National Security

Iran Nuclear Talks Still Face Sabotage

(AP Photo/Ronald Zak, pool)
One of the best and most predictive pieces of the 2008 presidential campaign was one by Michael Scherer and Michael Weisskopf , which examined the gambling styles of John McCain and Barack Obama, and what this suggested about their approaches to strategy. McCain, the craps enthusiast, was a risk- taker, ready to bet a thousand dollars on a single, luck-changing roll. This is the McCain we saw who tried to enliven his presidential campaign with the surprise selection of the comically unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate and who tried to change the game by suspending his campaign in the face of the financial crisis. Obama, on the other hand, favored poker. A cautious player, Obama rarely took big risks, but, according to those who played with him when he was an Illinois State Senator, he almost always left the table with more money that he came with. This has predicted Obama’s general approach to governing, most notably with the Affordable Care Act: Frustratingly for his...

Election 2014: Surge or Theft?

How dark money and voter disenfranchisement combined in a toxic brew that resulted in the lowest voter turnout in more than 70 years, hampering whatever chance Democrats had to win.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) In this November 6, 2012 file photo, a voter holds their voting permit and ID card at the Washington Mill Elementary School near Mount Vernon, Virginia. Across the South, Republicans are working to take advantage of a new political landscape after a divided U.S. Supreme Court freed all or part of 15 states, many of them in the old Confederacy, from having to ask Washington's permission before changing election procedures in jurisdictions with histories of discrimination. L ast Tuesday’s election was, by any measure, a sweeping victory for the Republicans—their second consecutive midterm sweep since Barack Obama took office, by which they’ve now picked up a total 77 seats combined in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House they’ve not had a majority this size since Herbert Hoover occupied the White House—and they control more statehouses now than at any time in the nation’s history. But what does that mean—or more...

No Love for Obama as Election Day Approaches

Official White House photo by Pete Souza
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza I f Republicans win a significant victory in next Tuesday's election—and it now looks like they will indeed take the Senate—get ready for a whole lot of Obama-bashing, not only from the press and Republicans, but from liberals, as well. Some will go so far as to declare his presidency over, and I suspect more than a few genuine leftists will heap scorn on their liberal friends for their naïve embrace of a politician promising (as politicians always do) to change Washington. We can see one variant of this critique, the Jimmy Carter comparison, in a piece by Thomas Frank , based on an interview he conducted with historian Rick Perlstein: The moral of this story is not directed at Democratic politicians; it is meant for us, the liberal rank and file. We still "yearn to believe," as Perlstein says. There is something about the Carter/Obama personality that appeals to us in a deep, unspoken way, and that has led Democrats to fall for a whole string...

Whether Lies or B.S., Netanyahu's Interviews Pose Special Challenges for Journalists

The storyline and most of the details of a tale told by the Israeli prime minister on American television were deliberately untrue.

Face The Nation/CBS News
Face the Nation/CBS News Benjamin Netanyau, prime minister of Israel, is interviewed by Bob Schieffer of CBS News on the October 5, 2014, edition of Face the Nation . A journalist colleague in Jerusalem sent me a link to the prime minister of our land speaking to a faraway audience on CBS News’s Face the Nation . She expected the video clip to make me laugh and choke at the same time. She was right. It also made me think of philosopher Harry Frankfurt's immortal essay , "On Bullshit," because the unavoidable question, while watching Benjamin Netanyahu responding to White House criticism of settlement activity in Jerusalem, was whether he was deliberately speaking untruths, or was spinning words with absolutely no concern about whether they were true or not. As Frankfurt demonstrated, this is the difference between lying and bullshitting. (Understand that I follow Frankfurt in using the latter word strictly as a philosophical category. In contrast to the New York Times , therefore, the...

Why Your New iPhone Has Law Enforcement In a Tizzy

Apple’s move won’t lead to terrorist attacks or unsolved kidnappings; it will simply make FBI investigators’ jobs a bit harder.

iStock/07-12-09 © billyfoto
07-12-09 © billyfoto T he debut of a new iPhone is always big news, but this time it’s surrounded by unusual controversy. That’s because the iPhone6 automatically encrypts the phone’s contents. Decrypting requires a code that the user sets and does not share with Apple—which means that, if the FBI orders Apple to turn over data kept on the customer’s phone, the company will produce data that amount to “gibberish” (as the New York Times reported ). The FBI then will have to decrypt the data—a process that could take years—or try to compel the user to reveal the code. FBI director James Comey responded with outrage, claiming that companies like Apple are “marketing something expressly to allow people to hold themselves beyond the law.” Other law enforcement officials have made similar pronouncements. Yet the law doesn’t give the government any right to the contents of your phone. It’s more accurate to say that, in recent years, the advent of widespread third-party data storage has...

