National Security

"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...

Mitt Versus the Middle East

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue) A Palestinian woman walks past a section of Israel's separation barrier to cross a checkpoint on their way to pray for the holy fasting month of Ramadan at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Friday, Sept. 19, 2008. T ake a breath and think carefully. Was Mitt Romney's candid-camera comment on how he'd handle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict really as awful as it sounds at first? Actually, yes. In fact, it's even worse, especially if you are listening to it in Israel, or the Palestinian territories, or anywhere else in the Middle East. The man who would be president of the United States has said that he would throw the entire region under the bus. "The pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish," Romney says in the now-famous video of his May 17 campaign event, uncovered by Mother Jones . Put aside the candidate's struggle with English diction, and forget the ignorance of geography that allows him to...

Is America Feared Enough in the Middle East?

Supporting Islamist democracies might actually be the best way to win friends in the region.

(Sipa via AP Images)
(Sipa via AP Images) Protesters on the road leading to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo's Tahrir square The past decade should have permanently cured Americans of the idea that we can dictate events in the Middle East. So it’s hard to take seriously some of the conservative claims and criticisms regarding the continuing anti-American demonstrations in the region. Senator John McCain has insisted that the Obama administration’s policy of “disengagement” led to the attacks on U.S. embassy outposts last week. "We're leaving Iraq. We're leaving Afghanistan. We're leaving the area,” McCain said on Face the Nation . “The people in the area are having to adjust and they believe the United States is weak, and they are taking appropriate action." McCain characterized the protests as part of “a fight, a struggle in the Arab world between the Islamists and the forces of moderation. And they want America disengaged.” Liz Cheney believes the problem is that no one is scared of us anymore. “In too many...

Following in Chris Stevens's Footsteps

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
(AP Photo/John Minchillo) Supporters of slain U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens hold a candlelight vigil outside the Libyan Embassy, Thursday, September 13, 2012, in New York. Stevens was killed by an angry mob during an assault on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi that stemmed from the widespread anger generated by an American-made anti-Muslim film. T he Middle East has a propensity for producing both the tragic and the absurd, two qualities that converged in appallingly consummate fashion with the attacks this week that killed U.S. diplomats in Libya and threatened American embassies across the region. The deaths of Christopher Stevens, U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three of his colleagues at the American consulate in Benghazi on Tuesday represent a profound tragedy on many levels. First and foremost is the loss of such brave and dedicated individuals, who served their country in a place wracked by chaos, uncertainty, and violence. Stevens had a well-deserved reputation as a...

Libyan Americans Hold a Vigil

After the Benghazi attacks, expatriates worry about the future of their fragile democracy. 

(AP Photo/Ibrahim Alaguri)
(AP Photo/Ibrahim Alaguri) A Libyan man holds a placard in English during a demonstration against the attack on the U.S. consulate that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, in Benghazi, Libya. The wide cement walkway that separates Lafayette Park from the front lawn of the White House is the unofficial no man’s land of Washington, D.C. Just north of it lies the rarified sphere of the West Wing; to the south of it, the banalities of life in a sedate city. The Wednesday evening after the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, a flag waved at half-staff in remembrance of the four Americans left dead, among them Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens—the first American ambassador to be killed in the line of duty since 1979. A Secret Service agent did a sweep of the front lawn with his dog a little before 7 p.m. as haggard West Wing staffers made private phone calls and tourists noodled back and forth happily on Segways. Greetings of “ kaifik ?”—how are you?—and “...

Mitt Romney Responds to Libyan Crisis in Worst Way Possible

Last night, an armed mob—angry over an American-made video denigrating the Prophet Muhammad— attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, along with three of his staff members. This came after a similar uprising in Egypt, where protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag. Initial reports on the situation—which revealed the death of a U.S. official—were followed by this statement from the Romney campaign: “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn the attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” Likewise, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus tweeted that “Obama sympathizes with attackers in Egypt. Sad and pathetic.” Both are in response to a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo—released before protesters breached the compound—which criticized said film for hurting “the religious feelings” of...

The 11th Anniversary of 9/11

I've been looking at the crisp blue sky and remembering when the world went silent. The unspeakable images—which we have not yet shown to our son—are seared into all of us who were adults, then. How strange is it that a generation of young people has come of age who were sitting on school buses or in schoolrooms that day, who didn't watch as hundreds of people burned cruelly to death, as New York City was coated with human ash? I don't know which is more horrible to me: the memory of that day as we sat in our living rooms or offices or kitchens watching the towers (and the people in them, and in the planes) burn and fall, the memory of the awful silence of the skies and the roads, filling up with the sickening knowledge that the United States would soon bankrupt itself going to war—or the next eleven years of war, torture, and the abrogation of our civil liberties. Eleven years of Guantanamo, and Bagram, and Abu Ghraib, and a Democratic president with an unauthorized "kill list," and...

How Does the President Justify Having a Kill List?

Have you ever heard of Ben Swann, a Toledo reporter/analyst on local Fox news? I hadn't. But someone pointed me to one of Swann's recent four-minute segments , "Reality Check," in which he asks Obama how he justified having a kill list that includes American citizens who've never been charged with a crime—and then concisely analyzes both the constitutional issues and the reasons the national news media are giving Obama a pass. It is well worth your four minutes of watching time. It left me wondering: Why doesn't every reporter demand answers in this way? Why isn't local TV news always like this? My lord, this is far more worth discussing than most of what we saw from Charlotte last week.

Third Night of the DNC: TV & Twitter Review

So the DNC gave us a week that got more and more sober as it went on. By last night, we were down and dirty with tough choices and grim policies. Foreign policy dominated the early part of the evening, with a salute to military veterans that had many in my Twitter feed commenting on how strange it was that the parties have switched places. The Republicans hadn’t even mentioned the wars or the veterans; as conservative Ramesh Ponnuru tweeted , “Really was malpractice, and wrong, for Romney not to mention troops in Iraq, Afghanistan in convention speech.” And so for a night the Democrats became the party of LBJ again, the party of a strong military and uncompromising attack. By the time Joe Biden trotted out his bumper sticker line, “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!” the crowd chanted it with him. How strange was that: a crowd of Democrats cheering for someone’s head on a plate, and for a business bailout? Don’t get me wrong; I understand that both absolutely had to...

The "Great Man" Theory of Rape

Overlooking sexual harassment and rape for the sake of WikiLeaks' reputation does more harm than good to the organization's name.

(Flickr/Vertigogen and Darryl biatch0)_
(Flickr/Vertigogen) Police in front of the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is currently claiming asylum While the British and Ecuadorian governments continue to maneuver around each other over how to deal with Julian Assange—with each detail breathlessly described by journalists all over the world—one question continues to haunt me: Would any of this be happening if Assange faced charges of any violent crime other than rape? Would Ecuador be offering him asylum if the Swedish government sought Assange for allegedly stabbing two men? Would so many liberal pundits be rushing to defend Assange if he were accused of getting drunk and running someone over with his car? Despite the deep abhorrence of rape all participants in this dispute claim to have, it doesn’t seem likely that they’d be defending Assange were he wanted for another violent crime. Currently, Assange—the founder of open-information website WikiLeaks, which riled the U.S. by releasing...

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