states, not non-state actors.
  • As with other battles against evil, the “killers and fanatics” necessitated the dropping of bombs, an operation that Obama’s successor continued.
  • If we portray certain enemies solely as existential threats, we sweep over the political conflicts unfolding in places like Iraq and Syria, and the political violence wrought upon these communities, even by those who claim to be fighting a just war.
  • What the Bush administration argued, and what the media accepted, was that terrorism is not a mere tactic, but a full-blown ideology — what Bush called “the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century,” including “fascism, Nazism and totalitarianism.” In practice, this means non-state armed groups not allied with the U.S. should be understood as terrorist organizations — no matter if, like the Taliban, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and Hamas, they have little else in common
  • By and large, the media accepted the Bush administration’s framing. By 2006, public criticism of the handling of the Iraq War was mounting, but even then, few questioned the legitimacy of the war itself. In a 2009 study of media coverage after 9/11, two scholars from the University of Texas found that journalists “helped brand the policy, [then] labeled the frame as public opinion,” ultimately contributing to the acceptance of that frame as a “fact of life,” and a “larger narrative of struggle and heroism.” Journalists did not treat the War on Terror as a policy decision made by the Bush administration, but as the natural and inevitable order of things. 
  • mainstream media coverage of ISIS receives almost no scrutiny. But many other publications and reporters have operated on the same flawed assumptions and premises as Caliphate, ones that animated the West’s understanding of the Middle East long before ISIS gained its first foothold
  • decades of imperialism, like the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Russia and Iran’s interventions, have irrevocably transformed communities in the Middle East. Similarly, though ISIS opposes the Saudi government, the Salafi-Jihadi underpinnings of the group could not have gained traction without the Kingdom’s years of effort of exporting and standardizing a particular form of Islam across the Middle East. 
  • the issue here isn’t just the violence — after all, Assad has also relished the torture, starvation, and murder of his citizens. Since 2011, his regime has used chemical weapons repeatedly, more than three hundred times according to one study. The critical difference is that while Assad depends on the international system for legitimacy (Russia and Iran are key supporters, and Syria remains part of the global financial system), ISIS rejects it. While Assad would prefer that the world looks away, ISIS practically begs us to stare. It aims to demoralize Western audiences, while projecting to potential recruits its vision of a new world order
  • In parts of the Caliphate, ISIS did promise a different model, at least nominally. In one piece of propaganda, the group declared, “The people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. There is no difference between the rich and the poor and the strong and the weak. The holder of a right has redress, and the grievance of an injured party will be answered.” In appealing to residents and new recruits, ISIS touched upon something familiar: the desire for justice, equality, and law and order in a world that has manifestly failed to deliver any. Women, too, found opportunities under ISIS. In Fallujah, they used the regime’s justice system to secure divorces, which had been more difficult under the Iraqi government.
  • civilians were likely to stay in ISIS-controlled territory because, among various reasons, the “quality of governance,” including “availability of electricity, cleanliness of streets, and crime rates,” was better compared to services provided by the Iraqi government
  • “All the locals here wonder why the U.S. coalition never came to rescue them from Assad’s machine guns, but run to fight ISIS when it took a few pieces of land,” one rebel told the Guardian. 
  • the current global order has left many people behind
  • The political scientist Austin Doctor recently conducted a study of sexual assault by 143 rebel groups around the world, from 1989 to 2011, and separately applied the results of his analysis to ISIS.  He found a correlation between the presence of foreign fighters and increased incidence of sexual violence, which suggests that the Islamic State functioned much like other rebel groups — that ISIS is not so singular as it may seem.
  • devoid of any political context, terms like “radicalization” and “ideology” lose meaning
  • how ISIS appeared in the public imagination: as a movement beyond human understanding. The only sensible answer to so inscrutable and atavistic an adversary was total war.
  • This frenzied interest in the U.S.’s darkly powerful new enemy lured some journalists and analysts to focus on the group full-time. It emerged as a distinct topic from the Syrian civil war, whose crowded theater was becoming difficult to explain, or the Iraq War, now a nearly-adolescent 11 years old. Soon, writers covering ISIS, what Wired called “the world’s most important beat,” developed a signature flourish, describing it not just as a terrorist organization, but as an almost supernatural threat. “It is not clear,” argued a New York Review of Books piece in 2015, “whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS. But for now, we should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled.”
  • Stories of the group’s atrocities emerged in quick succession, echoing the parade of violence ISIS was proudly broadcasting on its own channels: public executions, conscription of child soldiers, disappearances and murders of thousands, Yazidi girls sold into slavery.
  • by narrowly focusing on the savagery of ISIS fighters, we miss the deeper and more important story of how ISIS grew into a political force, and of how it moved not just the hearts and minds, but the physical bodies, of tens of thousands
  • the core issue with Caliphate isn’t just that a lying source may have misled overeager journalists. Rather, the controversy, and indeed even the proposition that a “terrorism editor” would have resolved the problem, points to a deeper flaw in the way media has long covered extremism: divorced from the local and historical contexts that have fueled its rise
  • After a decade of the War on Terror and chaos in the Middle East, ISIS seemed to be the ultimate testament to an enduring clash of civilizations. It is not that surprising that ISIS itself encouraged this fantastical narrative — but it is striking that our media took their word for it.
Ed Webb

The Oil for Security Myth and Middle East Insecurity - MERIP - 0 views

  • Guided by the twin logics of energy security and energy independence, American actions and alliances in region became a self-fulfilling prophecy. The very thing the United States sought to eliminate in the Middle East—insecurity—became a major consequence of America’s growing and increasingly militarized entanglement.
  • In effect, the essential relationship of dependency between the United States and the Middle East has never been “oil for security.” It has in fact been oil for insecurity, a dynamic in which war, militarization and autocracy in the region have been entangled with the economic dominance of North Atlantic oil companies, US hegemony and discourses of energy security.
  • Although the destabilizing contradictions of this dependency have now undercut both American hegemony and the power of the North Atlantic hydrocarbon industries, the oil-for-insecurity entanglement has nonetheless created dangerously strong incentives for more conflict ahead.
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  • Oil’s violent geopolitics is often assumed to result from the immense power its natural scarcity affords to those who can control it. Recent developments in global hydrocarbon markets, which saw negative prices on April 20, 2020 have once again put this scarcity myth to bed
  • In a series of studies that began in late 1980s, economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler charted the extent to which the world’s leading oil companies enjoyed comparatively handsome rates of returns on equity—well ahead of other dominant sectors within North Atlantic capitalism—when major wars or sustained unrest occurred in the Middle East.
  • When oil prices began to collapse in the mid-1980s, the major oil companies witnessed a 14-year downturn that was only briefly interrupted once, during the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
  • The events of September 11, 2001, the launching of the global war on terror and the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq reversed the fiscal misfortunes of the North Atlantic oil companies in the previous decade. Collectively, they achieved relative returns on equity several orders of magnitude greater than the heyday of 1979 to 1981. As oil prices soared, new methods of extraction reinvigorated oil production in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. In effect, war in Iraq made the shale oil revolution possible
  • fracking—not only benefitted from sky-high oil prices, generous US government subsidies and lax regulation, but also the massive amounts of cheap credit on offer to revive the economy after 2008
  • In response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iran hostage crisis, the Carter Doctrine declared America’s intent to use military force to protect its interests in the Gulf. In so doing, Carter not only denounced “the overwhelming dependence of the Western democracies on oil supplies from the Middle East,” but he also proposed new efforts to restrict oil imports, to impose price controls and to incentivize more fossil fuel extraction in the United States, all in conjunction with solidifying key alliances (Egypt, Israel and Pakistan) and reinforcing the US military presence in the region.[5] In effect, America would now extract geopolitical power from the Middle East by seeking to secure it.
  • In denouncing certain governments as “pariahs” or “rogue states,” and in calling for regime change, American policy has allowed those leaders to institute permanent states of emergency that have reinforced their grip on power, in some cases aided by expanded oil rents due to heightened global prices
  • A 2015 report by the Public Accountability Initiative highlights the extent to which the leading liberal and conservative foreign policy think tanks in Washington—the American Enterprise Institute, Atlantic Council, Brookings, Cato, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Council on Foreign Relations and Heritage Foundation—have all received oil industry funding, wrote reports sympathetic to industry interests or usually both
  • For some 50 years, the United States has been able to extract geopolitical power from Middle Eastern oil by posing as the protector of global energy security. The invention of the concept of energy security in the 1970s helped to legitimate the efforts of the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations to forge new foundations for American hegemony amid the political, economic and social crises of that decade. In the wake of the disastrous US war efforts in Korea and Southeast Asia, Henry Kissinger infamously attempted to re-forge American hegemony by outsourcing US security to proxies like Iran under what is referred to as the Nixon Doctrine. At the same time, regional hegemons would be kept in check by “balancing” competing states against each other.
  • The realization of Middle Eastern insecurity was also made possible by the rapid and intensive arms build-up across the region in the 1970s. As oil prices skyrocketed into the 1980s, billions of so-called petrodollars went to purchase arms, primarily from North Atlantic and Soviet manufacturers. Today, the Middle East remains one of the most militarized regions in the world. Beyond the dominance of the security sector in most Middle Eastern governments, it also boasts the world’s highest rates of military spending. Since 2010, Middle Eastern arms imports have gone from almost a quarter of the world’s share to nearly half in 2016, mainly from North Atlantic armorers.
  • For half a century, American policy toward the Middle East has effectively reinforced these dynamics of insecurity by promoting conflict and authoritarianism, often in the name of energy security. High profile US military interventions—Lebanon in 1983, Libya in 1986 and 2011, the Tanker Wars in the late 1980s, the wars on Iraq in 1991 and 2003, Somalia in 1993, Afghanistan since 2001, the anti-Islamic State campaign since 2014 and the Saudi-Emirati war on Yemen since 2015—have received the most scrutiny in this respect, alongside the post-2001 “low intensity” counterterrorism efforts worldwide
  • cases abound where American policy had the effect of preventing conflicts from being resolved peacefully: Trump’s shredding of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran comes to mind; the case of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and the Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara have likewise become quintessential “peace processes” that have largely functioned to prevent peace.
  • the myth of authoritarian stability
  • A year after the unexpected 2011 uprisings, the IMF’s former director Christine Lagarde admitted that the Fund had basically ignored “how the fruits of economic growth were being shared” in the region
  • What helps make energy security discourse real and powerful is the amount of industry money that goes into it. In a normal year, the oil industry devotes some $125 million to lobbying, carried out by an army of over 700 registered lobbyists. This annual commitment is on par with the defense industry. And like US arms makers,[9] the revolving door between government, industry and lobbying is wide open and constantly turning. Over two-thirds of oil lobbyists have spent time in both government and the private sector.[10]
  • From 2012 to 2018, organized violence in the Middle East accounted for two-thirds of the world’s total conflict related fatalities. Today, three wars in the region—Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—now rank among the five deadliest since the end of the Cold War. Excluding Pakistan, the Middle East’s share of the worldwide refugee burden as of 2017 was nearly 40 percent at over 27 million, almost double what it was two decades prior.
  • profound political and financial incentives are accumulating to address the existing glut of oil on the market and America’s declining supremacy. A major war in the Middle East would likely fit that bill. The Trump administration’s temptation to wage war with Iran, change Venezuela’s regime and to increase tensions with Russia and China should be interpreted with these incentives in mind.
  • While nationalizing the North Atlantic’s petroleum industries is not only an imperative in the fight against climate change, it would also remove much of the profit motive from making war in the Middle East. Nationalizing the oil industry would also help to defund those institutions most responsible for both disseminating the myths of energy security and promoting insecurity in the Middle East.
Ed Webb