The War With No Name

Every president, along with the people who work for him, will tell you that they barely ever think about politics and public relations. "Good policy is good politics," they'll say, or "We believe that if we do the right thing, the politics will take care of themselves." Of course, it'll all baloney. Even in the most serious matters, like making war, appearances are never far from their minds. Which is why, every time we get ready to bomb or invade somebody, the military comes up with a super-cool name for the operation. Not only does it give the enterprise the proper triumphal air, it gives the media something to call it, so they can make their jazzy graphics and pick out the right musical accompaniment. So why doesn't our new quasi-war have a name yet? The idea of naming military operations began in World War I, but initially they were secret code names, intended to conceal rather than to boast. Winston Churchill was very concerned with the code names of military operations in World...

Palestinian Despair Plays Into Netanyahu's Hands -- For Now

At the U.N., Abbas's use of the word "genocide" made the Israeli leader's work easier.

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew) President Mahmoud Abbas, of Palestine, addresses the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. T he tone was almost bureaucratic: a tired man in a suit reading from a prepared text. The man was Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; the bureaucratic ritual he performed was that of a national leader addressing the United Nations General Assembly. The words, though, expressed an undiplomatic—a quite un-Abbas-like—fury. In his opening sentence, referring to the conflict in Gaza this summer, Abbas charged Israel with perpetrating "a new war of genocide… against the Palestinian people." After that, when he described Israel's actions as "a series of absolute war crimes," it almost seemed like a softening of the rhetoric. Abbas not only referred to Israel as the "occupying power"—a neutral term—but sprinkled in the words "colonial" and "racist." In the operative part of his address, Abbas declared that "it is...

Why Are We Afraid of the Returning Expat Terrorist?

This is not the training you get from ISIL. (Flickr/Andres Alvarez Iglesias)
One of the common refrains we hear in the reporting on ISIL is that officials are worried that Americans will go to Syria or Iraq, fight with ISIL, and then return here to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. As a discrete category of terrorist threat, this is something very odd to be afraid of. It isn't that such people might not have the motivation to carry out a terrorist attack. But if they went to fight with ISIL, they probably already had the motivation. Ah, but what about the things they learned there? This morning, I heard a reporter on NPR refer to such returnees employing their "newfound terrorist skills" against the United States. But what skills are we talking about? If you want to learn how to make a bomb, you don't have to go to Syria to acquire the knowledge. There's this thing called "the internet" where it can be found much easier. The way these potential attackers are talked about, you might think that launching a terrorist attack is something you can only...

Missiles and Rebels: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

(Rex Features via AP Images)
L ast weekend, the New York Times reported on a meeting President Obama had with a group of foreign policy experts and pundits to talk about combatting ISIL, among other topics. "Asked by one of the columnists what he would do if his strategy did not work and he had to escalate further," reporter Peter Baker wrote, "Mr. Obama rejected the premise. 'I'm not going to anticipate failure at this point,' he said." Now of course, this meeting wasn't about soliciting ideas so much as it was about convincing important opinion leaders that the administration is on the right track, so there was naturally going to be some spinning. But now that this military campaign has begun in earnest, there are few more important questions than this one: Is the administration anticipating failure? And what are they doing about it? We've been through this once before. In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration and its supporters told us that the Iraq War would be a piece of cake. We'd storm into Baghdad, be "...

ISIL, Iraq and Syria: Why Military Action Won’t Do The Trick

(AP Photo, File)
O n September 10, 2014, President Obama announced a new strategy aimed at “ degrading and destroying ” ISIL (also known as ISIS and the Islamic State). Ideally, the United States should avoid fighting in Iraq and Syria. Now that that the U.S. has committed itself to bombing Iraq and Syria, however, ISIL and the threat it represents should be placed into a historical context that until now has only sporadically informed U.S. plans. In 1994 the United States faced a similar Salafi Islamist non-state entity: the Afghan Taliban. ( Salafism is a strict interpretation of Islamic theology, as laid out by the Qur’an and the Hadith, wherein life must adhere as closely as possible to the conditions that existed during the religion’s first three generations). ISIL, like the Taliban, is a militant Islamist reaction to failed governance. Examining American-Taliban history can help American leaders understand the threat posed by ISIL, the dangers of trying to defeat the movement outright, as well...

