National Security

Zero Dark Thirty's Morality Brigade

Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden movie doesn't endorse torture. 

(Rex Features via AP Images)
(AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures) Z ero Dark Thirty doesn't even come out until next week, but Kathryn Bigelow's much-hailed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is already provoking outrage in some quarters for allegedly "glorifying"—OK, sometimes it's "celebrating"—torture. As all too bloody usual, the loudest howls are coming from people who haven't actually seen ZD30 , some of whom—yes, Andrew Sullivan, I mean you —really ought to know better. Ginning up controversies about movies without bothering to watch them first is really more Bill Donohue and the Catholic League's sort of thing, and does Sullivan want to be in that company? Since plenty of other folks apparently do, I hope you won't mind two cents from a lowly movie critic who admires the hell out of Zero Dark Thirty and isn't exactly big on vindicating Dick Cheney's world-view. There are really two separate arguments here, and people shouldn't confuse the two—though they already have. One is about factual accuracy,...

Why Are Chemical Weapons Different?

Mustard gas artillery shells in storage at a U.S. government facility in Pueblo, Colorado.
The civil war in Syria came back into the news the other day, when our government warned Bashar al-Assad that should he use chemical weapons against rebels and the population that surrounds them, he will have crossed a "red line." The consequences of the red-line-crossing were left unspoken. Perhaps military action on the rebels' side? An indictment in the International Criminal Court? We don't know, but it'll be bad. Dominic Tierney beat me to it , but this news raised something I've found troubling for a long time. If you order your own civilian population to be shot, burned to death, or cut to pieces with shrapnel, the international community will be very displeased. But if you order that population to be killed by means of poison gas, then that's much, much worse. But seldom do we ask why. So what is it that makes chemical weapons more morally abhorrent than guns or bombs? We often lump chemical weapons in with biological and nuclear weapons as "weapons of mass destruction," but...

They'll Be Back

Robots, as yet unarmed, created for the military by Boston Dynamics.
Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report raising alarms about the specter of "killer robots." The report urged that we develop an international treaty to prohibit the development of fully autonomous robotic weapons systems that can make their own decisions about when to use deadly force. So is that day coming any time soon? The Pentagon wants everyone to know it has no plans to allow robots to make decisions on when to fire weapons; Spencer Ackerman at Wired points us to this memo from Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter released two days after the HRW report, making clear that the DoD's policy is that robots don't get to pull the trigger without a human being making the decision (or in bureacratic-speak, "Autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems shall be designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force"). It seems obvious that we don't want a bunch of Terminators walking through our streets deciding...

The Gaza Cease-Fire: A Beginning, Not an End

Last week's successful negotiations will be a failure of leadership if they do not pave the way for an end to the occupation.

(Sipa via AP Images)
(Sipa via AP Images) A Palestinian girl is seen cleaning off debris from a chalkboard inside Al Shejaia school in Gaza City. The school was damaged when Israeli forces targeted a building next to it with an airstrike. T he political landscape of the Middle East has changed drastically over the past two years, but the successful negotiation of a cease-fire last week should have demonstrated that the support and active engagement of the United States is still essential if, in Secretary Hilary Clinton’s words, a “durable solution” is to be found. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again reasserted itself on the international agenda, it’s important to step back a bit and reaffirm that a durable solution not just to the current violence but to the conflict itself remains a key U.S. national-security interest. In the week leading up to Israel’s offensive, most of Washington had been consumed by the news of retired General David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director because of the...

General Petraeus, Just Like Us

(Rex Features via AP Images)
The Petraeus affair would be ever so boring if it didn’t involve the resignation of the head of the CIA, the most celebrated general in recent history, the reputed inventor of modern warcraft, the man who got us out of Iraq, the backer of drones—need I go on? I know people are shocked, shocked, but—maybe because national security isn’t my beat—I’m more shocked that anyone is shocked. So an extremely important (and self-important) long-married man falls into bed with a woman who is writing his biography. Ho hum! It can’t be easier to imagine. Maybe it’s especially easy because I’m a journalist. When you’re writing about someone, you are interested in every detail, every little thing they have to say. It’s an amazingly intimate conversation—or rather, a long monologue with an absolutely rapt audience hanging on every word. You ask them everything about what they think, believe, or have done. I can easily see how that intense connection could become erotic—especially when it’s between a...

