The first step is that it is the Department of State which decides you are indeed entitled to a nice, blue passport. No birth certificate? Problem. Born in Canada, albeit to two American parents? Maybe we need to talk. Constitution-level stuff.
Next up are the reasons you can have your passport revoked: treason, national security stuff, swearing allegiance to a foreign power. Pretty heavy stuff, lots of laws, and court challenges can be involved.
Congress Restricts Travel
But the Congress has quietly been side-slipping in restrictions on travel.
An old one is child support. If you owe $2500 of it, no passport. Congress is also flirting with revoking or denying passports to Americans “affiliated” with terror organization and/or seeking to travel abroad for jihad. And there is a move to deny passports to Americans who owe too much in back taxes.
Sex Offenders’ Passports to Be Marked
Now, to that growing list add this one: Legislation requiring the State Department to identify registered sex offenders with a special mark on their passports, and to revoke those passports already issued unmarked, was signed on February 8 by Obama. The law (Public Law No: 114-119) also authorizes notification to a destination country (including its visa-issuing agents in the United States) of impending or current international travel of a child-sex offender to that country.
International Megan’s Law, is supposedly to help prevent sex trafficking, since sex offenders “hop on planes and go to places for a week or two and abuse little children,” the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), said. Smith of course had no actual figures to substantiate his argument, nor did he acknowledge that State can already deny a passport to those convicted of sex tourism involving minors.
Offenses Against Minors?
In addition to the new law being the first time in U.S. history that a special class of Americans would be marked on their passports, a chilling event of its own, the law ignores the reality that the sex offender registry is another government “list,” such as no fly, that is relatively easy to get on and very hard to leave.
Prosecutors have been seeking sex offender registration under child pornography charges against teens who sext, building registry cases against peeping toms, and overall unevenly applying state-by-state standards to something that now may have global impact.
In at least ten states, you can earn sex offender designation from innocuous forms of indecency like streaking, mooning, or urinating in public. None of the registries provide any factual details of the offenses, just the names of the crimes, and sometimes not even that. So if a registry lists the offense of indecent exposure, for example, the passport people have no way of distinguishing a high school prankster who streaks a football game from a creep who heads off to a playground to flash children for sexual gratification.
Many registries also contain numerous purely statutory offenders who are often also minors at the time of the offense, such as an 18-year-old who engages in consensual sexual activity with his 16-year-old girlfriend. In many jurisdictions, this would be labeled “sexual assault against a minor.”
This has resulted in ever-growing lists of offenders. California has the largest list in the country with over one hundred thousand registered sex offenders.
Everybody hates people who commit sex crimes, even more so those who commit them against children. But marking their passports represents nothing more than chilling use of government power that will accomplish nearly nothing at the loss of something greater.
(example passport shown for illustration only)
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
What job could be worse these days than having to be the foreign ministry official from some so-called American ally who has to listen to the latest American begging effort for them to join up with the “coalition” to defeat ISIS.
Those poor diplomatic bastards have been suffering through American pleas to join various failed coalitions for more than a decade, as evil bad guys intent on world domination come and go. Think back — the Taliban, al Qaeda, Saddam, Gaddafi and now ISIS. There’s almost a sort of pattern there.
So this week U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter (above) offered a glimpse of his own apparent frustration at all this coalition fun last week when he referred to “our so-called coalition” and suggested the slackers need to step up and support the American Empire Project.
“We need everybody, and that’s all the Europeans, the Persian Gulf states, Turkey, which is right there on the border. So there are a lot that need to make more contributions,” he said. Carter appeared totally ignorant of why nobody wants to hop in and help fight America’s wars.
Carter left Tuesday for Brussels, where he will convene a meeting of defense chiefs from about two dozen countries, including most NATO members, Iraq and the Gulf states.
“What I’m going to do is sit down and say, here is the campaign plan. If you’re thinking World War II newsreel pictures, you think of an arrow going north to take Mosul and another arrow coming south to take Raqqa,” he said, as if the organized nation state ground combat of WWII had anything at all to do with the current multi-dimensional firestorm in the Middle East.
“And I’m going to say, ‘OK, guys. Let’s match up what is needed to win with what you have, and kind of give everybody the opportunity to make an assignment for themselves,'” Carter said. “The United States will lead this and we’re determined, but other people have to do their part because civilization has to fight for itself.”
Sure thing boss, will say the would-be coalition members before doing nothing of substance.
A few coalition countries have made promises of increased support in recent days. The Netherlands, also known as Sparta, which has been carrying out very, very limited airstrikes in Iraq, said it would expand its efforts to Syria. Saudi Arabia indicated last week it could send ground troops into Syria. Canada announced it will quit conducting airstrikes in Syria and Iraq but will expand its contributions to training Kurdish and other local forces and provide more humanitarian and developmental aid.
Over the course of a decade and a half of coalition warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. officials have frequently found themselves pleading and cajoling with the Europeans to contribute more, and they generally have responded with pledges to do just a little bit more. The pattern may be repeated in Brussels.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
In medieval times, cities were walled. At night the gates were locked, the towers guarded, and thieves and brigands were kept outside. At least in theory, because walls could be scaled, or blown up, or tunnels dug, or guards bribed.
And so in what may turn out to be the ultimate 21st century Renaissance Faire, the Iraqi government, no doubt with the support of, if not the checkbook of, the United States, is building a wall around the city of Baghdad in hopes that that will stop ISIS where nothing else has.
An interior ministry’s spokesman explained that work began this week on a 65 mile stretch of a wall and trench on the northern and northwestern approaches of the capital. The wall will be 10 feet high and partially made up of concrete barriers already in use across much of the capital. The spokesman declined to specify the measurements of the trench, possibly out of embarrassment.
While a wall is about the dumbest idea yet in a nation plagued by dumb ideas, something is needed. On Wednesday alone, roadside bombings in various parts of the capital and a drive-by shooting killed eight people and wounded 28. Last month, according to UN figures, 490 civilians were killed and 1,157 were wounded in Iraq. Baghdad was the worst affected, with 299 civilians killed and 785 wounded.
Of course not all of those were killed by ISIS, and many of the killers, ISIS and not, are already living inside the city and thus will not be affected by the new wall, but meh.
The thing is that since 2003 Baghdad has always been a city of walls. As one facet of its failed strategy to prevent sectarian violence in the city, the U.S. erected a labyrinth of blast walls, eventually walling off entire neighborhoods and nearly every government office, bank, police station, school, hospital, market, gas station, and university campus. The boundaries of the Green Zone itself are defined in places by blast walls.
The fact that all of those walls having failed to stop ISIS does not appear to have been factored into the Iraqi government’s plans.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
Youngblood, a new novel by Matt Gallagher set in the late stages of the Iraq War, is a powerful fiction debut from an author already known for his nonfiction portrayal of that conflict in Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War. Youngblood is a gritty, tragic, realistic look inside the failures of America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq told by someone who lived it as a young infantry lieutenant.
Youngblood presents three different themes intermingled. They work symbiotically with one another to create an image of what happened in the underbelly of a war poorly reported on by the American media.
The first theme tells the story of American Army Lieutenant Jack Porter, and his complex battlefield relationship with his platoon sergeant, Dan Chambers, and the host of Iraqis they encounter. In seeking a literary vehicle to his tale, Gallagher bypassed the traditional Saving Private Ryan-like choices in favor of a murder mystery of sorts. Actually multiple murders, killings and assassinations, whose connections unfold slowly as different characters divulge and withhold information, almost Rashomon-like. Lieutenant Porter is often times faced with choices of who to believe, and often gets it wrong, often with tragic consequences. Along the way the reader is introduced to the cast of the Iraq War: slimy sheiks, nasty terrorists, game-playing interpreters, innocent victims, not-so-innocent victims, and American soldiers stuck inside a world they cannot possibly understand.
Having spent a year in Iraq embedded with the U.S. Army has part of my State Department job, these portrayals ring true. Nearly on a one-to-one basis, I could match up a real person I interacted with for every one of Gallagher’s “fictional” characters.
Those soldiers’ stories and the events of their “workdays” are the second theme of Youngblood. For those who want to look behind the one-dimensional portrayals on TV, here is life on the ground for a counterinsurgency army. As the best novels do, Gallagher’s story drags you deep into a new and unfamiliar world, showing you the food the troops ate, the conditions under which they lived, the lies and boasts they told each other, and the motivations noble, and mundane, that sent them into service. If you enjoyed Kaboom, a minor criticism of Youngblood may be that you’ve read some of this before. That, however, does not take away from the realism; Gallagher really makes you smell the streets of war-torn Baghdad, and you can feel the grit of its back alleys in your own mouth as you turn the pages.
The final theme in Youngblood is the most subtle, and the most interesting. Through his broader story, that murder mystery and its eventual resolution, Gallagher deftly offers an allegorical view of the whole war. His soldiers try and do the right things in nearly every instance, but both their disparate personal motivations and the fact that right and wrong in war are never anything but gray in search of black and white, often means the best intentions turn to mud (Gallagher’s characters might use a stronger term.) When that happens in war, people die, sometimes the wrong people. The Iraqis, beaten down by years of occupation, play along with the Americans, but with the knowledge that in the end the soldiers will leave them with the mess to attend to.
In the end the message is clear for both sides: there was no way to win in Iraq, only to survive. Youngblood tells that tale, and tells it well.
Hey, did you wake up today wondering what was going on in Afghanistan, America’s 51st state, you know, the one we’ve been occupying for over 14 years, that one where thousands of Americans have died and where thousands still serve? Yeah, that Afghanistan.
The truth? Things kinda suck donkey over there.
Sure, of course, I can be more specific. But better let the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) tell the tale, via it released its thirtieth Quarterly Report to Congress. The quarterly report notes:
— Despite more than a decade of reconstruction and development efforts, the Afghan economy remains in fragile and worsening condition. Intractable insurgents, cutbacks in foreign military personnel, persistent emigration of people and capital, and a slowing global economy are shifting Afghanistan’s economic prospects from troubling to bleak.
— Afghanistan is even more dangerous than it was a year ago. The Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since 2001.
— The lack of security has made it almost impossible for many U.S. and even some Afghan officials to get out to manage and inspect U.S.-funded reconstruction projects. The dangers of absent oversight were exposed when a task force appointed by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani found millions of dollars were being embezzled while Afghanistan pays for numerous nonexistent “ghost” schools, “ghost” teachers, and “ghost” students.
— Members of Congress have asked SIGAR to conduct an inquiry into the U.S. government’s experience with allegations of sexual abuse of children committed by members of the Afghan security forces the U.S. is paying for.
— Afghanistan’s domestic revenues paid for only 40% of the nation’s budget expenditures. The country’s large budget deficits and trade imbalances will require substantial donor aid for the foreseeable future.
— Cumulative funding for Afghanistan reconstruction increased to approximately $113.1 billion, with approximately $11.5 billion more in the pipeline for disbursement. A total of $8.4 billion of the reconstruction funding has been provided for counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan.
— This quarter, Afghan National Defense and Security Forces assigned force strength was 322,638 (including civilians). This reflects a decrease of 2,078 since July 2015 and 9,306 since May 2015.