The Ukraine War: A Global Crisis? | Crisis Group - 0 views

  • The Ukraine conflict may be a matter of global concern, but states’ responses to it continue to be conditioned by internal political debates and foreign policy priorities.
  • China has hewed to a non-position on Russian aggression – neither condemning nor supporting the act, and declining to label it as an invasion – while lamenting the current situation as “something we do not want to see”. With an eye to the West, Beijing abstained on rather than vetoing a Security Council resolution calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, and reports indicate that two major Chinese state banks are restricting financing for Russian commodities. Beijing now emphasises the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty in its statements, a point that had either been absent from earlier statements or more ambiguously discussed as “principles of the UN Charter”.
  • the worldview that major powers can and do occasionally break the rules
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  • Beijing’s opposition to U.S. coalition building and expansion of military cooperation with Indo-Pacific countries. Overall, Beijing’s instinct is to understand the Ukraine crisis largely through the lens of its confrontation with Washington.
  • Beijing will want to ensure its position is not overly exposed to Western criticism and to safeguard its moral standing in the eyes of developing countries
  • When Russia invaded Ukraine, India immediately came under the spotlight as at once a consequential friend of Moscow and a country traditionally keen to portray itself as the world’s largest democracy and a champion of peace. The U.S. and European countries pressured India not to side with Moscow and the Ukrainian ambassador in New Delhi pleaded for India to halt its political support for Russia. Yet under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has responded to the invasion with the blunt realism of a rising, aspirational power that does not want to get caught between Russia and what Modi calls the “NATO group”. India chose the well-trodden non-alignment path and hid behind diplomatic language with a not-so-subtle tilt toward Russia.
  • “military-technical cooperation”, which has resulted in more than 60 per cent of India’s arms and defence systems being of Russian origin
  • India also depends on Russia to counterbalance China, which has become its primary security and foreign policy concern, especially given its unresolved border tensions with Beijing. With Pakistan, India’s main rival, already close to China and cosying up to Russia, India’s worst fear is that China, Pakistan and Russia will come together
  • Relations with Washington are already strained largely because of Islamabad’s seemingly unconditional support for the Afghan Taliban. To give his government diplomatic space, Khan has sought to forge closer ties with Moscow. Those efforts could not have come at a less opportune time.
  • Khan returned home with little to show from the trip, the first by a Pakistani prime minister in over two decades. He signed no agreements or memoranda of understanding with his Russian counterpart. Widening Western sanctions on Russia have also sunk Pakistani hopes of energy cooperation with Moscow, casting particular doubt on the fate of a proposed multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project.
  • In contrast to Russia, with which Pakistan’s commerce is miniscule, the U.S. and EU states are its main trading partners. The war in Ukraine could further undermine Pakistan’s economy. The rise in global fuel prices is already fuelling record-high inflation and putting food security at risk, since before the invasion Ukraine provided Pakistan with more than 39 per cent of its wheat imports. With a trade deficit estimated by one analyst at around $40 billion, Islamabad’s reliance on external sources of funding will inevitably grow. A Russia under heavy sanctions will be in no position to assist. In such a scenario, Pakistan’s powerful military, which Khan depends on for his own political survival, could question his foreign posture.
  • The Gulf Arab countries have so far adopted an ambiguous position on the Russian aggression in Ukraine. As close U.S. partners that also have increasing ties to Russia, they sit between a rock and a hard place, unwilling to openly antagonise either side. They have landed in this conundrum because of what they perceive as a growing U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East. In response, they embarked on an effort to diversify their security relations, moving away from sole reliance on Washington. Russia is one of these new partners.
  • No Gulf power wants to give the impression of siding with the Kremlin, for fear of aggravating the U.S. – their primary security guarantor. But as international support for Ukraine and anger at those seen to support (or at least not publicly oppose) Russia grows, the damage may already have been done: the U.S. and its European allies were appalled at the Gulf states’ reticence to get in line with immediate condemnations of the Russian invasion
  • despite Iran’s own experience of losing large swaths of territory to Czarist Russia in the nineteenth century and facing Soviet occupation during and immediately after World War II, the Islamic Republic today can claim few major allies beyond Russia. Tehran sees few upsides in breaking ranks with Moscow. In comparison to the possible results of provoking the Kremlin with anything less than fulsome support, the diplomatic opprobrium it may receive from the U.S. and Europe is of little consequence.
  • Israel has substantive relations with both Russia and Ukraine: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has spoken to both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the war began, and has offered to act as mediator; Israel sees itself as, in effect, sharing a border with Russia to its north east in Syria, relying on Putin’s continued tacit approval of its airstrikes on Iranian targets there; large Jewish and Israeli populations reside in both Russia and Ukraine and over 1.5 million Russian and Ukrainian expatriates live in Israel; and Israel is a major U.S. ally and beneficiary that identifies with the Western “liberal democratic order”.
  • concerned that the fallout from the war could lead Putin to increase arms sales to anti-Western proxies along its borders, chiefly Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon, or step up electronic measures to disrupt NATO operations in the Mediterranean Sea, affecting Israel’s own navigation systems. Thus far, Russia has assured Israel that it will continue coordination on Syria, though reiterating that it does not recognise Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, which Israel occupied in 1967 and later annexed
  • Israel has offered humanitarian aid to Ukraine but has refused to sell it arms or provide it with military assistance.
  • President Zelenskyy is the only elected Jewish head of state outside Israel. He lost family in the Holocaust. As such, Israel’s silence on Putin’s antisemitic rhetoric, such as his claim to be “denazifying” Ukraine with the invasion, is noteworthy. That said, Israel has some track record – vis-à-vis Hungary and Poland, for example – of placing what its leaders view as national security or foreign relations concerns above taking a strong stand against antisemitism.
  • Since the invasion began, Bolsonaro’s affinities with Moscow have exposed the divisions within his hard-right government. From the outset, Brazil’s foreign ministry has vowed to maintain a position of neutrality, urging a diplomatic solution. But a day after the invasion, Hamilton Mourão, the vice president and a retired army general, said “there must be a real use of force to support Ukraine”, arguing that “if the Western countries let Ukraine fall, then it will be Bulgaria, then the Baltic states and so on”, drawing an analogy to the conquests of Nazi Germany. Hours later, Bolsonaro said only he could speak about the crisis, declaring that Mourão had no authority to comment on the issue.
  • Since 2014, Turkish defence companies have been increasingly engaged in Ukraine, and in 2019 they sold the country drones that Ukrainians see as significant in slowing the Russian advance.
  • On 27 February, Ankara announced that it would block warships from Russia and other littoral states from entering the Black Sea via the Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits as long as the war continues, in line with the Montreux Convention (though Russian vessels normally based in Black Sea ports are exempt from the restriction, under the convention’s terms). But it also requested other states, implicitly including NATO members, to avoid sending their ships through the straits, in an apparent effort to limit the risks of escalation and maintain a balanced approach to the conflict.
  • Some fear, for instance, that Russia and its Syrian regime ally will ratchet up pressure on Idlib, the rebel-held enclave in Syria’s north west, forcing large numbers of refugees into Turkey, from where they might try to proceed to Europe. This worry persists though it is unclear that Russia would want to heat up the Syrian front while facing resilient Ukrainian resistance.
  • A prolonged war will only exacerbate Turkey’s security and economic concerns, and if Russia consolidates control of Ukraine’s coastline, it will also deal a significant blow to Turkey in terms of the naval balance of power in the Black Sea. It is likely that Turkey will draw closer to NATO as a result of this war, and less likely that Turkey will buy a second batch of S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia
  • Kenya, currently a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, has taken a more strident stance in opposition to Russia’s invasion than most non-NATO members of the Council. This position springs in part from the country’s history. Nairobi was one of the strongest supporters of a founding principle of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) prescribing respect for territorial integrity and the inviolability of member states’ colonial-era borders.
  • As in many African countries, a deep current of public opinion is critical of Western behaviour in the post-Cold War era, emphasising the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Libya, as well as the double standards that many Kenyans perceive in Washington’s democracy promotion on the continent.
  • What Nairobi saw as Washington’s endorsement of the 2013 coup in Egypt particularly rankled Kenyan authorities, who took an especially vocal public position against that putsch
  • Kenya will also push for the strengthening of multilateralism in Africa to confront what many expect to be difficult days ahead in the international arena. “We are entering an age of global disorder”, Peter Kagwanja, a political scientist and adviser to successive Kenyan presidents, told Crisis Group. “The African Union must band together or we will all hang separately”.
  • longstanding solidarity between South Africa and Russia. In the Soviet era, Moscow offered South Africans support in the anti-apartheid struggle and actively backed liberation movements across southern Africa.
  • Although just over half of African states backed the UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine, many governments in the region have responded to the war with caution. Few have voiced open support for Russia, with the exception of Eritrea. But many have avoided taking strong public positions on the crisis, and some have explicitly declared themselves neutral.
  • Ghana, which joined the UN Security Council in January, has consistently backed the government in Kyiv. The West African bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), released a statement condemning Russia’s actions. Nonetheless, not all ECOWAS members voted for the General Assembly resolution. Mali, which has drawn closer to Russia as France pulled its military forces out of the country, abstained. Burkina Faso did not vote, perhaps reflecting the fact that Russia watered down a Security Council statement condemning the January coup in Ouagadougou.
  • Russia has many friends in Africa due in part to the Soviet Union’s support for liberation movements during the anti-colonial and anti-apartheid struggles. Many also appreciated Moscow’s strident opposition to the more recent disastrous Western interventions in Iraq and Libya. Furthermore, a number of African leaders studied in the Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc countries and Moscow has done a good job of maintaining these ties over the years. Numerous African security figures also received their training in Russia.
  • African leaders and elites generally oppose sanctions, seeing them as blunt tools that tend to punish the general population more than national leaders. In the meantime, African officials are concerned that the war will have a deleterious impact on the continent’s economies and food security, both by driving up energy prices and by restricting grain supplies from Russia and Ukraine (a particular concern after a period of poor rainfall and weak harvests in parts of the continent). These shocks are liable to be severe in African countries that are still only beginning to recover from the downturn prompted by COVID-19, although oil producers such as Nigeria, Congo and Equatorial Guinea may benefit from a hike in energy prices.
  • The Ukraine conflict is a major problem for Turkey. It threatens not only to damage Ankara’s relations with Moscow, but also to hurt the Turkish economy, pushing up energy costs and stopping Russian and Ukrainian tourists from visiting Turkey. Some analysts estimate that a decline in tourism could mean up to $6 billion in lost revenue.
  • Calls for neutrality nevertheless enjoy traction in Brazil. Within the government, there is concern that Western sanctions against Moscow will harm the economy, in particular its agricultural sector, which relies heavily on imports of Russian-made fertilisers. Brazil’s soya production, one of the country’s main sources of income, would suffer considerably from a sanctioned Russia.
  • Mexico depends on the U.S for its natural gas supply, and the prospect of rising prices is spurring the government to consider other means of generating electricity
  • Relations between Russia and Venezuela flourished under the late president, Hugo Chávez, who set the relationship with Washington on an antagonistic course. Under Maduro, Venezuela’s links to Russia have intensified, especially through the provision of technical military assistance as well as diplomatic backing from Moscow after Maduro faced a major challenge from the U.S.-linked opposition in early 2019.
Ed Webb