The Neocons' Long Game

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Pool, Win McNamee) President Barack Obama answers a question as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. M ost of the snap polls taken after last night's foreign policy debate, the last before the November 6 election, gave the win the President Obama—if not an outright knockout then at least a TKO on points. But beyond the candidates themselves, the debate did have one clear loser: neoconservatives. During the many years Mitt Romney has been running for president, he's taken a number of fluid positions on foreign policy. In addition to reflecting Romney's character as an eager-to-please shape-shifter, the changing positions also represent a genuine—and growing—policy tension among foreign policy factions within the GOP establishment. Even though old school realists like Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft retain some influence, and more isolationist voices...

Obama's Total Knockout

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. S o far, the conventional wisdom for the presidential debates has been on target. Pundits correctly saw the first debate as an outstanding victory for Mitt Romney, and the second as basically a draw, with Barack Obama winning a small victory and stopping the bleeding of the previous engagement. For the final presidential debate—a bout over foreign policy, held in Boca Raton, Florida—the conventional wisdom is that Obama won, handily, but that Romney proved himself capable of taking over as commander-in-chief. I’m not so sure. It’s not that Romney performed poorly—he was mediocre from beginning to end—as much as it is that he already passed that plausibility test. It seems that in the excitement of the debate, pundits have forgotten that Romney’s image as a...

The Third Debate: New Topic, Same Empty Taste

(AP Photo/Mario Tama, Pool)
(AP Photo/David Goldman, File) President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney exchange views during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. B arack Obama and Mitt Romney will meet tonight to discuss foreign affairs, and there's one thing I can predict with near-certainty: This discussion will be just as vacuous as the rest of the campaign. Which is too bad, because on foreign policy, the president's own personal interests, beliefs, and biases matter much more than they do on domestic policy. An inordinate amount of time is spent during the campaign trying to pin down who the candidates are deep in their hearts, when in so many areas it doesn't matter at all. In the domestic realm, presidents are constrained by what Congress is willing to do and by their own party's priorities. Mitt Romney will seek to cut taxes, roll back regulations protecting the environment and workers' rights, cut...

The Last Debate

Expect Obama to try to focus on Osama bin Laden and the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Romney tries to steer things toward China.

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
Planning on catching snippets of the final presidential debate tonight during time-outs on Monday Night Football? The game is tight, there are only two weeks left on the clock, and tonight is the last time that the candidates will face off in an attempt to connect with undecided voters. Here’s what to look out for after kick-off in Boca Raton. First of all, this is Mitt Romney’s final opportunity to differentiate himself from President Obama on matters of foreign policy and national security, the subject of tonight’s debate. This has been a struggle for the former Massachusetts governor. As many commentators have noted, Romney has cited few concrete differences between his foreign-policy vision and that of the president beyond calling for astronomically higher defense spending and saying he would not “apologize for America.“ Analyst Sanho Tree summarizes Romney’s approach: “Me too, but I'll be even more belligerent because Obama is a wimp.” The trick for Romney will be to seem...

"This Civil War, This Complicated Civil War"

A look at the ongoing conflict in Syria, and whether it's too late for a swift resolution to the growing tensions in the Middle East.

(AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)
(AP Photo/ Manu Brabo) Free Syrian Army fighters are seen in a storage room in the Karmal Jabl district of Aleppo Syria, Sunday, October 14, 2012. Rolls of fabric are seen on the ground. T he conflict in Syria has escalated significantly in recent weeks. After months of mounting tension between Turkey and the Assad regime, the Turkish parliament took the step of authorizing cross-border military operations into Syria. Both sides have since exchanged artillery fire. As the political and military crisis deepens, The Prospect spoke with Steven Cook , Hasib J. Sabbagh Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, about the nature of the conflict and the possibility of its resolution. Why has the Turkish government decided to escalate the conflict to this point? The question is whether the Turks have escalated or the Syrians have escalated. This all started when Syrian shells fell on the Turkish side of the border, killing Turkish civilians. The Turks had...