So Much For the End of the War on Terror

U.S. Navy photo by Carmichael Yepez
Remember when Barack Obama was going to end the War on Terror? Well today, not only did the U.S. launch air strikes within Syria to target ISIL, we also struck against the Khorasan group, a small al-Qaeda offshoot that was purportedly plotting to blow up American airplanes, and the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back in May of last year, Obama gave a speech meant to signal a break with the prior twelve years, in which he said, "we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." One could argue that that's a distinction without a difference, that it's only about rhetoric. You might also say that the War on Terror isn't so much a set of military actions as it is a mindset. It's the state of being terrorized, in which the nation is constantly on the edge of panic, willing to approve almost anything in the name of staying "...

Why This Will Be the Unaccountable War

He stands alone.
Yesterday the House voted 273-156 to train and equip Syrian rebels, a part of President Obama's plan to combat ISIL, and today the Senate is expected to do the same. While it might look on the surface like Congress taking a stand and accepting responsibility for this new engagement, in fact, this is likely to be a war with no accountability for any political figure other than Barack Obama himself. The "no" votes were a combination of Democrats who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 and don't want to see us pulled back into another war there, and Republicans who either want a bigger war with massive numbers of ground troops or just hate Barack Obama so much they can't cast a vote for anything he proposes (or both). Today, the Senate is expected to pass the measure as well, and we'll probably see the same thing: members from both parties on each side, with drastically different reasons for voting the same way. The whole thing is the kind of war you'd expect from the Obama presidency, defined...

Benghazi Select Committee Hearings Begin; Craziness Inevitably to Follow

Republican members of the Benghazi committee get ready to do their very serious work. (Flickr/Speaker John Boehner)
There's a lot going on in the world: we have a new war ramping up, Ebola is spreading, and various NFL players are discovered beating the crap out of women and children (and I for one am shocked that a group of men who have spent their lives being rewarded for cultivating their most violent instincts and abilities would turn out to be prone to violence). So it may have missed your notice that today marks the beginning of public hearings in the select committee on Benghazi, or as Ed Kilgore has termed it, Benghazi! In advance, Democrats on the committee have set up a website showing how all the questions the committee is asking have already been answered, while a Republican PAC is already airing Benghazi-themed ads against Hillary Clinton. But if you were hoping to tune in this afternoon for thundering denunciations and dark warnings of conspiracy, you may be disappointed, as David Corn reports : In a surprising move that might disappoint right-wingers yearning for proof that Benghazi...

Republicans Go Boldly to (Sort Of) Support Obama on ISIL

For months, when you asked Republicans what they wanted to do about ISIL, they would be quick to assure everyone that they didn't want to deploy large numbers of ground troops. Trainers, intelligence folks, coordinators, sure — but they're very clear that they aren't advocating a re-invasion of Iraq. Whether their reticence about ground troops has its roots in the politics of renewing a desperately unpopular war, or it's because they genuinely believe it would be a bad idea, they were unambiguous on that point. What they did advocate was arming and training Syrian rebels. Likewise, it might be because Barack Obama wasn't doing that and therefore it was a way to be "tougher" than him, or it might be that they think it would make a real difference. But either way, that's the policy they advocated. And now that policy is one of the pillars of the anti-ISIL strategy Obama is laying out, so that's the part Republicans in Congress are getting ready to line up behind : President Obama's plan...

Two Cheers for Obama: Nobody Makes the Best Out of Bad Situation Like He Does

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines)
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines) An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off for Poland, September 5, 2014, from Aviano Air Base, Italy. This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post . I t took President Barack Obama a long time, and multiple stumbles, to back into a foreign policy role that looks something like leadership. If Russian President Putin is agreeing to a cease-fire in Ukraine that just might hold, the U.S.-led combination of pressure and restraint deserves much of the credit. Putin considers the loss of the Ukraine one of the great tragedies of Russian history, and before this conflict is over Putin will probably demand and get greater regional autonomy for Russian-majority Eastern Ukraine. But that beats an annexation or a war. At the outset of this conflict, Germany was prepared to subordinate the independence of Ukraine to long-standing German economic ties with Russia. Chancellor Merkel's new toughness, which helped alter the Russian calculus, would not...

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