— Since 2003, USAID has spent at least $2.3 billion on stability programs in Afghanistan. The findings of a USAID-contracted, third-party evaluation program on the impacts of its stabilization projects raise worrying questions. They reported, for example, that villages receiving USAID stability projects scored lower on stability than similar villages that received no such assistance.
— Some villages under Taliban control that received USAID stability projects subsequently showed greater pro-Taliban support. USAID appears to be largely indifferent to the implications of these findings.
The U.S. government was nice enough to gift our loyal friends the Afghans $17 billion of your tax money, and, in the true spirit of giving, asked nothing in return for itself.
What that means in actual dollars and nonsense is that the U.S. government wasted $17 billion in taxpayer money in Afghanistan on various projects that never made it off the ground or were doomed to fail because of incompetence or lack of maintenance, according to a new report.
ProPublica looked at over 200 audits conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) over the last six years and tallied up the costs for the wide range of failed efforts to reach the $17 billion price tag. This greatest hits study only scratched the surface of the estimated $110 billion spent to rebuild the country (the U.S. spent some $47 billion in rebuilding Iraq, and how’d that work out?)
The new study touches on only the most egregious examples of waste, including:
— $8 million to end Afghanistan’s drug trade, which is flourishing today as never before;
— $2 billion for roads that the Afghan government is unlikely to maintain due to lack of funds and security concerns;
— $1 billion for unrealized criminal justice reform efforts;
— $936 million for aircraft that can’t be maintained;
— $486 million for cargo planes that can’t fly;
— $470 million on the Afghan Police;
— $43 million for a gas station that doesn’t work.
The timing of the report couldn’t be better. The chief of the watchdog office is slated to appear before a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel shortly after lawmakers return from their extended holiday break.
That January 20 hearing was originally set to scrutinize only the work of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which spent $700-$800 million (no one knows the exact amount) on economic redevelopment in Afghanistan, as well as $150 million on villas and private security for the group’s staffers. The agenda will now likely expand to a whole-of-government waste review.
…that works out to about 28 dead every day.
It is also an estimate, given that many areas of the country are not readily accessible, and because the death toll from the siege of Ramadi is not accounted for in the figures. More than 3.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced and/or homeless.
Iraq is now an ungoverned, failed state, a killing field on the scale of genocide.
At least 18,802 civilians were killed and 36,245 wounded in Iraq over the last 22 months, according to the UN’s Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Armed Conflict in Iraq. Another 3,206,736 Iraqis are internally displaced, including more than one million children. The study emphasizes that these are conservative estimates. The UN also is careful to note that the number of civilians killed by secondary effects of the violence, such as lack of access to food, water or medical care, is unknown. In many areas of Iraq schools are closed and basic infrastructure is not functioning.
All that is in addition to the more than one million people already killed during the American occupation period.
These horrors are directly caused by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation. In addition to unleashing near-total chaos in the nation, the U.S. invasion led directly to the rise of Islamic State, which found the consuming violence fertile soil for growth. ISIS went on to see a new role to emerge, protector of the Sunni population, which was being slaughtered and impoverished by the Shiite majority empowered by the Americans and Iran.
“Armed violence continues to take an obscene toll on Iraqi civilians and their communities,” remarked the UN high commissioner for human rights. “The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide.”
ISIS is targeting non-Sunni ethnic and religious communities, “systematically persecuting” them, subjecting them to violent repression and crimes, the UN notes. Women and children are particularly affected by these atrocities. Women face extreme sexual violence and even sexual slavery. Children are being forcibly recruited as fighters.
In addition to ISIS violence, the UN notes that civilians have been killed and kidnapped, and that civilian infrastructure has been destroyed by pro-government forces, militias and tribal fighters. Moreover, civilians are being killed by U.S. airstrikes.
Adding to the depth of horror in Iraq, many Iraqi refugees have sought asylum in the West, but have been largely unwelcome. In a time of heightened Islamophobia, some European countries and many right-wing American politicians — including more than half of the U.S. governors — have made it clear they do not want to accept Muslim refugees.
Four American prisoners, including detained Washington Post journalist Jason Resaian, Saeed Adedini, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari, were released as part of a deal with the United States alongside the ending of many trade sanction against Iran. Iran also released a fifth American prisoner unrelated to the swap, student Matthew Trevithick.
However good that news is, the fate of two other Americans believed to still be in Iran remains unknown.
Authorities in Tehran said they would not be freeing a Iranian-American businessman arrested in October, and were silent on the fate of an CIA/DEA/FBI semi-undercover contractor who disappeared in the country.
It was unclear why businessman Siamak Namazi, 44, an Iranian-American based in Dubai, was arrested in October in the first place. He was visiting a friend in Tehran, where he had done consultant work for over ten years without incident. Namazi is the son of a prominent family in Tehran. He immigrated to the United States in 1983, and he later returned to Iran after graduating from college to serve in the Iranian military.
The fate of Robert Levinson, 67, pictured, is also unclear. Levinson, who worked at one time for the FBI, and also for the CIA, went missing on an Iranian island in March 2007. The island was reportedly a well-known stopover for smugglers bringing goods into Iran. Levinson is believed to have been looking into Iranian government corruption related to cigarette smuggling out of Dubai. The Iranians have never acknowledged holding Levinson.
Levinson joined the FBI’s New York field office in 1978 after spending six years with the Drug Enforcement Administration. Eventually he moved to the Miami office, where he tracked Russian organized-crime figures.
After retiring from the FBI in 1998, Levinson worked as a CIA contractor. Levinson was supposed to produce academic papers for the agency, but operated much like a case officer. Levinson traveled the globe to meet with potential sources, sometimes using a fake name. CIA station chiefs in those countries were allegedly never notified of Levinson’s activities overseas, even though the agency reimbursed him for his travel.
In the world of covert intelligence, the use of such contractors can be a convenient means of gathering information without creating any true responsibility of the agency to protect or repatriate an American who is technically not a “spy” and officially not an employee of the U.S. government. For the sake of long-term relations, this also allows all nations involved to not be pressed into raising a disappearance into a significant bilateral issue if desired, as appears in the case of Levinson.
May lightening not strike me, but I am going to help Ted Cruz now. Ted is a natural-born citizen and he can be president. There is no ambiguity, no legal question. It is very clear.
Clear of of course to nearly everyone but Donald Trump, his running dog Ann Coulter, and a somnolent American media who would rather have this faux-controversy than simply say to Trump he is factually wrong.
Sigh. Here it is.
The Constitution, Article II, Section I, states one must be a “natural born citizen” to become president. That means immigrants who were born citizens of one country and naturalized to become American citizens later in life are not eligible. Natural born means the person was an American by birth, at birth. Yes, yes, technically the Supreme Court has never be asked to rule on this, but the Supreme Court has never ruled on lots of things that are still true and lawful. That argument is pretty damn weak. Let’s challenge the Third Amendment, about quartering troops in private homes, first.
Cruz was indeed born in Canada, which is indeed a foreign country. His mother was born in the United States. His father was Cuban. They lived in Canada, working in the oil industry. A child of an American citizen mother born abroad is an America citizen, absent some very specific circumstances that even Trump isn’t challenging.
The determination of American citizenship for a kid born abroad is formally adjudicated by the State Department, which documents the citizenship with a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA, or Form FS-240.) Happens all the time. Technically there is no actual requirement to even have that document — it is only convenient proof of what are the circumstances of a birth abroad.
The natural born question is not new, but it has been so well-chewed over such that there is no need to do it again as Trump is doing.
In 2008, the Senate passed a resolution that John McCain was allowed to run for president even though he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which is not the United States. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both senators then, voted for it.
The Congressional Research Service, the agency tasked with providing authoritative research to members of Congress, published a report after the 2008 election supporting the fact that natural born citizenship means citizenship held at birth.
If we must have more, two of the best-known Supreme Court lawyers make the case that Cruz, as were McCain, George Romney (born in Mexico) and Barry Goldwater (born in Arizona when it was only a territory, not a state) before him, is eligible to run.
Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, and Paul Clement, who was solicitor general under George W. Bush (i.e., bipartisan support), wrote earlier this month in the Harvard Law Review that “there is no question” Cruz is eligible.
OK, that’s the last time I’m going to help Ted Cruz.
In most people’s minds, America’s biggest exports are things like iPhones made in China, or swank Levi’s made in China. But in fact, America is the world’s leading seller of one category of goods, and those goods are nearly 100% made in America: weapons.
Maybe not a huge surprise, given that America maintains the globe’s largest military itself, has the largest network of bases and installations around the world, and makes war, well, pretty much anywhere/everywhere it godd*amn feels like it. But check out some impressive numbers: foreign arms sales by the United States jumped by almost $10 billion in 2014, about 35 percent growth, even as the global weapons market remained flat and competition among suppliers increased. How’d where you work do this year? Did you realize 35 percent growth? Sounds like you’re in the wrong business, Skippy.
American weapons receipts rose to $36.2 billion in 2014 from $26.7 billion the year before, bolstered by multibillion-dollar agreements (negotiated in large part by the the government of the United States on behalf of the private companies who make the weapons; wouldn’t your business benefit from having the Pentagon and the entire network of U.S. embassies augmenting your sales force?) with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. Those deals and others ensured that the United States remained the single largest provider of arms around the world, controlling over 50 percent of the market.
Russia followed the United States as the top weapons supplier, albeit at only about one-third of what the U.S. racked up in sales. Sweden, France and China were distant numbers three, four and five.
As for the buyers, America’s top markets over time are both remnants of past American wars, South Korea, and Iraq. Quite popular items included American drones, as well as very, very lucrative aftersales in ammunition, spare parts and training.
Every Christmas sees one toy emerge as the most-wanted, gotta have gift — remember Tickle Me Elmo, and Beanie Babies from years past? Well, 2015’s big hit has emerged: The Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset.
The set retails for three trillion dollars, though the price may have doubled by the time this is published. Included in the standard set are enough LEGOS to build replicas of Mosul and Fallujah, allowing a child to refight those battles over and over.
Figures, all with removable heads, include Sunni militias, Islamic State fighters, Shia militias, one figure representing the actual Iraqi Army, American special forces with and without boots, Iranians, Kurds, Turks, Russians, Syrians (moderate and radical, though they cannot be told apart), British, French and Italian troops, shady Saudi financiers and Hezbollah soldiers.
The basic set also includes a starter pack of refugee figures, though most people will want to opt for the bonus pack, if only to get access to the limited edition dead children refugee figures.
Not included: any weapons of mass destruction.
While the Iraq-Syria LEGO Playset will provide any child with decades of fun, even more adventures can be played out by buying the Turkish Expansion Pack.
And parents, please note: Even after careful construction with the best of intention, the playset tends to simply fall apart.
In the many strategies proposed to defeat the Islamic State (IS) by presidential candidates, policymakers, and media pundits alike across the American political spectrum, one common element stands out: someone else should really do it.
The United States will send in planes, advisers, and special ops guys, but it would be best — and this varies depending on which pseudo-strategist you cite — if the Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Sunnis, and/or Shias would please step in soon and get America off the hook.
The idea of seeing other-than-American boots on the ground, like Washington’s recently deep-sixed scheme to create some “moderate” Syrian rebels out of whole cloth, is attractive on paper. Let someone else fight America’s wars for American goals. Put an Arab face on the conflict, or if not that at least a Kurdish one (since, though they may not be Arabs, they’re close enough in an American calculus). Let the U.S. focus on its “bloodless” use of air power and covert ops. Somebody else, Washington’s top brains repeatedly suggest, should put their feet on the embattled, contested ground of Syria and Iraq. Why, the U.S. might even gift them with nice, new boots as a thank-you.