The Israel-Hezbollah Channel - 0 views

  • Israel and Lebanon have a long history of tension: officially, they have been at war without interruption since 1948, and they have not agreed on an officially demarcated border—nor, after several wars, have they formally agreed to a cease-fire. Nevertheless, a strange forum for conflict management has grown up between them. Since 2006, when UNIFIL was reauthorized by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701, peacekeepers have presided over more than one hundred tripartite meetings, which bring together officers from Israel, Lebanon, and UNIFIL to manage disputes and technical issues along the Blue Line.5 The primary belligerents along the border are Hezbollah and the Israeli military, but the Lebanese military serves as Hezbollah’s interlocutors in what has become known as the Tripartite Process.
  • In a region rife with standing conflicts between belligerents who have little or no direct channels of communication, UNIFIL provides a rare example of conflict management in an extremely unstable and opaque environment. Its track record offers some suggestions of promising approaches to manage and mitigate conflict, while avoiding unwanted escalation. But it also offers stark warnings of the limitations of a narrow and indirect approach in the absence of enduring cease-fires, treaties, or other more robust conflict-resolution mechanisms
  • its newly muscular force with strong international political backing created perhaps the only sustained, regular, and efficacious channel of communications between Middle East belligerents in an active conflict
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  • UNIFIL makes a precarious model for conflict management. Despite its successes, both Israel and Hezbollah routinely attack UNIFIL’s legitimacy in public. The population of southern Lebanon expresses widespread skepticism about the peacekeeping mission’s intentions and loyalties, despite the benefits they reap from UNIFIL, which not only reduces conflict but serves as the area’s largest employer.11 Many residents of southern Lebanon and supporters of Hezbollah believe that UNIFIL serves Israeli and American interests and is unlikely to act to protect civilians during future conflicts
  • The original UNIFIL mission deployed in 1978 with three missions: to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, to restore “international peace and security,” and to restore the authority of the government of Lebanon in the border region. None of these missions were achieved. Israel never fully withdrew, and in 1982 extended its occupation deeper into Lebanese territory. On the Lebanese side, state authority no longer existed, as the nation was riven by the 1975–90 civil war. A quisling militia eventually known as the South Lebanon Army served as an Israeli proxy.13 Hezbollah formed in 1982 in response to the Israeli occupation, and over the following decade grew into the dominant local force fighting Israel. Lebanon’s national army was reconstituted after the Taif Agreement of 1989 paved the way for an end to the country’s civil war. Even as other militias disbanded or had their fighters absorbed into the regular military, Hezbollah alone maintained an autonomous militia. Israel still occupied about one-tenth of Lebanon’s territory, along the southern border, and Hezbollah continued to lead the armed resistance. In 2000, Israel finally withdrew from most of Lebanese territory, but continued to occupy high ground on the mountain of Jabal al-Sheikh, known as Shebaa Farms, as well as the village of Ghajar, which contains critical water sources.14 Later, it also claimed some Lebanese territorial waters in an area where underwater oil and gas exploration is underway.15 Citing Israel’s continuing occupation, as well as the Israeli air force’s daily overflights of Lebanon, Hezbollah spurned calls from some of its Lebanese rivals to disarm or integrate into the national army.16 Tensions regularly flared along the border, and finally boiled over into war in July 2006.
  • Initially, Hezbollah preferred a UN resolution that would leave it sovereign in southern Lebanon. But Lebanon’s government, and significant quarters of Lebanese public opinion, wanted to reassert state sovereignty in the zone of southern Lebanon that hitherto had been solely under Hezbollah’s control. Israel and the United States, by contrast, entered the cease-fire negotiations with unrealistic hopes that they could achieve through peacekeeping what they had failed to do through violence: disarm Hezbollah
  • UNSCR 1701, which led to a cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006
  • Immediately upon implementing the cease-fire, UNIFIL peacekeepers initiated a process that was not specified in the new mandate but which has become, in the eleven years since the cessation of hostilities until the time of this writing, the most successful element of the mission: the standing, direct negotiations between the Israeli and Lebanese militaries, under UN auspices
  • this somewhat informal mechanism has now met more than one hundred times without a single walkout from either side. It appears to be the only place where Israeli and Lebanese officials formally and directly interact
  • In the context of the Middle East, this forum is especially remarkable. Most of the region’s running conflicts lack even tactical communication between adversaries. Relatively straightforward arrangements such as temporary cease-fires, prisoner exchanges, or safe passage for civilians have been tortuous and at times virtually impossible in regional conflicts. Belligerents often refuse to recognize each other even on a most basic level. If Israel and Lebanon (and, by extension, Hezbollah) have managed to build a rudimentary channel despite their history and the political obstacles to communication, then perhaps—using a similar approach—other belligerents in the region might also inaugurate conflict-­management channels or CBMs.
  • Its approximately 10,500 troops generate economic activity for southern Lebanon; after the Lebanese government, UNIFIL is the largest employer in the area.
  • Hezbollah is a regional military power, operating in tandem with Iran as infantry or trainers in Iraq, Yemen, and possibly elsewhere. In Syria, Hezbollah has played perhaps the most critical military role on the government’s side. Inside Lebanon, Hezbollah has moved from being a strong faction to being the strongest, today holding the balance of power domestically, with the ability to dominate the complex political negotiations that determine who holds the presidency. In 2013, the European Union as a whole joined Israel, the United States, and some individual European governments in listing Hezbollah’s “armed wing” as a terrorist group. (Hezbollah itself denies it has any separate armed wing, making such a designation tantamount to naming the entire organization.)
  • UNIFIL’s best direct relationship is with the Lebanese Army. It cannot officially communicate with Hezbollah, and its channels to the Israeli military, while stronger than before 2006, are still limited
  • On one hand, Hezbollah and Israel have both benefited from UNIFIL’s core functions: development projects for poor denizens of the border region; demarcation of the Blue Line; deconfliction, de-escalation, conflict management, and communication between belligerents; intelligence gathering; and a unique forum in which armies from two nations at war routinely meet for direct talks and resolve technical issues even as the political conflict between their governments continues unabated. On the other hand, both belligerents routinely have undermined UNIFIL, attacking its legitimacy and performance in public forums while praising it in private; engaging in prohibited military operations; and refusing to extend any political support to the negotiations that they joined at a military level.
  • “It’s a conflict-management institution, not a conflict-resolution institution,” observed Timur Goksel, a UNIFIL veteran who worked with the mission over the course of two decades and has been based in both Israel and Lebanon. “It offers adversaries a way out. They can use UNIFIL as an excuse. It opens a way out of major conflict. This is what UNIFIL is all about.”
  • The disputed village of Ghajar, which has long been a flashpoint between the two sides, exemplifies the limits of the existing channels of communication and negotiation. The Blue Line passes directly through the village. Its inhabitants are Alawites who previously lived under Syrian rule on territory that today is claimed by Lebanon.36 Israel currently controls the entire village. Israeli presence in the northern half of Ghajar entails a permanent violation of the Blue Line. The situation is further complicated by the lack of pressure from the village’s residents, who appear content to operate as part of Israel. Israel has committed in principle to withdrawing from the northern portion of the village, but the details of how to do that have eluded all parties.37
  • Hezbollah operates in southern Lebanon with full independence. It might defer to the Lebanese Army or UNIFIL in order to avoid embarrassment or minor mishaps, but it can freely circumvent even the most symbolic of checks
  • Hezbollah continues to hold sovereign power of arms and operates without limitation from the government of Lebanon, UNIFIL, or any other force
  • Hezbollah has greatly increased its military capacity since joining the Syrian war as a pivotal combatant in 2012. The Lebanese nonstate actor has emerged as the premier urban combat and infantry force on the side of the Syrian government. It has engaged in wide-scale maneuver warfare, and has engaged in integrated warfare, involving air force support, with professional forces from Iran, Russia, and Syria. Hezbollah has helped form new militias and has led coordinated assaults with militia support involving groups and fighters from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere.45 Reports suggest that Hezbollah has also acquired a new arsenal of long-range missiles and land-to-sea missiles, which greatly increases its deterrent capacity against Israel and could enable it to threaten more Israeli targets than it could in 2006
  • With the Syrian war potentially entering a closing phase, from which Hezbollah and the Syrian government will emerge victorious, several analysts have refocused their attention on the latent Israel-Hezbollah conflict
  • Israel and Lebanon are formally still at war, and no closer to a permanent cease-fire than they were when UNSCR 1701 came into force on August 14, 2006. Whereas the Israeli government and military are unitary actors on one side of the Blue Line, the other side has a bedeviling array of potential belligerents with competing interests. These possible participants include but are not limited to Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Palestinian factions, the Syrian government, and possibly some Syrian rebel factions, although most Syrian rebels in the Golan have either cooperated with Israel or remained neutral. UNIFIL can call the Lebanese Army to settle a crisis, but then must rely on the Lebanese Army, itself strained by pressures stemming from the war in Syria, to make effective contact with other players
  • Whether technical talks and a bare-bones conflict-management channel can, in fact, shift the political opportunities is precisely the question raised by UNIFIL’s record since 2006. UNIFIL’s example suggests that military-military talks have utility but are unlikely to drive political resolution. The UNIFIL model may be a promising approach for conflicts between belligerents with strained or nonexistent diplomatic relations, but it is a model for managing conflict and avoiding unintended escalations, not for resolving conflict and reversing escalations that are intentional or are based on mistrust and miscalculation
  • “It’s the only mission that speaks to two countries that are still at war,” noted one UNIFIL official. “This works if parties don’t want to go to war. It can’t prevent a war from happening.”
  • Unless a government or nonstate actor has openly and expressly deputized a military channel to negotiate a political resolution, there is no evidence that technical talks will prompt a political dialogue—simply because some participants hope for it to do so—much less a resolution
  • UNIFIL’s record as an arbiter or honest broker does not appear to have changed any policy position on the part of Hezbollah or the government of Israel. A technical channel cannot create a new political climate
  • UNIFIL’s conflict-management paradigm may, paradoxically, increase risks by leaving political problems unresolved. “There is no doubt the UNIFIL mission has acted as shock absorber for local tensions and maintained a negative peace, that is, it has prevented the escalation of minor incidents into large-scale conflict,” the researcher Vanessa Newby concluded after conducting fifty interviews of UNIFIL officials and others who deal with the mission.54 “But its presence appears to be sustaining the conditions of conflict more than it is resolving them.”
  • successfully bolstered the Lebanese military’s function and standing as a state institution
  • If either Hezbollah or Israel shifted its cost-benefit calculus and decided it was more preferable to go to war than maintain the status quo (as Israel had in advance of the summer of 2006), then UNIFIL’s mechanisms would provide almost no peacemaking or conflict-avoidance potential
  • Many of the Middle East’s conflict areas are plagued with similar problems and thus are ripe for UNIFIL-like channels, managed by neutral third parties that can avoid accidental escalations, act as a clearing house for airing grievances and seeking technical solutions to relatively small technical problems, and potentially manage aspects of open conflict if it emerges. Such channels could pave the way for delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen or exchanging prisoners in Syria. The model is for a standing body that is not ad hoc nor of limited duration, and thus can establish trust over multiple iterations of dialogue and conflict management.
  • the UNIFIL case illustrates the broader problem with applying a military (or security, or conflict-management) paradigm to inherently political problems. Such a forum can be an effective long-term intermediary, but only for tactical matters. The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is a political one
  • The field of critical security studies has pushed the field of academic political science to incorporate political concerns into its definition of security, but minimized the hard security concerns that make life dangerous in conflict zones.55 The balance of security and politics is not merely a theoretical concern; it drives the persistence of deadly conflict in the Middle East. Both hard security and political grievance must be addressed, even if unfairly, in order to resolve a conflict. A similar dynamic shapes the need to address process as well as policy. A satisfactory forum is required for belligerents to talk at all. Forums like UNIFIL, or the Madrid Peace Conference (where parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict met in 1991), create the space and relationships that are a precondition for any substantial negotiation. Yet process does not suffice if no common policy framework can be reached on the central matters of dispute. No amount of tripartite meetings at the UNIFIL headquarters will compel the political leadership in Israel or Hezbollah to reformulate their core goals
  • The Middle East needs more UNIFILs, but it is crucial to keep in mind the limitations of a conflict-management approach if such forums are to be useful for advancing long-term security. They are no substitute for politics.
Ed Webb