Putting Mitt's Footnotes on the Obama Doctrine

(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci) Cadets at Virginia Military Institute listen to Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney give a foreign policy, Monday, October 8, 2012, in Lexington, Virginia. Yesterday, standing in front of the flags of all five military branches at the Virginia Military Institute, Mitt Romney offered his “vision for a freer, more prosperous, and more peaceful world.” He didn’t stray far from his expected talking points: get closer to Israel, get tougher on Iran, lead the Middle East, fight the perpetual war on terror, spend more money, and sign more free-trade agreements. It's your basic neoconservative vision for ushering in another “American century,” one that pits the “torch” of America’s exceptional and “proud history of strong, confident, principled global leadership” against the “dark ideology” of terrorists. The Republican presidential candidate suggested we are at a special moment in time, a “struggle that is now shaking the entire...

A Tale of Two Mitts, Foreign Policy Edition

In an attempt to build his post-debate momentum, Mitt Romney gave a speech on foreign policy this morning. The overall consensus is that it was a whole lot of nothing new: Writing at Foreign Policy , Daniel Drezner notes that there is “almost no new policy content” in the speech. Indeed, it was mostly the usual laundry list of complaints against President Obama for lacking “resolve,” while Romney pledged to pursue the same policies that have defined the Obama administration’s approach to foreign policy. Wired ’s Spencer Ackerman points out the similarities: On Iran, he’ll propose “new sanctions” and to “tighten the sanctions we currently have,” which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Iran policy (along with cyberattacks). On Afghanistan, he “will pursue a real and successful transition to Afghan security forces by the end of 2014,” which is the cornerstone of Obama’s Afghanistan policy. On Libya, Romney will “support the Libyan people’s efforts to forge a lasting government that...

Netanyahu and the Magic Marker

The Israeli prime minister waxes hyperbolic on Iran, overshadowing discussions on the solutions that exist for the Middle East's political woes.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
(AP Photo/Richard Drew) Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters Thursday, September 27, 2012. H istory will show that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech Wednesday at the United Nations General Assembly, which was the usual farrago of pseudo-historical philosophy and conspiratorial Zionist-bashing (and, mercifully, was the last by the term-limited president), was overshadowed by something even more cartoon-like: A drawing of a bomb, complete with lit fuse, used by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show Iran’s progress toward a nuclear-weapons capability. Just to make sure his message was clear, Netanyahu used a magic marker to draw a red line showing where Iran’s uranium enrichment must be stopped. Twitter lit up with mocking references to Wile E. Coyote soon after. But it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh. “Poking fun at Netanyahu's cartoon bomb is all well...

Should You Vote for Barack Obama?

(Flickr/Jonathan Mcintosh)
If you were to judge them against the records of previous Democratic presidents, it’s clear that President Obama is the most liberal president since Lyndon Johnson. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act prevented a second Great Depression and invested billions in education, clean energy, and future technologies. The Affordable Care Act has put the United States on the path toward universal health coverage, and a more sustainable health care system. Dodd-Frank is the most important piece of financial regulation in a generation. It’s not perfect, but—all things considered—it’s pretty good. National security is a different story. Obama campaigned as someone who push back against the civil liberties abuses of the Bush era. As president, he has doubled-down on them. The drone war in Pakistan, expanded by the Obama administration, has claimed hundreds of innocent lives, and is conducted under a veil of secrecy. The “militants” targeted by the United States are often just military-aged...

MEK Still Isn't OK

The group is set to be taken off the foreign terrorist organization list, but it remains an unwelcome bedfellow on the Iran issue.

(AP Images)
This past Friday, the State Department announced that it will remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK)—a fringe Iranian dissident group that has been criticized for its cultish practices—from its list of terrorist groups. The State Department may have satisfied a court-imposed deadline and could help the group’s members escape their current stateless limbo, but the decision will enable the MEK to put more effort into pushing the United States toward war with Iran in its campaign to become the new government in Tehran. The court’s deadline comes from a lawsuit brought by the MEK arguing that its designation as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO)—which it has held since 1997—is no longer appropriate because it claims to have abandoned violence in 2002; in 2003, when its members in Iraq were disarmed by the U.S. military, the group signed documents promising to use only peaceful means of protest to advocate for its goals. In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit gave...

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