Is this, however, a realistic strategy for winning America’s war(s) in the Middle East?
The Great Champions of the Grand Strategy
Recently, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton openly called for the U.S. to round up some Arab allies, Kurds, and Iraqi Sunnis to drive the Islamic State’s fighters out of Iraq and Syria. On the same day that Clinton made her proposal, Bernie Sanders called for “destroying” the Islamic State, but suggested that it “must be done primarily by Muslim nations.” It’s doubtful he meant Indonesia or Malaysia.
Among the Republican contenders, Marco Rubio proposed that the U.S. “provide arms directly to Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces.” Ted Cruz threw his support behind arming the Kurds, while Donald Trump appeared to favor more violence in the region by whoever might be willing to jump in.
They may all mean well, but their plans are guaranteed to fail. Here’s why, group by group.
The Gulf Arabs
Much of what the candidates demand is based one premise: that “the Arabs” see the Islamic State as the same sort of threat Washington does.
It’s a position that, at first glance, would seem to make obvious sense. After all, while American politicians are fretting about whether patient IS assault teams can wind their way through this country’s two-year refugee screening process, countries like Saudi Arabia have them at their doorstep. Why wouldn’t they jump at the chance to lend a helping hand, including some planes and soldiers, to the task of destroying that outfit? “The Arabs,” by which the U.S. generally means a handful of Persian Gulf states and Jordan, should logically be demanding the chance to be deeply engaged in the fight.
That was certainly one of the early themes the Obama administration promoted after it kicked off its bombing campaigns in Syria and Iraq back in 2014. In reality, the Arab contribution to that “coalition” effort to date has been stunningly limited. Actual numbers can be slippery, but we know that American warplanes have carried out something like 90% of the air strikes against IS. Of those strikes that are not all-American, parsing out how many have been from Arab nations is beyond even Google search’s ability. The answer clearly seems to be not many.
Keep in mind as well that the realities of the region seldom seem to play much of a part in Washington’s thinking. For the Gulf Arabs, all predominantly Sunni nations, the Islamic State and its al-Qaeda-linked Sunni ilk are little more than a distraction from what they fear most, the rise of Shia power in places like Iraq and the growing regional strength of Iran.
In this context, imagining such Arab nations as a significant future anti-IS force is absurd. In fact, Sunni terror groups like IS and al-Qaeda have in part been funded by states like Saudi Arabia or at least rich supporters living in them. Direct funding links are often difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to publicly prove them. This is especially so because the money that flows into such terror outfits often comes from individual donors, not directly from national treasuries, or may even be routed through legitimate charitable organizations and front companies.
However, one person concerned in an off-the-record way with such Saudi funding for terror groups was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton back in 2009. In a classified warning message (now posted on WikiLeaks), she suggested in blunt terms that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
One who thinks the Saudis and other Gulf countries may be funding rather than fighting IS and is ready to say so is Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the recent G20 meeting, he announced that he had shared intelligence information revealing that 40 countries, including some belonging to the G20 itself, finance the majority of the Islamic State’s activities. Though Putin’s list of supposed funders was not made public, on the G20 side Saudi Arabia and Turkey are more likely candidates than South Korea and Japan.
Most recently, the German vice chancellor has explicitly accused the Saudis of funding Sunni radical groups.
Expecting the Gulf Arab states to fight IS also ignores the complex political relationship between those nations and Islamic fundamentalism generally. The situation is clearest in Saudi Arabia, where the secular royal family holds power only with the shadowy permission of Wahhabist religious leaders. The latter provide the former with legitimacy at the price of promoting Islamic fundamentalism abroad. From the royals’ point of view, abroad is the best place for it to be, as they fear an Islamic revolution at home. In a very real way, Saudi Arabia is supporting an ideology that threatens its own survival.
At the top of the list of groups included in the American dream of someone else fighting IS are the Kurds. And indeed, the peshmerga, the Kurdish militia, are actually on the battlefields of northern Iraq and Syria, using American-supplied weapons and supported by American air power and advisers in their efforts to kill Islamic State fighters.
But looks can be deceiving. While a Venn diagram would show an overlap between some U.S. and Kurdish aims, it’s important not to ignore the rest of the picture. The Kurds are fighting primarily for a homeland, parts of which are, for the time being, full of Islamic State fighters in need of killing. The Kurds may indeed destroy them, but only within the boundaries of what they imagine to be a future Kurdistan, not in the heartlands of the Syrian and Iraqi regions that IS now controls.
Not only will the Kurds not fight America’s battles in parts of the region, no matter how we arm and advise them, but it seems unlikely that, once in control of extended swaths of northern Iraq and parts of Syria, they will simply abandon their designs on territory that is now a part of Turkey. It’s a dangerous American illusion to imagine that Washington can turn Kurdish nationalism on and off as needed.
The Kurds, now well armed and battle-tested, are just one of the genies Washington released from that Middle Eastern bottle in 2003 when it invaded Iraq. Now, whatever hopes the U.S. might still have for future stability in the region shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Using the Kurds to fight IS is a devil’s bargain.
And talking about devil’s bargains, don’t forget about Turkey. The Obama administration reached a deal to fly combat missions in its intensifying air war against the Islamic State from two bases in Turkey. In return, Washington essentially looked the other way while Turkish President Recep Erdogan re-launched a war against internal Kurdish rebels at least in part to rally nationalistic supporters and win an election. Similarly, the U.S. has supported Turkey’s recent shoot-down of a Russian aircraft.
When it comes to the Islamic State, though, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Turks to lend a serious military hand. That country’s government has, at the very least, probably been turning a blind eye to the smuggling of arms into Syria for IS, and is clearly a conduit for smuggling its oil out onto world markets. American politicians seem to feel that, for now, it’s best to leave the Turks off to the side and simply be grateful to them for slapping the Russians down and opening their air space to American aircraft.
That gratitude may be misplaced. Some 150 Turkish troops, supported by 20 to 25 tanks, have recently entered northern Iraq, prompting one Iraqi parliamentarian to label the action “switching out alien (IS) rule for other alien rule.” The Turks claim that they have had military trainers in the area for some time and that they are working with local Kurds to fight IS. It may also be that the Turks are simply taking a bite from a splintering Iraq. As with so many situations in the region, the details are murky, but the bottom line is the same: the Turks’ aims are their own and they are likely to contribute little either to regional stability or American war aims.
Of the many sub-strategies proposed to deal with the Islamic State, the idea of recruiting and arming “the Sunnis” is among the most fantastical. It offers a striking illustration of the curious, somewhat delusional mindset that Washington policymakers, including undoubtedly the next president, live in.
As a start, the thought that the U.S. can effectively fulfill its own goals by recruiting local Sunnis to take up arms against IS is based on a myth: that “the surge” during America’s previous Iraq War brought us a victory later squandered by the locals. With this goes a belief, demonstrably false, in the shallowness of the relationship between many Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis and the Islamic State.
According to the Washington mythology that has grown up around that so-called surge of 2007-2008, the U.S. military used money, weapons, and clever persuasion to convince Iraq’s Sunni tribes to break with Iraq’s local al-Qaeda organization. The Sunnis were then energized to join the coalition government the U.S. had created. In this way, so the story goes, the U.S. arrived at a true “mission accomplished” moment in Iraq. Politicians on both sides of the aisle in Washington still believe that the surge, led by General David Petraeus, swept to success by promoting and arming a “Sunni Awakening Movement,” only to see American plans thwarted by a too-speedy Obama administration withdrawal from the country and the intra-Iraqi squabbling that followed. So the question now is: why not “awaken” the Sunnis again?
In reality, the surge involved almost 200,000 American soldiers, who put themselves temporarily between Sunni and Shia militias. It also involved untold millions of dollars of “payments” — what in another situation would be called bribes — that brought about temporary alliances between the U.S. and the Sunnis. The Shia-dominated Iraqi central government never signed onto the deal, which began to fall apart well before the American occupation ended. The replacement of al-Qaeda in Iraq by a newly birthed Islamic State movement was, of course, part and parcel of that falling-apart process.
After the Iraqi government stopped making the payments to Sunni tribal groups first instituted by the Americans, those tribes felt betrayed. Still occupying Iraq, those Americans did nothing to help the Sunnis. History suggests that much of Sunni thinking in the region since then has been built around the motto of “won’t get fooled again.”
So it is unlikely in the extreme that local Sunnis will buy into basically the same deal that gave them so little of lasting value the previous time around. This is especially so since there will be no new massive U.S. force to act as a buffer against resurgent Shia militias. Add to this mix a deep Sunni conviction that American commitments are never for the long term, at least when it comes to them. What, then, would be in it for the Sunnis if they were to again throw in their lot with the Americans? Another chance to be part of a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad that seeks to marginalize or destroy them, a government now strengthened by Iranian support, or a Syria whose chaos could easily yield a leadership with similar aims?
In addition, a program to rally Sunnis to take up arms against the Islamic State presumes that significant numbers of them don’t support that movement, especially given their need for protection from the depredations of Shia militias. Add in religious and ethnic sentiments, anti-western feelings, tribal affiliations, and economic advantage — it is believed that IS kicks back a share of its oil revenues to compliant Sunni tribal leaders — and what exactly would motivate a large-scale Sunni transformation into an effective anti-Islamic State boots-on-the-ground force?
Not that they get mentioned all that often, being closely associated with acts of brutality against Sunnis and heavily supported by Iran, but Iraq’s Shia militias are quietly seen by some in Washington as a potent anti-IS force. They have, in Washington’s mindset, picked up the slack left after the Iraqi Army abandoned its equipment and fled the Islamic State’s fighters in northern Iraq in June 2014, and again in the Sunni city of Ramadi in May 2015.
Yet even the militia strategy seems to be coming undone. Several powerful Shia militias recently announced, for instance, their opposition to any further deployment of U.S. forces to their country. This was after the U.S. Secretary of Defense unilaterally announced that an elite special operations unit would be sent to Iraq to combat the Islamic State. The militias just don’t trust Washington to have their long-term interests at heart (and in this they are in good company in the region). “We will chase and fight any American force deployed in Iraq,” said one militia spokesman. “We fought them before and we are ready to resume fighting.”
Refusing to Recognize Reality
The Obama/Clinton/Sanders/Cruz/Rubio/Pentagon/et al. solution — let someone else fight the ground war against IS — is based on what can only be called a delusion: that regional forces there believe in American goals (some variant of secular rule, disposing of evil dictators, perhaps some enduring U.S. military presence) enough to ignore their own varied, conflicting, aggrandizing, and often fluid interests. In this way, Washington continues to convince itself that local political goals are not in conflict with America’s strategic goals. This is a delusion.
In fact, Washington’s goals in this whole process are unnervingly far-fetched. Overblown fears about the supposedly dire threats of the Islamic State to “the homeland” aside, the American solution to radical Islam is an ongoing disaster. It is based on the attempted revitalization of the collapsed or collapsing nation-state system at the heart of that region. The stark reality is that no one there — not the Gulf states, not the Kurds, not the Turks, not the Sunnis, nor even the Shia — is fighting for Iraq and Syria as the U.S. remembers them.