Secret British 'black propaganda' campaign targeted cold war enemies | Cold war | The G... - 0 views

  • The British government ran a secret “black propaganda” campaign for decades, targeting Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia with leaflets and reports from fake sources aimed at destabilising cold war enemies by encouraging racial tensions, sowing chaos, inciting violence and reinforcing anti-communist ideas, newly declassified documents have revealed.
  • The campaign also sought to mobilise Muslims against Moscow, promoting greater religious conservatism and radical ideas. To appear authentic, documents encouraged hatred of Israel.
  • The Information Research Department (IRD) was set up by the post-second world war Labour government to counter Soviet propaganda attacks on Britain. Its activities mirrored the CIA’s cold war propaganda operations and the extensive efforts of the USSR and its satellites.
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  • The Observer last year revealed the IRD’s major campaign in Indonesia in 1965 that helped encourage anti-communist massacres which left hundreds of thousands dead. There, the IRD prepared pamphlets purporting to be written by Indonesian patriots, but in fact were created by British propagandists, calling on Indonesians to eliminate the PKI, then the biggest communist party in the non-communist world.
  • “The UK did not simply invent material, as the Soviets systematically did, but they definitely intended to deceive audiences in order to get the message across.”
  • “reports” sent to warn other governments, selected journalists and thinktanks about “Soviet subversion” or similar threats.The reports comprised carefully selected facts and analysis often gleaned from intelligence provided by Britain’s security services, but appeared to come from ostensibly independent analysts and institutions that were in reality set up and run by the IRD. One of the first of these, set up in 1964, was the International Committee for the Investigation of Communist Front Organisations.
  • Between 1965 and 1972, the IRD forged at least 11 statements from Novosti, the Soviet state-run news agency. One followed Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 six-day war against Israel and underlined Soviet anger at Egypt’s “waste” of so much of the arms and materiel Moscow had supplied to the country.
  • The IRD also forged literature purporting to come from the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass Islamist organisation that had a significant following across the Middle East. One pamphlet accused Moscow of encouraging the 1967 war, criticised the quality of Soviet military equipment, and called the Soviets “filthy-tongued atheists” who saw the Egyptians as little more than “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary Islamic superstitions”.AdvertisementThe IRD also created an entirely fictive radical Islamist organisation called the League of Believers, which attacked the Russians as non-believers and blamed Arab defeats on a lack of religious faith, a standard trope among religious conservatives at the time.
  • The IRD’s leaflets echoed other claims made by radical Islamists, arguing that military misdeeds should not be blamed on “the atheists or the imperialists or the Zionist Jews” but on “Egyptians who are supposed to be believers”.
  • Other material highlighted the poor view that Moscow took of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the limited aid offered by the Soviets to Palestinian armed nationalist groups. This was contrasted with the more supportive stance of the Chinese, in a bid to widen the split between the two communist powers.
  • One major initiative focused on undermining Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia, the former colony that unilaterally declared its independence from the UK in 1965 in an attempt to maintain white minority rule.The IRD set up a fake group of white Rhodesians who opposed Smith. Its leaflets attacked him for lying, creating “chaos” and crippling the economy. “The whole world is against us … We must call a halt while we can still save our country,”
  • In early 1963, the IRD forged a statement from the World Federation of Democratic Youth, a Soviet front organisation, which denounced Africans as uncivilised, “primitive” and morally weak. The forgery received press coverage across the continent, with many newspapers reacting intemperately.
  • A similar forgery in 1966 underlined the “backwardness” and “political immaturity” of Africa. Another, a statement purportedly from Novosti, blamed poor academic results at an international university in Moscow on the quality of the black African students enrolled there. The IRD sent more than 1,000 copies to addresses across the developing world.
  • As with most such efforts, the impact of the IRD’s campaigns was often difficult to judge. On one occasion, IRD officials were able to report that a newspaper in Zanzibar printed one of their forgeries about Soviet racism, and that the publication prompted an angry response. This was seen as a major achievement. Officials were also pleased when Kenyan press used fake material about the 1967 six-day war, and when newspapers across much of the Islamic world printed a fake Novosti bulletin on the conflict. Occasionally, western newspapers unwittingly used IRD materials, too.
  • Though the IRD was shut down in 1977, researchers are now finding evidence that similar efforts continued for almost another decade.“The [new documents] are particularly significant as a precursor to more modern efforts of putting intelligence into the public domain.“Liz Truss has a ’government information cell’, and defence intelligence sends out daily tweets to ‘pre-but’ Russian plots and gain the upper hand in the information war, but for much of the cold war the UK used far more devious means,” Cormac said.
Ed Webb

'A mass assassination factory': Inside Israel's calculated bombing of Gaza - 0 views

  • The Israeli army’s expanded authorization for bombing non-military targets, the loosening of constraints regarding expected civilian casualties, and the use of an artificial intelligence system to generate more potential targets than ever before, appear to have contributed to the destructive nature of the initial stages of Israel’s current war on the Gaza Strip, an investigation by +972 Magazine and Local Call reveals
  • The investigation by +972 and Local Call is based on conversations with seven current and former members of Israel’s intelligence community — including military intelligence and air force personnel who were involved in Israeli operations in the besieged Strip — in addition to Palestinian testimonies, data, and documentation from the Gaza Strip, and official statements by the IDF Spokesperson and other Israeli state institutions.
  • The bombing of power targets, according to intelligence sources who had first-hand experience with its application in Gaza in the past, is mainly intended to harm Palestinian civil society: to “create a shock” that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and “lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas,”
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  • the Israeli army has files on the vast majority of potential targets in Gaza — including homes — which stipulate the number of civilians who are likely to be killed in an attack on a particular target. This number is calculated and known in advance to the army’s intelligence units, who also know shortly before carrying out an attack roughly how many civilians are certain to be killed
  • “The numbers increased from dozens of civilian deaths [permitted] as collateral damage as part of an attack on a senior official in previous operations, to hundreds of civilian deaths as collateral damage,”
  • another reason for the large number of targets, and the extensive harm to civilian life in Gaza, is the widespread use of a system called “Habsora” (“The Gospel”), which is largely built on artificial intelligence and can “generate” targets almost automatically at a rate that far exceeds what was previously possible. This AI system, as described by a former intelligence officer, essentially facilitates a “mass assassination factory.”
  • the increasing use of AI-based systems like Habsora allows the army to carry out strikes on residential homes where a single Hamas member lives on a massive scale, even those who are junior Hamas operatives. Yet testimonies of Palestinians in Gaza suggest that since October 7, the army has also attacked many private residences where there was no known or apparent member of Hamas or any other militant group residing. Such strikes, sources confirmed to +972 and Local Call, can knowingly kill entire families in the process.
  • “I remember thinking that it was like if [Palestinian militants] would bomb all the private residences of our families when [Israeli soldiers] go back to sleep at home on the weekend,” one source, who was critical of this practice, recalled.
  • there are “cases in which we shell based on a wide cellular pinpointing of where the target is, killing civilians. This is often done to save time, instead of doing a little more work to get a more accurate pinpointing,”
  • Over 300 families have lost 10 or more family members in Israeli bombings in the past two months — a number that is 15 times higher than the figure from what was previously Israel’s deadliest war on Gaza, in 2014
  • “There is a feeling that senior officials in the army are aware of their failure on October 7, and are busy with the question of how to provide the Israeli public with an image [of victory] that will salvage their reputation.”
  • “The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” said IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari on Oct. 9.
  • “We are asked to look for high-rise buildings with half a floor that can be attributed to Hamas,” said one source who took part in previous Israeli offensives in Gaza. “Sometimes it is a militant group’s spokesperson’s office, or a point where operatives meet. I understood that the floor is an excuse that allows the army to cause a lot of destruction in Gaza. That is what they told us. “If they would tell the whole world that the [Islamic Jihad] offices on the 10th floor are not important as a target, but that its existence is a justification to bring down the entire high-rise with the aim of pressuring civilian families who live in it in order to put pressure on terrorist organizations, this would itself be seen as terrorism. So they do not say it,” the source added.
  • at least until the current war, army protocols allowed for attacking power targets only when the buildings were empty of residents at the time of the strike. However, testimonies and videos from Gaza suggest that since October 7, some of these targets have been attacked without prior notice being given to their occupants, killing entire families as a result.
  • As documented by Al Mezan and numerous images coming out of Gaza, Israel bombed the Islamic University of Gaza, the Palestinian Bar Association, a UN building for an educational program for outstanding students, a building belonging to the Palestine Telecommunications Company, the Ministry of National Economy, the Ministry of Culture, roads, and dozens of high-rise buildings and homes — especially in Gaza’s northern neighborhoods.
  • “Hamas is everywhere in Gaza; there is no building that does not have something of Hamas in it, so if you want to find a way to turn a high-rise into a target, you will be able to do so,”
  • for the most part, when it comes to power targets, it is clear that the target doesn’t have military value that justifies an attack that would bring down the entire empty building in the middle of a city, with the help of six planes and bombs weighing several tons
  • Although it is unprecedented for the Israeli army to attack more than 1,000 power targets in five days, the idea of causing mass devastation to civilian areas for strategic purposes was formulated in previous military operations in Gaza, honed by the so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” from the Second Lebanon War of 2006.
  • According to the doctrine — developed by former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, who is now a Knesset member and part of the current war cabinet — in a war against guerrilla groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, Israel must use disproportionate and overwhelming force while targeting civilian and government infrastructure in order to establish deterrence and force the civilian population to pressure the groups to end their attacks. The concept of “power targets” seems to have emanated from this same logic.
  • Previous operations have also shown how striking these targets is meant not only to harm Palestinian morale, but also to raise the morale inside Israel. Haaretz revealed that during Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit conducted a psy-op against Israeli citizens in order to boost awareness of the IDF’s operations in Gaza and the damage they caused to Palestinians. Soldiers, who used fake social media accounts to conceal the campaign’s origin, uploaded images and clips of the army’s strikes in Gaza to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok in order to demonstrate the army’s prowess to the Israeli public.
  • since October 7, Israel has attacked high-rises with their residents still inside, or without having taken significant steps to evacuate them, leading to many civilian deaths.
  • evidence from Gaza suggests that some high-rises — which we assume to have been power targets — were toppled without prior warning. +972 and Local Call located at least two cases during the current war in which entire residential high-rises were bombed and collapsed without warning, and one case in which, according to the evidence, a high-rise building collapsed on civilians who were inside.
  • According to intelligence sources, Habsora generates, among other things, automatic recommendations for attacking private residences where people suspected of being Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives live. Israel then carries out large-scale assassination operations through the heavy shelling of these residential homes.
  • the Habsora system enables the army to run a “mass assassination factory,” in which the “emphasis is on quantity and not on quality.” A human eye “will go over the targets before each attack, but it need not spend a lot of time on them.” Since Israel estimates that there are approximately 30,000 Hamas members in Gaza, and they are all marked for death, the number of potential targets is enormous.
  • A senior military official in charge of the target bank told the Jerusalem Post earlier this year that, thanks to the army’s AI systems, for the first time the military can generate new targets at a faster rate than it attacks. Another source said the drive to automatically generate large numbers of targets is a realization of the Dahiya Doctrine.
  • Five different sources confirmed that the number of civilians who may be killed in attacks on private residences is known in advance to Israeli intelligence, and appears clearly in the target file under the category of “collateral damage.” 
  • “That is a lot of houses. Hamas members who don’t really matter for anything live in homes across Gaza. So they mark the home and bomb the house and kill everyone there.”
  • On Oct. 22, the Israeli Air Force bombed the home of the Palestinian journalist Ahmed Alnaouq in the city of Deir al-Balah. Ahmed is a close friend and colleague of mine; four years ago, we founded a Hebrew Facebook page called “Across the Wall,” with the aim of bringing Palestinian voices from Gaza to the Israeli public. The strike on Oct. 22 collapsed blocks of concrete onto Ahmed’s entire family, killing his father, brothers, sisters, and all of their children, including babies. Only his 12-year-old niece, Malak, survived and remained in a critical condition, her body covered in burns. A few days later, Malak died. Twenty-one members of Ahmed’s family were killed in total, buried under their home. None of them were militants. The youngest was 2 years old; the oldest, his father, was 75. Ahmed, who is currently living in the UK, is now alone out of his entire family.
  • According to former Israeli intelligence officers, in many cases in which a private residence is bombed, the goal is the “assassination of Hamas or Jihad operatives,” and such targets are attacked when the operative enters the home. Intelligence researchers know if the operative’s family members or neighbors may also die in an attack, and they know how to calculate how many of them may die. Each of the sources said that these are private homes, where in the majority of cases, no military activity is carried out.
  • there is ample evidence that, in many cases, none were military or political operatives belonging to Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
  • The bombing of family homes where Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives supposedly live likely became a more concerted IDF policy during Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Back then, 606 Palestinians — about a quarter of the civilian deaths during the 51 days of fighting — were members of families whose homes were bombed. A UN report defined it in 2015 as both a potential war crime and “a new pattern” of action that “led to the death of entire families.”
  • according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, by Nov. 29, Israel had killed 50 Palestinian journalists in Gaza, some of them in their homes with their families
  • The intelligence officers interviewed for this article said that the way Hamas designed the tunnel network in Gaza knowingly exploits the civilian population and infrastructure above ground. These claims were also the basis of the media campaign that Israel conducted vis-a-vis the attacks and raids on Al-Shifa Hospital and the tunnels that were discovered under it.
  • Hamas leaders “understand that Israeli harm to civilians gives them legitimacy in fighting.”
  • while it’s hard to imagine now, the idea of dropping a one-ton bomb aimed at killing a Hamas operative yet ending up killing an entire family as “collateral damage” was not always so readily accepted by large swathes of Israeli society. In 2002, for example, the Israeli Air Force bombed the home of Salah Mustafa Muhammad Shehade, then the head of the Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing. The bomb killed him, his wife Eman, his 14-year-old daughter Laila, and 14 other civilians, including 11 children. The killing caused a public uproar in both Israel and the world, and Israel was accused of committing war crimes.
  • Fifteen years after insisting that the army was taking pains to minimize civilian harm, Gallant, now Defense Minister, has clearly changed his tune. “We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly,” he said after October 7.
Ed Webb