Unworkable national boundaries were drawn up after World War I without regard for ethnic, sectarian, or tribal realities and dictatorships were then imposed or supported past their due dates. The Western answer that only secular governments are acceptable makes sad light of the power of Islam in a region that often sees little or no separation between church and state.
Secretary of State John Kerry can join the calls for the use of “indigenous forces” as often as he wants, but the reality is clear: Washington’s policy in Syria and Iraq is bound to fail, no matter who does the fighting.
So, at the cost of who-knows-how-many of your tax dollars, the State Department, in between deep-sixing Hillary’s old emails, has been fighting ISIS, with The Twitter thingie.
See, someone determined that if ISIS could use social media to radicalize young people, with a powerful and persuasive message, well, the old, sad white people at the State Department could convince them that ISIS was bad. Plus, it’s social media, which is some sort of newfangled thing all the kids like! After no doubt many late nights, State came up with the clever name of “Think Again, Turn Away,” for its anti-ISIS social media campaign.
The slogan itself sounds far too much like the 1980s’ hilariously failed anti-drug campaign, “Just Say No.” But this is even funnier.
See, the social media war for hearts and minds over at State just took another body blow by promoting an anti-Islam advocate as a “human rights hero.” In fact, in honor of #HumanRightsDay, “Think Again Turn Away” Twittered and Facebooked out the message of Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (pictured) speaks loudly, publicly and often about her belief that Islam is an inherently violent “cult of death.” She supports the proposed ban of face veils in France, and of mosques’ minarets in Switzerland. In 2007, she called for the west to destroy Islam using military force.
This is kinda the wrong signal to send to young people already tuned in to ISIS’ message that the west is indeed at war with Islam itself, and seeks to kill Muslims and occupy their lands. Ali’s message, and the State Department’s endorsement and amplification of it, does little more than confirm many young Muslims’ fears. It does not support the better narrative that the problem is not Islam, and that it is OK to be a Muslim, as long as you are a nice Muslim to the rest of us.
It is, in social media terms, a massive “boner” of a gaffe.
How Could They Have Known?
Now, how could the State Department have known about Ali’s views? All those Muslim names sound alike, right?
Maybe by checking Wikipedia, which says:
Ayaan has been a vocal critic of Islam. In 2004, she collaborated on a short movie with Theo van Gogh, entitled Submission, the English rendering of the word “Islam”, a film about the oppression of women under Islam. The documentary sparked controversy, which resulted in death threats against the two and the eventual assassination of Van Gogh later that year by a Dutch Muslim. In a 2007 interview, she described Islam as an “enemy” that needs to be defeated before peace can be achieved.
Or maybe State could have “Googled” Ali, where they would have found articles with headlines like “Ayaan Hirsi Ali is dangerous: Why we must reject her hateful worldview.”
Or maybe by watching Fox; Ali is a darling of the right wing haters.
It’s Not About Her
Look, I know Ali has a tragic life story, and that she was tortured by radical Islamists. The people State’s anti-ISIS messages are aimed at are already predisposed to accepting radical Islam’s violence. Many seek it out, and to them it forms a part of ISIS’ appeal.
In the end of the day, this is not about Ali, it is about the pointlessness of the State Department social media campaign. A known Islamophobe won’t convince angry Muslims of anything.
For us old-timers, memories of those post-9/11 days persist like that rotting squirrel stuck somewhere under your back porch.
One of the features of those dirty days was the panic index, actually called the terrorism alert system, created by the then-new Department of Homeland Security. The system featured a five-step, color-coded “alert level” ranging from black (normal) to red (attack imminent.) The system was criticized for doing little more than promoting a constant background hum of anxiety when it basically got stuck at “elevated risk” for nearly eight years.
The Obama administration, in 2010, replaced the old five step system with a new two step one: imminent and elevated. It too got stuck in elevated mode and faded into obscurity. Most people today don’t even know it exists.
That is now over. Following the events of San Bernardino, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week that a new level will be added to cover less serious threats, though officials declined to say what it will be called. “It wouldn’t be specifics like time and place,” one of the officials said. “It would be along the lines of terrorists have expressed interest in attacking this type of target.”
The new system sounds suspiciously like the State Department travel advisory system. Originally created to send out bulletins on immediate dangers affecting travelers (“flood in Mali”), the system quickly morphed into a steady stream of “world-wide” generalities along the lines of “something terrorist may happen somewhere sometime, so better just stay home.”
The new Homeland Security warning system will by definition add a new threat layer that is unspecific. That raises the point of what is the point. The media already is doing a fine job of stoking the public’s fear levels via a steady stream of exaggerated reports on ISIS (replacing the old steady stream of exaggerated reports on al Qaeda, could be a pattern here.) The result is quite clearly of value only in keeping alive among a gullible public anxiety and fear.
And so the new warning system will enter the media-government feedback loop as follows. Homeland Security will issue a non-specific warning of “something terrorist may happen somewhere sometime.” The media will then dutifully report that warning, amplifying its pointlessness across TV, the last few newspapers and the web. Pundits will pick up the media reports and comment on them, keeping alive for another few news cycles a non-story that should never have been taken seriously in the first place.
The result: Panic. Anxiety. Fear. Public support for further erosion of our civil rights and freedoms because we will have to “do something” in response to the new threat. Repeat, and repeat.
If you are in the New York City area, Monday, December 7 at 7 pm, please join me and several other writers for a series of book readings and some good discussion.
The event, organized by Words After War, will be held at The Folly, a nice bar located at 92 W Houston St, New York, NY 10012. Get there a little early and catch the end of happy hour.
I’ll be reading from my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, as well as offering a sneak preview of my next book, Hooper’s War, a novel set in World War II Japan.
I will share the stage with three other writers.
Kiley Bense is a writer and journalist whose creative nonfiction focuses on the intersections of history, memory, and family. Her essays have previously appeared online for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Narratively, and Saveur, among others. She is currently at work on a book project about World War II and the lasting consequences of trauma.
Adrian Bonenberger is an author, essayist, and journalist currently studying at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton’s MFA program for creative writing. He is lecturing at Yale University Fall 2015, a course titled “Memoir and the War on Terror,” following an Army career that included two tours to Afghanistan. His war memoirs, Afghan Post, were released in January 2014.
Brandon Caro is the author of the debut novel, Old Silk Road (It is excellent; I’ll have a review here soon.) He was a Navy corpsman/combat medic and advisor to the Afghan National Army in Afghanistan from 2006-2007. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, and elsewhere.
See you on Monday, December 7!
So file this one under “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” subcategory, “Everything.”
American ally the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dispatched hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to Yemen to fight in that country’s raging conflict, adding a volatile new element in a complex proxy war that has drawn in the United States and Iran, reports the New York Times.
It is the first combat deployment for the mercenary army that the Emirates has built up over the past five years. And — small world –the army was raised and for its few years run by Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater. The mercs are presently controlled by the small Emirati military while Prince presumably has moved on to create private merc armies for others we’ll someday learn about.
The arrival in Yemen of 450 Latin American troops — among them are also Panamanian, Salvadoran and Chilean soldiers — adds to the volatile stew of government armies, armed tribes, terrorist networks and Yemeni militias currently at war in the country. Earlier this year, a coalition of Sunni countries led by Saudi Arabia, including the United States, began a military campaign in Yemen against Shia Houthi rebels supported by Iran. So, in theory, the merc army is semi-on the same side as the U.S.
As background, we all do remember that the U.S. government previously employed Erik Prince’s Blackwater mercenaries in Iraq as security for the American embassy and State Department diplomats.
After Blackwater imploded, killing 14 innocent Iraqi civilians and wounding 17 others, in Nisour Square and after a few name changes (Xe, Academi) to hide the fact that Blackwater was still employed by the State Department long after, the mercenary contracts moved to other similar but unrelated companies. Those companies in turn employed mercenaries from various countries in service to the USG. In addition to many mercs from Central and South America, popular hired guns also were recruited from Africa, where child soldiers and constant warfare created a steady pool of trained recruits.
“Mercenaries are an attractive option for rich countries who wish to wage war yet whose citizens may not want to fight,” said Sean McFate, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order.
“The private military industry is global now,” said McFate, adding that the United States essentially “legitimized” the industry with its heavy reliance on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan over more than a decade of war.
BONUS: Erik Prince is now chairman of another security firm, Frontier Services Group. It focuses heavily on providing logistics and aviation support in Africa. The company has a fleet of Cessna aircraft and “holds important customer approvals from the United Nations, the British government and the U.S. government.”
And what could possibly go wrong with all that?
The difference contend undermines the Japanese government’s position that more cases have been discovered in the area only because of stringent monitoring.
Fukushima Children Suffer Thyroid Cancer 20-50x Normal Rate
“This is more than expected and emerging faster than expected,” lead author Toshihide Tsuda told The Associated Press. “This is 20 times to 50 times what would be normally expected.” Children are particularly susceptible because their thyroids are growing rapidly.
Residents of Fukushima prefecture in northeast Japan should be monitored in the same way as survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, say the researchers, who offer one of the most pessimistic assessments so far of the health implications of the world’s second worst nuclear disaster.
The new information is far from unexpected.
A screening program in 2012 found 36 percent of children in Fukushima Prefecture had abnormal (though not necessarily cancerous) cysts or nodules in their thyroid glands. As of August 2013, 40 children were found to have actual thyroid and other cancers in Fukushima prefecture.
The new study was released online this week and is being published in the November issue of Epidemiology, produced by the Herndon, Virginia-based International Society for Environmental Epidemiology. The data comes from tests overseen by Fukushima Medical University. It is significant that the published version of this comes from a journal outside of Japan; the story seems to have received little play in Japanese mainstream media. Flagship NHK News, a quasi-government organization, does not appear to be covering it in any detail. The largest media outlet offering noteable coverage appears to be left-of-center Asahi news.
But Critics Say Little Reason for Concern
Critics contend that no causal link has been established between the release of radiation and the cancers, leaving open the possibility of a statistical anomaly or an as yet unknown precipitator. A somewhat disingenuous report by Japan’s Institute of Radiological Sciences found some children living close to the plant were exposed to “lifetime” doses of radiation to their thyroid glands unrelated to the nuclear meltdown. Looking harder with routine check-ups, some say, leads to discovery of more tumors, inflating the tallies in a so-called “screening effect.”
David J. Brenner, professor of radiation biophysics at Columbia University Medical Center, took a different view. While he agreed individual estimates on radiation doses are needed, he said the higher thyroid cancer rate in Fukushima is “not due to screening. It’s real.”
Background on the Disaster
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was caused by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The earthquake caused electrical and equipment failures at the plant, cutting off cooling to the nuclear reactors. Emergency backup diesel generators came online, and operated until the tsunami destroyed the generators, due to their location in unhardened low-lying areas. This triggered the release of radioactive materials. Though classified as the largest nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, almost from the beginning Japanese and American authorities sought to downplay its danger.
For example, immediately after the 2011 disaster, the lead Japanese doctor brought in to Fukushima repeatedly ruled out the possibility of radiation-induced illnesses. A full five days after the meltdown, the American Embassy in Tokyo stated only that “we are recommending, as a precaution, that American citizens who live within 50 miles of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant evacuate the area or take shelter indoors if safe evacuation is not practical.” The Japanese government continued to hold to its earlier recommendation to evacuate only within 12 miles of the plant.