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
    • Ed Webb
       
      A remarkable and alarming discrepancy. We must treat military claims with great skepticism, unfortunately.
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
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  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation. The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”
  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved. Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.
  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
Ed Webb

After Soleimani | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • The Trump administration assassinated Soleimani to compel change in Iran’s behavior and to throw a wrench in the gears of Iran’s expansive regional influence. Twelve months is too short a period to measure its impact in the realms of longstanding policy and force posture. Outside of some signs of disunity among some of Iraq’s Shiite militias, not much has changed. The impact of Soleimani’s death is therefore impossible to accurately gauge. What we can say is that his death unleashed an emotional and political wave that has surged from his legacy. It is driven almost entirely by his benefactors in Tehran and clients across the region and it is fueled by their desire to shape the memory of the man, myth and legend they helped create.
  • To some, his death was small justice, an emphatic ending to the life of a man who served as the backbone of Assad’s brutal war against the Syrian people and facilitated the empowerment of corrupt, coercive militias in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. To others, particularly his supporters and patrons, Soleimani was a hero: a leader in the war against ISIS and a champion of the Shiite Muslim minority.
  • To appreciate the complexity threaded throughout varying perceptions of Soleimani, it’s essential to understand what he symbolizes to Iran, to his military, and to the foreign groups he worked so closely with.
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  • The 1979 revolution was fueled by both desperate frustration and an abundance of hope. Across the various ideologies and sentiments that shaped the revolutionary movement, there was a common desire to break Iran’s subservience to foreign powers. This desire is often described as anti-Americanism or even anti-imperialism, and while that accurately reflects the language used by the revolutionaries at the time, it is also a reductive view.
  • under the stewardship of Khomeini, the architect of Iran’s theocracy and first supreme leader, justice was perceived much more broadly. It was primarily about two things: establishing an Islamic system at home and overturning the U.S. dominated status quo in the region, with an emphasis on countering Israel.
  • Prior to the revolution, the Shah had situated Iran as a bulwark to the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Iran’s regional relations were driven by Cold War considerations and by the Shah’s desire to transform Iran into the predominant power in the Persian Gulf.
  • The 1953 coup d’etat was just one in a string of indignities that had been eroding the Iranian national character since the 18th century. It also marked the United States’ entrance into the Middle East, and the beginning of the love-hate relationship between Washington and Tehran.
  • When war came to Iran, IRGC units were among the first to deploy. With little training and spare resources, their response was sporadic and innovative.What they lacked in capabilities and training, they compensated with zeal and fearlessness. Eventually the IRGC began to use the tactic of “human wave” assaults that showcased those qualities on the battlefield. IRGC forces would charge en masse into Iraqi defenses, overwhelming the defenders by being able to absorb mass casualties without relenting the advance. Iraqis fired until they ran out of ammunition and then were forced to retreat. The IRGC used this tactic to impressive effect, winning battle after battle and eventually forcing a full-scale Iraqi retreat in the summer of 1982
  • Whereas much of the region and foreign powers were supporting Iraq, Iran was virtually alone in fighting the war, with only Syria providing it any meaningful political support. The war ended as a stalemate in 1988. Iran saw itself as up against the world and it could not overcome the vast amount of support buttressing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
  • as Khamenei’s main support base, the IRGC grew into a formidable political actor within Iran, and the primary strategic arm of the regime. Many of the young men who joined the IRGC during the war also rose to become commanders and officers with it. This included Soleimani, who became a rising star in the IRGC’s Quds Force division, which was responsible for all foreign activities and operations
  • the IRGC shot down a passenger jet, killing everyone on board. The narrative of the assassination was instantly overtaken by the grief and shock of the everyday Iranians who struggled to make sense of a preventable tragedy. Iran’s leaders attempted to skirt blame and cover up the IRGC’s catastrophic error. Family members who spoke out and demanded answers were cruelly silenced. Soleimani’s image was everywhere, yet justice was nowhere to be seen.
  • Iran knew that both Israel and the United States had to factor in potential attacks by Hezbollah were they ever to strike Iran, and Syria was the lynchpin for Iran’s sustained influence on the Lebanese organization. Syria was therefore key to Iran’s larger deterrence strategy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel
  • The irony of Soleimani’s successes in Syria and Iraq is that they prepared the ground for the rise of ISIS. The Islamic State’s explosion into Iraq should have been recognized as the product of Soleimani’s myopic view of Iraq and Syria as simply battlegrounds for Iran’s advancement. Yet, Soleimani and the IRGC seized the moment and self-consciously rebranded their enterprise. Iran was the first outside state to support Iraq’s war against ISIS, and Soleimani let the whole world know of his role. What appeared on social media as authentic and spontaneous pictures of Soleimani on the frontlines with Iraqi troops and commanders, was actually a deliberate effort by the IRGC to recast Soleimani’s image. He was no longer a shadow commander, but a MacArthur-esque figure almost single-handedly fighting the dark forces of ISIS. A national hero in Iran, and the savior of Iraq and Syria.
  • He was killed because he was important. He was killed because Iran was important.
  • The IRGC increased their investment in Soleimani after his death, using his persona to rebrand themselves and the regime to a new generation. Soleimani became the archetype of the Islamic Republic’s self-conception. His figure symbolizes how the regime desires to be seen by the Iranian people and by the world. Soleimani has been cast as brave, selfless and humble; a warrior, a believer and a patriot. His is a transnational community that connects Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen with Iran. He justifies Iran’s regional activities by casting them as an essential part of Iranian patriotism and national identity. To be Iranian in the narrative promoted by the regime is to be part of a larger Islamic enterprise. Not the umma or global Islamic community, but rather, the resistance: the militant groups and personalities who share the Islamic Republic’s enemies and its political aspirations.
  • mythologizing of Soleimani has not only been aspirational, it has also been driven by concerns within the IRGC that the regime is losing support and legitimacy among the Iranian people. This is particularly true for the younger generations, which know nothing of the Shah’s brutality, the sense of injustice that enveloped Iran during its war with Iraq, or the hope that accompanied President Khatami’s reformist platform in the 1990s. Instead, what they know is Iran’s 21st century experience, which has been one of near-constant antagonism and increasing privation.
  • the explosion of protests across Iran in 2018 and 2019. Iran has experienced episodic protest movements in the past, but these protests were different
  • The IRGC confronted the protests head-on and with unrelenting brutality. Using machine guns, tanks, and direct fire to murder Iranian youths in the streets and hunt them down in alleyways.
  • There was indeed something personal about Soleimani’s death. No matter what he represented, he was an Iranian. That he was singled out and murdered by a foreign power sat uncomfortably with most of his compatriots, regardless of their politics
  • It wasn’t until the U.S.-led 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq that Iran was provided an opportunity to change its regional position. Soleimani, who had by then become the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, saw opportunity and peril in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Iran’s allies benefited from the end of the Baathist regime, but a longstanding U.S. military presence in Iraq was also a threat to Iran. Soleimani championed a policy that sought to exploit both the political landscape and the shadows of the new Iraqi frontier. He encouraged political participation of Iran’s Shiite allies while also developing an insurgent network that waged war against the U.S. and coalition forces, killing or maiming hundreds of servicemembers in the process. The effort was largely effective. When U.S. forces departed Iraq in late 2011, Soleimani’s clients were among the most powerful political actors in Iraq and Iran was the most influential outside power in the country.
  • Just as Apple carried on without Steve Jobs, the IRGC will retain the ability to manage its proxies and exert influence beyond Iran’s borders without Soleimani at the helm. The law of inertia also applies. Unless the IRGC and its proxies are challenged directly, momentum will carry them forward.
  • Both Lebanon and Iraq have been hit by intense protest movements over the last year, with much of the anger of the younger generations being aimed at the political elite and their foreign backers. Even though Iran’s influence has helped empower Shiite elites in each country, an increasing number of younger Shiites appear to have soured on Iran and blame it for their country’s morass. This is especially true in Iraq, where young Shiites make up the vast majority of the protest movement that has railed against government corruption and the political power of Iran-backed militias
  • while Soleimani helped expand Iranian influence in the region, that influence rests on shaky ground. The height of Iran’s influence — at least as presently expressed through the IRGC — has probably passed.
Ed Webb

More than Genocide - Boston Review - 0 views

  • Mass state violence against civilians is not a glitch in the international system; it is baked into statehood itself. The natural right of self-defense plays a foundational role in the self-conception of Western states in particular, the formation of which is inseparable from imperial expansion. Since the Spanish conquest of the Americas starting in the sixteenth century, settlers justified their reprisals against indigenous resistance as defensive “self-preservation.” If they felt their survival was imperiled, colonizers engaged in massive retaliation against “native” peoples, including noncombatants. The “doctrine of double effect” assured them that killing innocents was permissible as a side effect of carrying out a moral end, like self-defense.
  • By the nineteenth century, the Christianizing mission had been augmented by a civilizing one of the “savage” natives. More recently, this colonial ideology has manifested itself in the project of “bringing democracy to the Arab world,” with Israel designated as the “the only democracy in the Middle East,” the proverbial “villa in the jungle.”
  • Without imperial possessions and the lucrative trade in sugar and other commodities predicated on the Atlantic slave trade, European states would not have generated the surpluses necessary to pay for their military establishments and the bureaucratic apparatuses required to sustain them. And while European powers and settlers in their colonies did not set out to exterminate the peoples they conquered, they killed any who resisted, claiming that their hands were forced.
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  • civilian destruction tends to be greatest when security retaliation reaches the level of what I have called “permanent security”—extreme responses by states to security threats, enacted in the name of self-defense. Permanent security actions target entire civilian populations under the logic of ensuring that terrorists and insurgents can never again represent a threat. It is a project, in other words, that seeks to avert future threats by anticipating them today.
  • The historical record shows that, however terrible, violent anticolonial uprisings were invariably smashed with far greater violence than they unleashed. The violence of the “civilized” is far more effective than the violence of the “barbarians” and “savages.”
  • Throughout the five-hundred-year history of Western empires, the security of European colonizers has trumped the security and independence of the colonized.
  • Jabotinsky’s famous “Iron Wall” argument from 1923, in which the Revisionist Zionist leader argued that Palestinian resistance was understandable, inevitable—and anticolonial. Speaking of Palestinians, Jabotinsky wrote that “they feel at least the same instinctive jealous love of Palestine, as the old Aztecs felt for ancient Mexico, and their Sioux for their rolling Prairies.” Because Palestinians could not be bought off with material promises, Jabotinsky wanted the British Mandate authorities to enable Zionist colonization until Jews, then a tiny minority of Palestine, reached a majority. “Zionist colonisation must either stop, or else proceed regardless of the native population,” he concluded. “Which means that it can proceed and develop only under the protection of a power that is independent of the native population—behind an iron wall, which the native population cannot breach.”
  • to ensure that Palestinian militants can never again attack Israel, its armed forces are subjecting two million Palestinians to serial war crimes and mass expulsion
  • If Western states support this solution for Israeli permanent security—as the United States appears to be with its budgeting of refugee support in neighboring countries under the guise of a “humanitarian” gesture—they will be continuing a venerable tradition. During, between, and after both twentieth-century world wars, large-scale population transfers and exchanges took place across the Eurasian continent to radically homogenize empires and nations. Millions of people fled or were expelled or transferred from Turkey, Greece, Austria, Italy, India, Palestine, Central and Eastern Europe. Progressive Europeans reasoned then that long-term peace would be secured if troublesome minorities were removed. This ideology—which the governments of Russia, China, Turkey, India, and Sri Lanka share today—maintains that indigenous and minority populations must submit to their subordination and, if they resist, face subjugation, deportation, or destruction. Antiterrorism operations that kill thousands of civilians are taken to be acceptable responses to terrorist operations that kill far fewer civilians
  • Indigenous and occupied peoples, then, are placed in an impossible position. If they resist with violence, they are violently put down. If they do not, states will overlook the lower-intensity but unrelenting violence to which they are subject
  • Hamas thus reasons that Palestinians have nothing to gain by conforming to a U.S.-led “rules-based international order” that has forgotten about them.
  • When state parties to the UNGC negotiated in 1947 and 1948, they distinguished genocidal intent from military necessity, so that states could wage the kind of wars that Russia and Israel are conducting today and avoid prosecution for genocide. The high legal standard stems from the restrictive UNGC definition of genocide, which was modeled on the Holocaust and requires that a perpetrator intend to “destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such” (the dolus specialis) in at least one of five prescribed ways (the actus reus). The words “as such” are widely regarded as imposing a stringent intent requirement: an act counts as genocide only if individuals are targeted solely by virtue of their group membership—like Jews during World War II—and not for strategic reasons like suppressing an insurgency.
  • Together, the United States and Russia have killed many millions of civilians in their respective imperial wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Chechnya; so have postcolonial states like Nigeria and Pakistan in fighting secessions. Genocide allegations were leveled in some of these cases in global campaigns like the one we see now, but none stuck, and they are largely forgotten in the annals of mass violence against civilian
  • Adding to the difficulty of establishing genocidal intent is the uncertainty in international humanitarian law about the legality of civilians killed “incidentally” in the course of attacking legitimate military targets. While the majority of international lawyers agree that civilian deaths are acceptable so long as they are not disproportionate in relation to the military advantage sought, others argue that bombing crowded marketplaces and hospitals regardless of military objective is necessarily indiscriminate and thus illegal.
  • They go far in excusing all Israeli conduct in the name of its legitimate self-defense; the US even seems to have demurred on whether the Geneva Conventions are applicable to Palestinian territories. It is thus unsurprising that they have not pressed the Israeli government to explain how cutting off water, food, and power to Gaza—a “war of starvation” as the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor put it—is a legitimate military tactic, one not covered by the UNGC, which declares one genocidal predicate act to be “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” But if so-called humanitarian pauses are occurring to allow in a little, if grossly inadequate, aid, and the “total siege” is lifted after the military defeat of Hamas (should it happen), it will be difficult to argue in a legal context that Israel’s strangling of Gaza was a genocidal act.
  • the “Dahiya Doctrine,” which, they argue, dictates “disproportionate attacks, including against *civilian* structures and infrastructure.” This is clearly illegal.
  • Excessive reprisals, we should recall, are a staple of colonial warfare and state consolidation
  • Since genocide is a synonym for the destruction of peoples, whether the killing and suppression of their culture is motivated by destruction “as such” or by deterrence, the experience is the same: a destructive attack on a people, and not just random civilians. But the UNGC does not reflect the victim’s perspective. It protects the perpetrators: states that seek permanent security.
  • Unless the conditions of permanent insecurity are confronted, permanent security aspirations and practices will haunt Palestinians and Israelis.
Ed Webb

Ukraine, Hamas wars provide unprecedented boom in violent video - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • The wars in Israel and Ukraine have fueled an explosion in videos online showcasing the horrors of modern war, bringing killings and cruelty to a global audience of viewers who are unprepared — or all too willing — to watch.
  • fighters use cellphones and GoPro cameras to record or live-stream footage from a point-blank perspective, either for purposes of military strategy or propaganda
  • Basem Naim, the leader of Hamas’s international relations arm, told The Washington Post in an interview that the footage was shared on social media both to gain global attention and to embolden Hamas militants for the war ahead.“Who is terrorizing whom? We are the victims … of this huge killing machine,” he said. The videos “show that we can do something. It is not only we who are beaten all the time. No, sometimes we can also hit back.”
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  • Psychiatrists have warned that the repeated viewing of such visceral imagery can lead to what’s known as “vicarious trauma,” damaging people’s mental health
  • Some commenters there say the videos offer a grisly lesson. They have “basically taken all the ‘glory’ out of war,” one Redditor said in a thread discussing a video of an injured Russian soldier taking his own life. “I wish politicians would watch these vids as they had their morning coffee.”Others there celebrate the violence or riff on the strange banality of seeing such carnage from home. “I’m eating coco puffs watching this,” one Redditor said on a video showing Russians soldiers killed with grenades.
  • such videos have also been used to sow terror and provoke an emotional overreaction that could enrage onlookers, expand a conflict or play into the attackers’ hands, said Amanda E. Rogers, a research fellow at the Century Foundation think tank who has studied extremist propaganda. Nearly a decade ago, she said, the Islamic State’s video-recorded beheadings of aid workers, journalists and others helped mark a turning point for terrorists who saw the value in publishing footage so heinous many viewers felt they couldn’t ignore it.
  • White supremacists have for years spread videos showing violent acts committed by people of color to inflame racial animus in hopes of winning potential recruits, Henry said. In recent conflicts, such gruesome videos have been used to dehumanize the enemy and get international viewers feeling more invested in the fight
  • “When any of the various Ukraine war influencers share videos of Russian soldiers dying from drone attacks, part of the strategy is to appeal to American or European audiences who see Russian soldiers as part of a wider hated out-group and Ukrainian soldiers as sort of like themselves.”
  • The Ukrainian government last year began posting photos and videos of captured and killed Russian soldiers to Telegram, Twitter and YouTube in hopes of inflaming Russian protests over the war’s human costs. Military-justice experts told The Post that some of the images likely violated the Geneva Conventions, which demand governments shield prisoners of war from “insults and public curiosity.”
  • Israel’s Foreign Ministry has adopted a similar tactic to enrage Western audiences by running hundreds of haunting YouTube ads, including videos in which Israeli medical examiners describe what they saw in their autopsies of the bodies of children purportedly killed during the Hamas attack, according to YouTube’s ad library.
Ed Webb

Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion: study | Reuters - 0 views

  • The U.S. war in Iraq has cost $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in benefits owed to war veterans, expenses that could grow to more than $6 trillion over the next four decades counting interest, a study released on Thursday said
  • The war has killed at least 134,000 Iraqi civilians and may have contributed to the deaths of as many as four times that number, according to the Costs of War Project by the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.
  • Excluded were indirect deaths caused by the mass exodus of doctors and a devastated infrastructure, for example, while the costs left out trillions of dollars in interest the United States could pay over the next 40 years.
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  • When security forces, insurgents, journalists and humanitarian workers were included, the war's death toll rose to an estimated 176,000 to 189,000
  • The report also examined the burden on U.S. veterans and their families, showing a deep social cost as well as an increase in spending on veterans. The 2011 study found U.S. medical and disability claims for veterans after a decade of war totaled $33 billion. Two years later, that number had risen to $134.7 billion
  • the United States gained little from the war while Iraq was traumatized by it
  • the $212 billion reconstruction effort was largely a failure with most of that money spent on security or lost to waste and fraud
Ed Webb