The Embassy characterized American citizens’ reaction in Japan simply as “people are calling with concerns, but I would call it just a concern at this point.” The embassy did however quietly authorize the departure of its own dependents six days after the accident.
It is very, very difficult to discuss Benghazi and Clinton without almost immediately dipping deep into partisan politics cesspool, and no doubt any hearings she will testify at on Thursday will be ugly and deeply partisan. About half of the people reading this just clicked away to somewhere else. Thoughts on this topic are just that polarized.
But let’s not give up too easily. There are important questions about Clinton’s handling of Benghazi that are relative to her desire to be president. Here are some of them I hope someone will ask her.
1) Where was Clinton?
The Benghazi attack unfolded from about 4pm in the afternoon until very late at night, Washington time. Clinton said she was first told of the incident as it began. She has refused to be specific about her whereabouts and actions that night. Where was Clinton between 4pm and say midnight? The State Department Operations Center was on the phone live with officials in Benghazi, Tripoli or both locations and may have been monitoring live TV pictures fed to them from a drone. Was Clinton in the State Department Operations Center? If not, why not? When did she leave the State Department? Why did she leave? Did she go to the White House Ops Center, who no doubt was monitoring the situation? If not, why not?
Senator Charles Schumer was called to the White House, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, as the Benghazi attack unfolded. Clinton would be an unlikely source to explain Schumer’s presence, but certainly should be asked to explain her own non-presence.
For example, the CBS timeline for the attack states that 4 a.m. Washington time Obama was told of Ambassador Stevens’ death. Where was Clinton at that time? If she was asleep, at home or elsewhere, why did she chose that over staying at the State Department?
Clinton has refused to explain where she was the night of the Benghazi attack. CNN asked her, and here is her response:
QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.
SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on… So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting… So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.
Why It Matters: A Commander-in-Chief is responsible for lives and decisions. She has to be present and ready to make the “hard choices” in real time. If Clinton was elsewhere and not directly monitoring Benghazi in real-time (as opposed to getting periodic “briefings” aside some other event), how will she act as president in a similar crisis?
2) About That Anti-Muslim Video
In her book Hard Choices Clinton states about Benghazi:
There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives. It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video. It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.
What evidence can Clinton present that any Benghazi attackers were directly motivated by the video so offensive to Muslims? The attacks appear to have been well-coordinated and goal-oriented, not the faceless mobs content to tear down the American flag as seen in Cairo. Some were certainly angry about the video, but was it truly a “motivation?”
For example, at 6:07 p.m. Washington time an alert from the State Department Operations Center stated the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli reported the Islamic military group “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack”… on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli. It did not appear that the offensive video was cited.
The UK’s Independent noted the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who are working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts.
And indeed, after an initial flurry, no one seemed to ever mention the video ever again.
Why It Matters: If you cite evidence, put up or shut up. The president must speak precisely, both to avoid misunderstandings and to preserve her credibility.
3) What is Responsibility?
As Secretary I was the one ultimately responsible for my people’s safety, and I never felt that responsibility more deeply than I did that day.
Define “responsibility.” Many definitions imply some sort of relationship between being responsible, making decisions and accepting consequences. What decisions did Clinton make as Secretary of State vis-vis security in Benghazi? If delegated, to whom? What controls, management tools or other means did she employ to assure those delegates acted out her intentions?
Why It Matters: As president, Clinton will need to delegate almost everything. If she is unable to manage that, simply saying she takes “responsibility” while shucking off consequences will undermine her leadership.
4) More About Responsibility
In Hard Choices, Clinton writes about the messages from Benghazi before the attack requesting more security:
The cables were addressed to her as a ‘procedural quirk’ given her position, but didn’t actually land on her desk. “That’s not how it works. It shouldn’t. And it didn’t.”
Fair enough. Obviously the Secretary cannot read even a fraction of what pours into the State Department. So, who were the highest level people to see those cables? What were their instructions on which issues to elevate to the Secretary and which to deal with themselves? Clearly the need for more security at Benghazi was not addressed. Following Benghazi, did Clinton initiate any internal review, leading to changes? Details are important here.
Following Benghazi, no one in the State Department lost his/her job. No one was fired. Several people were placed on administrative leave, a kind of purgatory, until media attention focused elsewhere. All were eventually reinstated. The one person who claimed to have resigned actually just changed job titles, “resigning” from one to take on another.
At the time, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the discipline is a lie and all that has happened is the shuffling of the deck chairs. That will in no way change [the] systemic failures of management and leadership in the State Department.”
Why It Matters: God alone knows how much paper, how many memos and reports, arrive at the White House daily. The president must have staff and a system that filter the right things up and down. The country needs to have confidence that President Clinton will be able to handle that to prevent bad decisions that may lead to more tragedy. And when things go wrong, the president must be willing to shed ineffectual people and replace them with better ones.
Clinton writes of her non-appearance on television following Benghazi, with Susan Rice taking the lead:
[People] fixate on the question of why I didn’t go on TV that morning, as if appearing on a talk show is the equivalent of jury duty, where one has to have a compelling reason to get out of it. I don’t see appearing on Sunday-morning television as any more of a responsibility than appearing on late-night TV. Only in Washington is the definition of talking to Americans confined to 9 A.M. on Sunday mornings.
At the time, Susan Rice was America’s ambassador to the UN, what many saw as an unusual choice for a spokesperson for such a State Department-specific tragedy with little UN touchpoint.
Clinton was Secretary of State, the leader of the State Department, which had just had one of its consulates overrun, and two of its employees killed, one an ambassador. Clinton admits she held “responsibility” for this. Why wouldn’t she be the person to speak of this to the American people? Indeed, it was Clinton, not Susan Rice, in the foreground of the serious, patriotic photos taken later at the Dover Air Force base when the remains of the dead were returned to the U.S. in their flag-draped coffins.
Clinton went on to miss numerous opportunities to speak of her role regarding Benghazi.
Why It Matters: The buck stops here, said president Harry Truman. The president needs to be the one who speaks to America, explains things that happened to Americans, the one who shows by example her role, her compassion, for those whom she sent into harm’s way. The president, to lead, can’t duck that.
6) Information and Disinformation
Clinton writes in her book:
[There is a] regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media, but new information from a number of reputable sources continues to expand our understanding of these events.
Can Clinton be specific about what new information she is referring to, and from what sources? Can she explain how she determined these sources are reputable as opposed to those she characterizes as “flat-out deceit”?
One Democratic talking point opposing additional investigation into Benghazi is that the event has been dissected fully and we know all there is to know, that a new hearing in Congress is simply partisan politics. But if there is new information, as Clinton says, it seems more investigation would be helpful.
Why It Matters: A president’s word choice is very important. Precision is important and establishes credibility.
Clinton writes that the Accountability Review Board (ARB), State’s after-action process following any tragedy abroad as significant as two employees being killed by terrorists, did not interview her for their report, by their own choice. She does not know why they did not call on her. The report was bland and singled out no one for discipline or sanction despite the deaths and the decisions (by someone) not to increase security as personnel on the ground demanded.
Given the central role the Secretary of State and her office, delegates and staffers played in Benghazi before, during and after the crisis, how could this possibly be true? Assuming that the ARB truly found no reason whatsoever to speak to the head of an organization about arguably the most significant event of her term as head of that organization, why didn’t Clinton seek them out? Why didn’t she prepare a written statement, ask to add in her recollections? Get her role on record? Make sure history was recorded.
The Accountability Review Board personnel were hand-selected by Clinton.
And as John Kerry said (about Edward Snowden) “patriots don’t run away.”
Why It Matters: Not participating in such a review process, and then dismissing such non-participation simply as “they didn’t ask,” even if true, raises significant credibility questions about the validity of the ARB and the leader who did not participate. Credibility to her own staff, as well as to the American people, is a critical thing for a president.
If either lose faith in her, she cannot be effective. Leaders lead without excuses.
8) The U.S. Attacks on Libya
It is very important to remember that as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated very strongly for the U.S. attacks on Libya, to depose leader Muammar Qaddafi and as a humanitarian action.
Clinton and other Western officials sold NATO’s intervention in Libya as a humanitarian effort to stop the imminent slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. “Imagine we were sitting here and Benghazi had been overrun, a city of 700,000 people, and tens of thousands of people had been slaughtered, hundreds of thousands had fled. The cries would be, ‘Why did the United States not do anything?’” Clinton said in an interview in March of 2011.
At the most recent CNN Democratic Debate, Clinton stated “Our response [in Libya], which I think was smart power at its best.” Clinton noted that in addition to saving Libyan lives, the U.S. intervention produced the first free elections in the country since 1951.
Libya today is a failed state that bleeds chaos and terrorism into northern Africa.
Does Clinton see a line drawn between her advocacy for the attacks on Libya and the deaths of Americans at Benghazi? If not, why not?
Why It Matters: As President, Clinton will likely be faced with several “Libya’s.” What she did — and what she does — are of critical importance to the United States and the men and women who serve her.
OK, let’s get this out of the way. It is impossible to divorce an attempt at serious, dispassionate discourse about Benghazi from the political side promoted by Republicans and Democrats. And yes, of course, it is aimed at Hillary 2016.
But Hillary 2016 is a big deal. So maybe, albeit with some of the inevitable political mud slung alongside, we should pay attention to how she acted, if she failed to act, and whether she enjoyed some sort of cover-up/soft-sell over what really happened in Benghazi.
To paraphrase Clinton’s own political rhetoric as directed at then-candidate Obama, we need to know how she’ll act when that tragic 3 a.m. phone call comes through. While past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure, it is how the smart money should bet.
What kind of president would Hillary Clinton be? Let’s ask some real questions, and hold out for real answers.
As Obama fails on another campaign promise, this one to end the war in Afghanistan, and as that war moves into its 15th year, it is important to remember the U.S. has spent around $110 billion (no one knows the exact amount due to poor record keeping) to “rebuild” that beleaguered nation, so far.
We say “so far” in that the spending continues, and like the end of the war itself, as no foreseeable end date.
So how is that rebuilding thingee going?
Not well, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which issued a report saying “The Afghan private sector has thus far failed to fulfill its potential as an engine of economic growth or an instrument of social inclusion.”
In addition to America tossing that $110 billion of taxpayer money into the hole, foreign aid groups have been flushing away $15.7 billion a year. Taken together, all that money now accounts for around 98 percent of the entire Afghan gross domestic product.
In something of an understatement, the Stockholm report notes “Popular dissatisfaction with unequal access to economic resources, flawed public services and goods, the adverse security situation, and predatory government activity undermine an effective and sustainable private sector.”
Among its other findings, the report blames foreign governments and aid groups for giving Afghans too much money, which they couldn’t spend wisely even if the country weren’t riddled with corruption. Intended to improve government and grow businesses, the report concludes the aid instead merely sustains kleptocrats.
As for what the $110 billion of U.S. money could have purchased had it been spent to rebuild America, VICE notes it is enough to dig a new train tunnel under the Hudson River between New Jersey and Manhattan, lay a high-speed rail link from San Diego to Sacramento, reconstruct New Orleans’ levees after a storm like Hurricane Katrina, and still have around $10 billion left over to construct a few hundred schools from Chicago to Houston.
Why would anyone want to steal the fingerprints of Federal government employees? Not for identity theft; it is all about biometric espionage.
Earlier this summer the United States suffered one of the worst data breaches in history, when someone (maybe the Chinese, maybe the Russians) broke into the Office of Personnel Management’s computers.
The Office of Personnel Management is the primary Human Resources office for the Federal government. Because it is the Federal government, a lot of the files have to do with security clearances, many for employees in sensitive or even clandestine positions. The government has been a bit coy about which agencies’ data was breached, but has made clear it included the Department of Defense.
For many employees, the data breach is primarily of intelligence concern in that it exposes their personal vulnerabilities, things like debt, past problems with booze or drugs, the kind of stuff that makes it easier to manipulate and recruit someone.
And there is a lot of fodder for a foreign intelligence service to work with – the hack affected a staggering 21.5 million federal employees and their families, a full seven percent of the entire United States population (which also tells you something about the size of the government workforce.)
But what about those fingerprints? The Office of Personnel Management now admits it lost an estimated 5.6 million fingerprint records. Why would a foreign adversary want fingerprints?
To establish someone’s identity, of course. And through that, negate the enormous and very expensive efforts America’s undercover folks go to to create alternate identities.
It works a lot like in the movies. Peter Parker joins the Central Intelligence Agency fresh out of college. A cover life is constructed for him under a new name, or several covers under several names. This takes time, and money, and a fine sense of detail, especially when it is expected that a person have all sorts of information about himself already on Facebook and the like. A 25-year-old without Facebook or LinkedIn? Hmm.
Peter is drilled on each back story so he can switch between being Peter or Paul or Pat seamlessly. His appearance can be changed, and so, with false passports, “Peter” can travel as a businessperson to China in June, “Paul” can be the tourist who visits in late July and “Pat” the guy finally assigned to a new job at the embassy come August. That stuff has been going on with spies since the beginning of time.
It worked. Or at least it used to work.
The science of biometrics changed the game. New technologies like facial recognition, vocal prints and iris scans allow unique indicators to be collected and stored digitally. Once one matches an iris scan from Peter with one collected from Paul, they know they are the same person. Peter can only ever enter China under one name, albeit with the option of it being a false one. But he must be consistent and stick to the one. His clandestine usefulness is thus very limited.
The concept has worried American intelligence for some time, particularly because the United States overtly collects biometric information on every person entering the United States and understands the value as well as anyone. The Central Intelligence Agency even produced a defensive how-to manual for its undercover people.
Nonetheless, the Office of Personnel Management downplayed the danger posed by stolen fingerprint records, saying the ability to misuse the data is currently limited. “An inter-agency working group with expertise in this area… will review the potential ways adversaries could misuse fingerprint data now and in the future,” it said.
Such reassurances aside, the problem of biometrics reaches much further than just within one country. What about for an intelligence officer who travels among various nations?
Biometrics collected when Peter/Paul/Pat crosses an international border can be shared among allied nations, or sold to less friendly ones. Oh – the Peter from China is the same person known as Paul in Vietnam.
If not shared between friends, broad-based biometric data can also be collected via a link up with immigration authorities, either by agreement or via computer hack, say at major hubs like Frankfurt, Dubai or Narita. One news source reported a former intelligence service employee as saying “Just before I left, they were gearing up to make a request for CIA officers to recruit foreigners with access to immigration databases.”
But all that is a lot of work just to collect the information, can involve delicate deals with other nations and must be followed by even more work to sift through a very large haystack looking for a few suspicious government employees. Wouldn’t it be easier if someone were to hand you a 5.56 million record library of fingerprints, all known Federal employees, all organized by real names, and all accompanied by biographical and work data?
It is entirely plausible the offices inside the American intelligence community which focus on altering or disguising fingerprints just saw their budgets increase, with a little note saying “With thanks to the Office of Personnel Management hack.”
That is why the new information on the fingerprint hack is so significant.
Why exactly again is the U.S. at war in Syria and Iraq? Here’s a potpourri of fun things.
I heard it was something to do with Islamic State, a bunch of guys who have never done anything outside their own neighborhood but who we are afraid will strike inside the United States at any moment.
They’ve never done that, anywhere, and seem to have their hands full in Syria and Iraq, plus most of their heavy weapons seem to come from American allies handing our stuff over to them. It is almost as if by elevating them to Bond-villain status they are able to use that notoriety to recruit more fighters.
And of course to strike inside the U.S. ISIS would need to get in line behind our own mass shooters.
We’re no longer really even giving lip service to saving Iraq, so why are we fighting over there?
Now in Syria a couple of years ago we started our war there because Assad was butchering his own people, what with the barrel bombs and the chemical weapons and such. Well, we’ve shown him. He is no longer butchering his own people, others are. Currently the U.S., Russia, Turkey, UAE, Australia, Bahrain, Canada, France and Jordan are bombing Syria.
Also, the war to save the Syrians from their dictator has killed 250,000 people since March 2011 and sent millions of refugees fleeing to other countries in the Middle East and to Europe.
Maybe I could check with the Iranians. They, too, are fighting in Iraq, but in order to maintain control over the Shiite government as their proxy, and to push aside or wipe out the Sunnis, all in contravention of American goals, except America is helping the Iranians because they are also killing them some ISIS.
The Iranians are also fighting in Syria, on Assad’s side allied with the Russians. We help the Iranians in Iraq, but not in Syria.
Now the Saudis, they know where they stand. They do sometimes do a little tiny bit of bombing stuff in Syria, and especially in Yemen, probably Islamic State, but who knows, because they live in literal terror about terrorism sweeping away their repressive monarchy. The Saudis are also bombing Syria because the Saudis are one of America’s closest allies in the region.
Except that donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to terrorist groups worldwide. In fact, Hillary Clinton even said so, in a Wikileaks document from 2009 classified as secret, where she admonished her diplomats that “More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other terrorist groups.”
Oh, also, the Saudis may have helped fund 9/11. See, there was this disagreement between the secular monarchy and the religious side of the Kingdom, that resulted in Islamic religious zealots being assigned into Saudi embassies worldwide as part of the balancing act/compromise, including in the U.S. Some of those “diplomats” collected donations from within the Kingdom and funneled them to extremists in the the U.S. and elsewhere, such as the 9/11 guys. I heard.
Also, we’re bombing hospitals and killing doctors in Afghanistan, apparently to prove the axiom that when we do it it’s an accident and when they do it it’s barbaric terrorism.
Anyway, if anyone can straighten me out on all this, please, I need your help. Thanks!
A staple of those cheesy black and white science fiction movies from the 1950s was the United Nations. An alien threat would arrive, and the solution involved the people of earth working together, delegates in exotic native dress, through the UN.
But nearly from its founding the reality of the UN was no more real than those rubber-suited alien beings. As the United Nations General Assembly meets this week in New York amid much fanfare, what is the point of the UN?
There is little point. The UN, at its very best not much more than a forum, has been manipulated and ignored from its founding. Actually, earlier.
The United Nations
The UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations, grew out of the First World War, ironically known then as “the war to end all wars.” The idea was to prevent future conflict via collective security, disarmament and the settling of international disputes through negotiation. The League gathered little support from the great powers of the day, the U.S. in particular, all of whom sought to instead further their own interests via war, armaments, and by ignoring negotiation. The result was World War II.
Nonetheless, following WWII, the idea was given another try. The war ended with pretty much only one clear winner, the United States, and it would be through the U.S., buttressed by a Security Council of other semi-major powers, that a forum for world peace and negotiation arose in October 1945. It had a very noble name befitting its grand purpose: the United Nations.
The First Security Council
Things started off in a way that would plague the UN for its full life. The very first Security Council saw the U.S. as a permanent member, of course, and then tagged on minor powers but U.S. allies the French and the UK. Germany and Japan were and continue to be left out, mainly because they lost the war. The Russians made it in, based on their contribution to defeating the Nazis. The U.S. did make sure Taiwan, a tiny pro-U.S. island, represented “China,” ignoring the most populous country in Asia, “Red” China. The Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) did not replace Taiwan on the Council until 1971, well after the United States fought it directly in Korea, then as a proxy in Vietnam, and years after the PRC went nuclear.
The Case Of South Korea
Speaking of Korea, the fallacy of the United Nations found an early home there. Following the Japanese surrender that ended WWII, the United States left the Imperial Army in place for some time, pseudo-occupying the former colony while details could be worked out. The Koreans themselves tried then to build a peninsula-wide government under Lyuh Woon-Hyung. He was soon forced off stage by the United States, which worried about his leftist leanings. An initiative to hold general elections was proposed in the United Nations in 1947, only to be shot down by the United States and the Soviet Union, both angling for power.
Korean puppet governments were set up by both sides, but when war broke out in 1950, it was the South, backed by the United States, that the UN sided with. Legend holds that the only reason this happened was that the Soviets were boycotting the Security Council the day a vote was taken, though any serious review suggests the UN would have been brought around sooner or later, or, that it would not have mattered and the United States would have just fought alone. Nonetheless, the American troop presence in Korea over the next 65 years and its support for a long series of military coups that dislodged multiple civilian governments, is maintained under the paper-thin mandate of the UN.
Adding insult to UN injury, and despite enjoying one of the world’s most heavily-armed borders, neither North nor South Korea was allowed into the UN until 1991. Since then, North Korea has not been seated as a temporary member of the Security Council, though South Korea has done it twice, held the General Assembly presidency and of course the current Secretary General of the UN is Ban Ki Moon, a former South Korean diplomat.
The UN, Downhill
With the failure of the UN to stop war in Korea, things pretty much slide downhill. Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe, American military actions in Southeast Asia, alongside CIA-backed coups and Russian hijinks, all went on without much joy out of the United Nations. The French pounded away as they wished in North Africa, and the many wars in the Middle East, centered on Israel, all stumbled forward. During what many feel was the most dangerous moment of the Cold War, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, the UN served as a forum for gassy history-making speeches, and some behind-the-scenes negotiations, but little more.
When the U.S. wanted a coalition to invade Iraq in 1991, it cooperated with the UN to get one. When the U.S. could care less, as in 2003, it bypassed the UN. Indeed, the low point for the United States and the UN came in 2003, when then-Secretary of State Colin Powell enthusiastically and falsely made the case that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and could only be disarmed via a massive American invasion.
This was seen by many as a slap in the face to the efforts of the United Nations to maintain peace; in November 2002, the UN Security Council had adopted Resolution 1441, giving Iraq an ultimatum to co-operate in disarmament within an open-ended (i.e., diplomatically flexible) time frame. UN inspectors could find no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Nonetheless, in March 2003, the U.S. launched military operations against Iraq.
The United Nations of Manipulations
To be fair, the UN has had some success as a peacekeeper in brushfire wars the major powers had no interest in, or wanted a quick way out of, and the UN charities and aid organizations do good around the world. But that really isn’t much on the plus side given the minuses.