Donald Trump Is the First Demagogue of the Anthropocene - The Atlantic - 1 views

  • Jürgen Scheffran, a professor of geography at the University of Hamburg, has been investigating whether climate change makes armed conflict more likely for more than a decade. In 2012, he worked on a team that analyzed all 27 empirical studies investigating the link between war and climate change.“Sixteen found a significant link between climate and conflict, six did not find a link, and five found an ambiguous relationship,” he told me. He described these numbers as inconclusive. Trying to prove that climate change is linked to war, he said, would be like trying to prove that smoking causes cancer with only one available case study.
  • there is only one world, and not a million worlds, in which the temperature is rising, and you cannot associate a single event—like a single hurricane or a single conflict—to climate change. It’s a statistical problem, and we don’t have enough data yet
  • the U.S. Department of Defense already considers global warming a “threat multiplier” for national security. It expects hotter temperatures and acidified oceans to destabilize governments and worsen infectious pandemics
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  • Martin O’Malley was mocked for suggesting that a climate-change-intensified drought in the Levant—the worst drought in 900 years—helped incite the Syrian Civil War, thus kickstarting the Islamic State. The evidence tentatively supports him. Since the outbreak of the conflict, some scholars have recognized that this drought pushed once-prosperous farmers into Syria’s cities. Many became unemployed and destitute, aggravating internal divisions in the run-up to the war
  • Scheffran underlined these climate connections but declined to emphasize them. “The Syrian War has so many complex interrelated issues—and most of them are political and economic—that the drought is just one contributing factor to the instability in the region,”
  • it’s all about the exogenous shock. We were all interested in, to what extent does a big event like a flooding or a drought undermine society, or trigger a conflict outbreak?
  • Heatwaves, droughts, and other climate-related exogenous shocks do correlate to conflict outbreak—but only in countries primed for conflict by ethnic division. In the 30-year period, nearly a quarter of all ethnic-fueled armed conflict coincided with a climate-related calamity. By contrast, in the set of all countries, war only correlated to climatic disaster about 9 percent of the time
  • climate disaster will not cause a war, but it can influence whether one begins
  • Models predict that northern Africa and the Levant, both already drought-prone, will dry out significantly over the course of the century. On the phone, Schleussner also cited southern Africa and south-central Asia as regions to watch. (It’s no coincidence that some of the largest, longest wars this century have occurred in those places.)
  • a drought-and-flood-fueled armed conflict near the Mediterranean Basin could send people toward Western Europe in the hundreds of millions
  • “I wouldn’t say that there would be a mass migration to Europe, but I would expect to see a large number of people being displaced within Africa,”
  • There is literally, in legal parlance, no such thing as an environmental refugee,” says Edward Carr. “To meet the international standard for refugee, a changing environment is not a forcing. It doesn’t count.”
  • When would you attribute the decision to move to changes in the climate? Does a place have to be dry for five years? For 10 years? Does someone have to have three children die, and then they decide to move?
  • Climate change could push Western politics toward demagoguery and authoritarianism in two ways, then. First, it could devastate agricultural yields and raise food prices; destroy coastal real estate and wash away family wealth; transform old commodities into luxury goods. Second, it could create a wave of migration—likely from conflict, but possibly from environmental ruination—that stresses international reception systems and risks fomenting regional resource disputes.
  • it could erode people’s sense of security, pushing them toward authoritarianism
  • Like the CEO in the 1950s who predicted that America would see flying cars and three-day workweeks by the year 1999, I’ve assumed that every ongoing trend line can be extrapolated out indefinitely. They can’t. The actual future will be far stranger.
  • climate change must be mitigated with all deliberate speed. But he also suggests certain cultural mechanisms. Some Americans may favor more restrictive immigration policies, but—in order to withstand against future waves of mass migration (and humanely deal with the victims of climate change)—racist fears must be unhooked from immigration restrictionism. In other words, as a matter of survival against future authoritarians, white supremacy must be rejected and defeated.
  • Improving the United States’s immune response to authoritarian leadership—a response that could be repeatedly tested in the century to come—can follow from weaving its civic fabric ever tighter. I don’t know what this will look like, exactly, for every person. But here are some places to start: Volunteer. Run for local or state office. Give to charity (whether due to religion or effective altruism). Organize at work. Join a church or a community choir or the local library staff. Make your hometown a better place for refugees to settle. Raise a child well.
  • climate realists have always split their work between mitigation—that is, trying to keep the climate from getting worse—and adaptation—trying to protect what we already have
Ed Webb

From SEALs to All-Out War: Why Rushing Into Yemen Is a Dangerous Idea | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • As is often the case with Trump’s comments on policy, they quickly become the focus of media attention, rather than what the administration is actually doing — or what the facts are on the ground.
  • two separate but overlapping conflicts
  • a counterterrorism fight waged by Yemeni government, with U.S. support, against AQAP, al Qaeda’s most virulent franchise
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  • The second, and more damaging conflict, is a civil war between the government of Yemen and the Houthi minority, which was expected to last a matter of weeks, and maybe months, but is now well into its third year. It began when Houthi militia fighters descended on the capital Sanaa in late 2014 and soon evicted the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close partner of the United States.
  • if new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to make an early diplomatic contribution, then there is a confounding but vital mission with his name on it: de-escalating a Yemen civil war that is damaging U.S. interests and should have stopped a long time ago
  • The civil war escalated dramatically in March 2015, with the intervention of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which understandably felt threatened by the turmoil on its border and by ties between the Houthis and Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran. The United States, which had long been urging Saudi Arabia to take greater responsibility for security challenges in its region, offered a range of support, including with intelligence, weapons sales, aerial refueling for Saudi planes, and various measures to help secure the Saudi border
  • According to the United Nations, 16,200 people have been killed in Yemen since the intervention, including 10,000 civilians. The humanitarian situation in what was already one of the world’s poorest countries, is now, after Syria, the most dire on the planet, with one in five Yemenis severely food insecure
  • The war has preoccupied key partners with an enemy that does not directly threaten the United States. Indiscriminate air strikes, conducted with American weapons and in the context of American assistance, have killed scores of non-combatants (such incidents eventually compelled the Obama administration to review and adjust our assistance to the coalition). And while Iran and the Houthis have historically maintained an arms-length relationship, the long conflict has brought them closer and led to the introduction of more advanced weapons, such as missiles capable of striking deep into Saudi territory or of threatening the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a critical channel for maritime traffic.
  • Saudi officials and their Emirati coalition partners have been signaling for months that they are eager to end the conflict, which they did not expect to last nearly this long
  • after years of U.N.-led negotiations that sought to sell a relatively one-sided peace to the Houthis (despite what was, at best, a stalemate on the ground), the Obama administration developed and bequeathed to its successors a more balanced roadmap to which all key parties (the Saudis, the Houthis, and the Yemeni government — as well as the United States, U.N., and U.K.) grudgingly agreed
  • the Houthis are infamously difficult to work with. When Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours with their representatives in Oman last November, he was forced to endure a lengthy airing of historical grievances before embarking on the topic at hand. They also have a long history of violating dozens of agreements, which every Saudi diplomat can recount, chapter and verse. Negotiating peace will also inevitably involve straining relationships with our key partners, who will need to be pushed in the right direction
  • Hadi, who all relevant players acknowledge cannot govern a reconciled Yemeni state, has consistently scuttled deals that would require him leave office. His Saudi patrons have proven either unwilling, or unable, to compel better behavior and are themselves too are quick to revert to unreasonable demands — a tendency that would be reinforced if the Trump administration signals it unconditionally has Riyadh’s back
  • the Emiratis, who maintain a heavy troop presence in southern Yemen but have, wisely, been more focused on AQAP (the first war) than the Houthis (second), have for many months been threatening to attack the Houthi-held port of Hudeidah, a provocative step that would almost certain set back any peacemaking efforts indefinitely
  • an expanded presence of U.S. forces — while Yemeni and Saudi governments are still at war with the Houthis — could bring U.S. troops into close quarters with Iran and its proxies, with all of the escalatory potential that entails
  • While the Houthis fired on a U.S. ship late last year, they have not repeated that mistake since the Obama administration retaliated by destroying radars located along the coast. If President Trump chooses to put U.S. forces into the middle of a civil war, it should explain a purpose and objective more concretely than simply “pushing back” on Iran. Moreover, it must do so with its eyes open to the risks those forces would be assuming and the reality that a limited special forces mission is unlikely to turn the tide on the ground
  • the longer the conflict with the Houthis continues, the more AQAP will continue to benefit from our, and our partners’, divided focus, as it strengthens its hold on ungoverned territory
Ed Webb

Blood Law - By David Rieff | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross is the legally recognized custodian of the laws of war and thus, among its other prerogatives, the arbiter of the semantics of both interstate and internal conflict.
  • At least in theory, an ICRC finding has important legal implications for both sides in the fighting, whereas the declarations of other actors are more expressions of opinion than fact.
  • all sides are clear that their conflict is one for control of the Syrian state, which is about as good a definition of civil war as it is possible to come by.
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  • The debate over when and under what conditions it is legitimate for outside actors to intervene militarily in the internal affairs of countries deemed to be abusing their own populations -- a global argument that, for better or worse, culminated in the adoption of the doctrine of the so-called Responsibility to Protect (R2P) --- has revolved around legally binding definitions as much, if not more, than about moral sentiments
  • the designation of the conflict as a civil war broadens the categories under which both sides can be prosecuted for war crimes under international humanitarian law, since while prosecutions for crimes against humanity can take place whatever the nature of the conflict, the broader category of war crimes can be applied only when a state of war has been found to exist.
  • technically the ICRC's judgment applies to regime and insurgency alike, but in practice its weight is likely to fall most heavily on the government side, not least because the opposition has a "friend in court" in the United States, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
  • As the Libyan case shows, the International Criminal Court is far more likely to prosecute those its powerful members oppose (or, indeed, have overthrown) than those they have supported diplomatically, economically, and militarily. And anyone who does not think the law is as much shaped by political pressure as statute -- whether it is the U.S. Supreme Court judgment on the Affordable Care Act, the German Constitutional Court's current consideration of the legality of Germany's participation in various European financial bailout mechanisms, or the decisions at The Hague of whom to indict and to whom to give a pass -- has probably not been paying attention. With the exception of Russia and Iran, the major world powers as well as important elements of the U.N. Secretariat have either explicitly or implicitly come out for the rebels, and designating what is now taking place (whether or not the ICRC intended to do so) as "civil war" establishes a moral and institutional equivalence between the government and the insurgents that serves to partly legitimize the rebellion and delegitimize the Assad regime.
  • history is not a morality play
Ed Webb

Syria Comment » Archives » "Bush White House Wanted to Destroy the Syrian Sta... - 0 views

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