Like the League of Nations before it, the UN serves as little more than a stage for the great powers to manipulate when that fits their purposes, and to ignore otherwise as they pursue their own aims by force. Resolutions pass in the General Assembly only to be stymied as needed in the Security Council (notably in attempts to contain Israeli aggressive war; in 2009, the U.S. cowardly abstained from Security Council Resolution 1860, which called for a halt to Israel’s brutual military response to Hamas rocket attacks, and the opening of the border crossings into Gaza.)
Once a year, as they are doing this week, the General Assembly serves as a place where some of America’s opponents (in a long line, from Iran to Cuba to Venezuela to the Palestinians and onward) get a chance to stand up on American TV and denounce things soon forgotten. The American president will say nice things about world peace. Then everyone goes home and forgets all about it all for another twelve months.
Perhaps one day, when beings from another planet really do arrive to threaten earth, the UN may get its chance to shine brighter. But not now.
Cody Wilson, who created computer code that will allow someone to 3-D print a handgun, is trying now to use the First Amendment’s right to free speech to assure his Second Amendment right to bear arms.
And he has to sue to the U.S. Department of State to do it.
A Plastic Gun
3-D printing allows the use of plastics and some metals to create three dimensional objects, using an off-the-shelf “printing device” and computer code. You can create the code yourself if you are smart like Cody, or you can buy and download the code from a smart guy like Cody if you are not as smart. The printer takes that code and builds up the object, layer-by-layer (watch it work.) The tech is amazing, and is even being used now on the International Space Station to fabricate spare parts on demand.
Two years ago Cody posted online what is believed to be the world’s first computer code to create a 3-D printable gun. Wilson’s files for what he called the Liberator, a single-shot pistol, were partly a statement about freedom in the digital age and partly an assertion of his Second Amendment rights.
Enter the State Department
A few days after the plans for the Liberator were put online, the State Department ordered Wilson to remove them, threatening him with jail and fines for breaking rules on the export of military data.
State informed him that by posting his files online he may have violated a complicated set of federal regs, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), which seek to prevent the export of sensitive military technology. The regulations are pretty heavy stuff, aimed at stopping the export of classified military hardware, weapons of mass destruction, that sort of thing.
It is unclear that the intent of the regulations was something to do with 3-D printing of a single shot handgun. It appears that, in panic, the Federal government looked through its books for a way to stop people like Cody, and could not come up with anything else without violating the Second Amendment. Hence, the call to the State Department to step in as pseudo-law enforcement.
Note also that no terrorists have been stopped. Wilson removed the code from the web as ordered, but not before it was downloaded 100,000 times. It thus exists forever in cyberspace. And while Wilson is no doubt a clever lad, he is not the first/last/only person to know how to program a 3-D printer.
Wilson Fights Back
Wilson’s first move against State was to spend two years and thousands of dollars on lawyers to him file paperwork to comply with the ITAR regulations. State, for its part, took no action on Wilson’s case (Wilson’s attorneys claim State is obligated to issue a ruling in 60 days and just did not.) The State Department also did not respond to Wilson’s queries that it has no authority to regulate his actions inside the United States, where he believes the Second Amendment applied.
And so Wilson moved to the next step, filing suit via his company in May against the State Department, claiming that its efforts to stop him from publishing his plans amount to a prior restraint on free speech.
Basically, Wilson is trying to use the First Amendment to protect the Second. Pretty sure that is a first.
Wilson’s initial response from the judiciary was not warm. In August, a district judge denied a preliminary injunction against the State Department’s order, stating that any potential violations of Wilson’s Constitutional rights did not outweigh the public interest. Wilson filed an appeal to that decision and the case will be next heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Regardless of one’s thoughts on weapons, the issues here are Constitutionally significant, testing the depth of the First Amendment in the face of ever-expanding technologies, as well as the balance between individual rights and public good. The latter test has always been how the courts have judged limits on free speech (“shouting fire in a crowded theatre.”)
This one has Supreme Court written all over it.
Wow, remember all those horrible things we read about how Islamic State crucifies people? Those barbarians, good thing we are at war with them.
So it must be OK then that groovey American bestie allies the Saudis are planning to crucify someone, because they had like a trial and everything. And is the victim going to die a most horrible death for child murder? No. For building a WMD to use against innocent people? No. For participating in 9/11 like many other Saudis did? Nope.
He is going to die on the cross for protesting illegally against the Saudi regime.
Saudi Arabia dismissed the final appeal of a juvenile prisoner set to be crucified. Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr was arrested when he was only age 17 after participating in anti-government protests in 2012, the hilarious Arab Spring democracy and free love festival the United States turned a blind eye toward in favor of maintaining the status quo of thug dictatorships across the Middle East who sell us oil and buy our weapons, for freedoming. The boy was accused of protesting illegally.
Ali was initially held at a juvenile offender’s facility which in Saudi must be a hoot, like Spring Break. Oops, no, because human rights reporting indicated that he was tortured and forced to sign a confession under duress. His for sure fully-legal appeal was held in secret and dismissed without comment, with no remaining legal routes of objection to his sentence of “death by crucifixion” remaining.
Maya Foa, Director of the death penalty team at legal charity Reprieve, said: “No one should have to go through the ordeal Ali has suffered – torture, forced ‘confession’, and an unfair, secret trial process, resulting in a sentence of death by ‘crucifixion.’”
“But worse still, Ali was a vulnerable child when he was arrested and this ordeal began. His execution – based apparently on the authorities’ dislike for his uncle, and his involvement in anti-government protests – would violate international law and the most basic standards of decency. It must be stopped.”
The government of the United States has issued no statement. Nobody on Twitter has started a feel-good hashtag campaign.
In 2012 I published a book all about how the United States squandered billions of dollars on the reconstruction of Iraq. The main point was that we had no plan on what to do and simply spent money willy-nilly, on stupid things and vanity projects and stuff that made someone’s boss in Washington briefly happy. We had absolutely no plan on how to measure our successes or failures, and then acted surprised when it all turned out to be a steaming pile of sh*t that did little but create the breeding ground for Islamic State.
The idea of the book was to try and lessen the chance the United States would do exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.
Now, I just read a speech given by John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), entitled “Ground Truths: Honestly Assessing Reconstruction in Afghanistan” which says the United States has done exactly, precisely and completely the exact same f*cking thing in Afghanistan.
And like me, Sopko concludes if we do not learn the lessons from Afghanistan “we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come.” To which I can only say, “Good Luck” with that John.
Here’s some more of what Sopko pointed out, all his quotes from the same speech:
— There is a strong need for evidence-based policymaking, because if you don’t have a means of knowing whether or not your programs are succeeding, the policymaker’s job is that much harder.
— In a conflict-affected environment such as Afghanistan, the challenge of setting realistic standards is amplified. That said, perhaps constructing buildings to U.S. standards across the board in such an environment might be unwise, especially if we expect the Afghans to maintain and sustain what we give them.
— If after 13 years and so much blood and treasure invested in Afghanistan, we cannot be honest with ourselves about our successes and failures, we are not only leaving the Afghans in a precarious position, but also putting our entire mission there at risk.
— Incredibly, for the first nine years of CERP’s existence [an Army funding program for reconstruction], a single, clearly articulated mention of the program’s true objectives could not be found in any official document beyond the generic inputs of “humanitarian relief and reconstruction.”
— It becomes really difficult for SIGAR to assess reconstruction projects and programs if agencies don’t set clear criteria or project management standards.
— USAID spent almost $15 million to build a hospital in Gardez, but USAID did not fully assess the Afghan Ministry of Public Health’s ability to operate and maintain the hospital once completed. It seems that time and again, people have to be reminded that Afghanistan is not Kansas.
— It is hard to give people the benefit of the doubt when we build multi-billion dollar roads to U.S. weight standards in a country that has no ability to enforce weight limitations, or when a military official suggested that we spend millions building high-tech bus stops in Afghanistan, complete with solar-powered lighting. This is not Bethesda.
— Two and a half years ago, SIGAR sent the Departments of State and Defense, as well as USAID, a letter requesting that they identify, by their own judgement, their ten most and least successful reconstruction programs, and why they selected those programs. We still have not received a straight answer from any of them. A USAID official even said that asking him to identify his agency’s top successes and failures was like asking him to choose which of his children he loved more.
— Almost fourteen years into our trillion dollar effort, with over 2,000 American lives sacrificed, if we can’t honestly point to some actual, measurable accomplishments from that massive investment, we will miss out on a crucial learning opportunity that will affect U.S. foreign policy for generations to come. In short, we risk failing to understand the conditions necessary not only to produce peace and prosperity, but to sustain them.
The world finally noticed that one Syrian refugee kid drowned on a beach, after failing to notice the Middle East refugee crisis has been an ongoing disaster for almost five years now.
Same for the U.S.; Obama just announced he wants America to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, so this is all fixed now, we can go back to Miley and Katy, right? No.
The Day Before
Here was the state of affairs as of the day before Obama’s announcement.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees referred 15,000 Syrians to Washington for resettlement over the last four years; the United States accepted 1,500, with formally announced plans to take in only another 1,800 by next year, citing, among other issues, concerns over terrorists hiding among the groups.
With no apparent irony, United States Senator Patrick Leahy stated the refugee crisis “warrants a response commensurate with our nation’s role as a humanitarian leader.” Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States is “looking hard at the number” of additional Syrian refugees it might accommodate, given America’s “leadership role with respect to humanitarian issues and particularly refugees.”
Many in Washington likely felt that was enough. A token increase, some nice, high-flying language, a little sprinkle of freedom and respect. I think we’re done here.
The Day After
But, after seeing that it was a slow week and the media was still showing sad pictures of refugees on the TV box, it seemed more (rhetoric) was needed. So, on September 10, President Obama announced, per the New York Times headline, he will “Increase Number of Syrian Refugees for U.S. Resettlement to 10,000.”
Well, that’s good, right? I mean, the estimates are that there are some four million Syrian refugees already out there, with another 10 million internally displaced, so even if it is 10,000 that’s hardly anything but still, better than nothing.
What He Said, What He Meant
Maybe. But let’s dig down one level deeper.
To be precise, Obama did not say the U.S. is taking 10,000 Syrian refugees in FY2016. He did not say if the 10k were part of the U.S.’ overall 70k refugee cap, or in addition to it, meaning other refugees could be left behind to favor the flavor-of-the-moment out of Syria. Obama also did not explain that the United States processes refugees abroad (if the person is somehow in the U.S. physically, that’s asylum, different thing, done while the person is in the U.S.)
Actually, have a look at the exact wording from the White House spokesperson (emphasis added): “The president has… informed his team that he would like them to accept, at least make preparations to accept at least 10,000 Syrian refugees.”
Refugees are processed, not accepted. That processing can take years, indefinite if enough information on a person’s security background cannot be amassed; there remains great fear in the U.S. government about terrorists sneaking into refugee flows, and so if a positive “up” decision cannot be made that a person is “safe,” then the default is indefinite pending status. Such a conundrum has, for example, stymied the applications of many Iraqis and Afghanis who served as translators for the American military and fear for their lives, only to have been stuck left behind.
As Representative Peter King said “Our enemy now is Islamic terrorism, and these people are coming from a country filled with Islamic terrorists. We don’t want another Boston Marathon bombing situation.”
There are also medical and other checks before a refugee is approved. With all the variables, there is no average processing time, but post-9/11 we can say the average is s-l-o-w. In the world of suffering, slow can often mean death.
It appears the White House is taking full advantage of the media’s ignorance of how refugee processing works to create the appearance of doing something when little of a practical nature is being done, all sizzle and no meat. There is little help coming from the United States for any significant number of Syrian refugees. Sorry guys!
Good Reason to Stay Awake for 100 hours: something to do with saving a life.
Bad Reason to Stay Awake for 100 hours: write a speech for Hillary Clinton no one remembers.
It was that Bad Reason that inspired Clinton aide, Hitler Youth cosplayer, Waylon Smithers-wannabe and all around dweeb Tomicah Tillemann, pictured.
Tillemann was the State Department’s senior adviser for civil society and emerging democracies in 2010, which must be so important as he looks to be about 29 years old and was a political appointee, and collaborated with Clinton on more than 200 speeches, according to his State Department bio.
The aspiring Obersturmfuhrer came to public attention after another Hillary sycophant sent an email to Clinton, suggesting she personally thank Tillemann for his work on one particular speech, which covered global Internet freedom.
“If you have the time or the inclination, it would be really nice if you could send an email to Tomicah, or phone him. He went for almost 100 hours without sleep to get the speech done, under unusually trying circumstances,” the email read.
Tillemann told Yahoo! that while neither he nor any other member of Clinton’s staff was ever asked to work for that long, he was inspired to do so. “I worked on a lot of speeches. I knew this one mattered,” he said. “I lost many members of my family in the Holocaust, and I felt this speech was a chance to protect key freedoms in our time. That kept me going.”
Internet, Holocaust, sure, that’s all related. If only they’d had the Internet and Hillary back then!
But, he admits, he had difficulty working after a while: “When things started to get fuzzy — and they did — teammates jumped in to help me across the finish line.”
Tillemann says he doesn’t drink coffee but “by the end I was ready to ink a sponsorship with Diet Coke.” He also says he took a nap after the speech was done, adding “it was awesome.”
MEMO to Tillemann:
Nobody cares. Nobody remembers your silly little speech, and Hillary likely didn’t even read it in advance and just mouthed the words. It didn’t matter. And what kind of speech takes 100 continuous hours to write anyway, dork boy? Entire books are written in that time, good books, too. Admit it — you knocked out the speech in about an hour and spent the other 99 panting to Hillary’s photo, didn’t you?
There is a frightening misunderstanding, some intentional, some not, among the media on how classified information is created and handled.
That misunderstanding turns much of the Clinton email story into a partisan shouting match, when knowing the facts of the classification system actually clarifies what happened and what it means.
Let’s look at the State Department’s policies on handling foreign government information, and how Clinton’s actions were at specific variance with those policies.
The tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails released Aug. 31 contains 150 messages containing classified information. That brings the total number to more than 200.
Let the spin begin.
“The Department does not know for sure if any information was classified at the time it was sent or received on the private email server Clinton used for work,” State Department spokesperson Mark Toner told reporters. “It’s not an exact science. When we’ve upgraded [a document’s classification], we’ve always said that that certainly does not speak to whether it was classified at the time it was sent.”
Toner’s remarks are at variance with how the classification system works.
(Full disclosure: Following the publication — during Clinton’s time as secretary of state — of my book critical of the State Department’s role in the Iraq War, the department unsuccessfully carried out termination proceedings against me. Instead, I retired voluntarily.)
There are specific rules establishing government-wide, uniform standards as to what should be classified. And though Clinton has said she sent no information via email that was classified at the time and received none marked that way, the “marked/unmarked” issue is codified in security law and regulation. What matters is the information itself, whether its potential release would harm the United States or assist its adversaries. Gold is gold, whether it is labeled or not.
In addition, if any of Clinton’s messages contained information that originated outside of the State Department, say something sourced from the CIA, then it is the originating agency alone which determines the classification of a document, not end users such as Clinton in 2010, or the State Department in 2015.
Lastly, since there is clearly information in some 200 Clinton messages that cannot be in an unclassified setting now, then it is obvious it should not have been in an unclassified setting then.
Of particular concern is that more than half of the now-classified Clinton emails consist of a special category: information shared in confidence by foreign government officials. The Department’s own regulations say this information must be safeguarded, and even require specialized markings in addition to the standard classification indicators such as “Confidential.”
It makes sense; if a foreign leader shares something, only to learn the information was available to a hostile intelligence agency on an insecure email server, she or he is unlikely to trust the United States with information in the future. In such instances, it is the source of the information (for example, direct from then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair) that is perhaps more sensitive than the information itself. Imagine the difference between “an anonymous official” calling the Afghan president untrustworthy, and Blair himself exposed as saying the same.
Asked whether Clinton followed the regulations on proper handling of foreign government information, the State Department spokesperson said, “I’m just not going to answer that question. It’s not our goal, it’s not our function.”
That is inaccurate. The State Department maintains a significant infrastructure in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security that does nothing else but monitor employees’ handling of foreign government and other classified or sensitive information. It is indeed a function of the agency.
The issue of foreign government information handling is of critical importance to the State Department, given its mandate to carry out the foreign relations of the United States; so much so that the Department argued it to help convict Chelsea Manning after she transferred a large number of State Department cables to Wikileaks. State claimed the action significantly affected foreign governments’ confidence in exchanging information with the United States.
Manning’s leak of government files, not all classified, had a chilling effect, impeding American diplomats’ ability to gather information, a senior State Department official testified. The unauthorized releases made foreign diplomats and business leaders “reticent to provide their full and frank opinions and share them with us,” Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in 2013. “It’s impossible to know what someone is not sharing with you – and this is, in itself, I believe, a risk to the national security.”
With some irony, at the exact time the Manning cables appeared on the Internet, Clinton was committing a similar act. Statute 18 USC 1924, “Unauthorized Removal and Retention of Classified Documents or Material,” sets the standard as moving classified information to an unauthorized location (a private email server) and does not require the information to actually make it into the wild (Wikileaks) for a violation to occur. It’s also the same statute, inter alia, under which David Petraeus was prosecuted.
The complexity of the classification issues regarding Clinton’s private email server are, in fact, why the decision to use one at all, in lieu of established official channels, remains an issue worthy of our attention, beyond the one of up-or-down criminality.
You know, the stuff you need from a world leader when the sh*it hits the fan at 3am and crucial decisions need to be made. Short-decision time frames, long-term consequences kinda stuff.
For added fun, I’ll restrict myself to only Hillary’s latest remarks on her server.
Here’s the money shot up front: Hillary said “You know, I was not thinking a lot when I got in. There was so much work to be done. We had so many problems around the world,” Clinton said. “I didn’t really stop and think what kind of email system will there be?”
— “I was not thinking a lot when I got in.” How’s that for a president’s explanation for, well, anything? Generally speaking, you want yer president to be thinkin’ all the time.
— Hillary, as Secretary of State, just did not want to pause from resolving all the world’s problems to consider what email system to use. So, instead of having Huma get her a password via one phone call (maybe there already was one on a yellow sticky under the keyboard) to use the existing State Department system already installed in her office and maintained by an existing staff, it seemed somehow better to create and use a fully independent system that she set up and paid for separately. Is such prioritizing, followed by such justifying, presidential?
— “They may disagree, as I now disagree, with the choice that I made. But the facts that I have put forth have remained the same.” Except those “facts” keep changing and growing. Week by week there are new facts to be discussed. That drip drip drip of confidence lost in one’s leader (check the damn polls, people), how presidential is that?
— Clinton seems to have a pattern of hiring people into public, taxpayer-paid roles (see Bryan Pagliano, her server guy, and Huma, her body man, to begin) while at the same time paying them as her private staff. Conflict of interest much? Public good versus personal employer good? Is that kind of thinking presidential?
Basically, the Clinton campaign now has left exactly three “positive” themes to promote:
Vote for me because I am non-male (better hope Elizabeth Warren stays out of the race);
Vote for me or you’ll end up with one of those Republicans (better hope Sanders quits and Biden stays out of the race);
Vote for me because as of today nothing indictable has come up (better hope the FBI works really slowly).
The old adage, “follow the money,” is still not a bad way to suss out wrongdoing. Originated during the Watergate era, the term says if you follow the trail of money through an organization or a caper, you’ll find the guilty people at the end.
With the State Department and Hillary Clinton, the advice should read: “Follow Pat Kennedy.”
Meet Pat Kennedy
The name of long-time State Department Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, pictured, is unknown to most journalists and nearly all of the public, but he in fact is present at every significant public issue State confronts. Take a look…
Kennedy and Manning
Do a little Googling around, and there’s Pat helping drive nails into Chelsea Manning’s coffin, testifying at his trial about the “grave damage” done to America’s national security. Kennedy in September 2013 admitted his testimony “contained misstatements,” which he said were “inadvertent.” Kennedy also oversaw State’s internal report on Wikileaks’ impact and ran the working group that was supposed to identify people at risk because their names appeared in the State Department cables online.
Kennedy and Benghazi
And at the Congressional Benghazi hearings, there’s Pat testifying Clinton did no wrong, that State as an institution did no wrong, and helping throw a few lesser officials under the bus in hopes of making it all go away.
Kennedy also was the one who hand-picked the members of State’s internal Accountability Review Board that failed in December 2012 to find any senior official at fault for any wrongdoing in the run-up to Benghazi. That Review Board chose not to interview Secretary of State Clinton about her role in Benghazi.
Kennedy and Child Prostitution Cover-Up
It was Pat who helped former American Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman retire in order to curtail a public investigation.
A State Department investigator asserted Gutman solicited “sexual favors from both prostitutes and minor children.” Howard Gutman and members of Clinton’s security detail were also accused of hiring prostitutes. According to an internal memo prepared by the State Department Inspector General in October 2013, Kennedy personally called off an investigation.
Kennedy and Iraq
Kennedy was also the central figure in the First Amendment struggle over my Iraq book critical of the State Department, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap
There’s more, but you get the picture. When dirty deeds need to be done dirt cheap to protect Clinton and State, Pat’s your man.
So it is little surprise that media reports now tell us that the Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy is now in charge of running interference on Capitol Hill regarding the Clinton email controversy.
Kennedy reportedly visited lawmakers in July and argued that the Abedin email along with another one sent in 2012 by another Clinton aide, Jake Sullivan, are not classified. The Under Secretary also argued that the information in the emails was already public.
However, one source said that it was odd that Kennedy wanted to discuss the matter in a secure facility for classified information while simultaneously arguing that the Abedin email was not classified.
The source also said that Kennedy cited a report from the Irish Times in 2011 as evidence, but that the details were not comparable. Kennedy also said that someone from the CIA agreed with his conclusion. However, the CIA was not the agency that sent the email.
Kennedy likely has more in the fire with the Clinton emails than his usual dollops of blind institutional loyalty.
Given his role at State, Pat Kennedy is very likely to be the most senior official below the Secretary of State’s own staff to have either signed off on Hillary’s email server or passively fended off concerns from the rank and file about it. There are no doubt interesting emails with his name on them to be FOIAed or subpoenaed about all that. Pat no doubt hopes like hell a Democrat wins the presidential election or he is toast.
So, mark this down: when Pat Kennedy steps into the picture, State/Clinton knows it is in real trouble and is calling in its Fixer of Last Resort. Journalists would be wise to keep on eye on Kennedy’s schedule over the coming months.