National Security

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...

Playing Defense on the Sequestration Battle

As January 1 draws near, expect doomsday predictions about big national-security cuts to ramp up. 

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) I f you’ve been following the news, chances are you have heard of “sequestration” by now. Everyone in national security—from the Pentagon to Congress to industry to the think tanks—seems to agree that the spending cuts would be a menace that deserves to be squelched. But is it? Sequestration is an automatic spending cut inserted into the Budget Control Act of 2011. The cuts were designed to light a fire under the Supercommittee to agree on specific cuts, because failure would mean a blanket slashing of many areas of the federal budget, gutting both parties’ spending priorities. The Supercommittee didn’t accomplish its given task and the cuts remain, so we might theoretically see the first chunks of the $1.2 trillion in cuts (over ten years)—including $55 billion per year in reduced defense spending—take effect in January. Unless the national security establishment stops it first, that is. At about $676 billion (in FY2012), U.S. defense spending accounts for...

Look Past the Turban

Sunday’s shooting at a Sikh temple couldn’t be described as surprising, which is a problem that has plagued our country for a long time.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
It had happened. When I received the first phone call about the Wisconsin shooting on Sunday, I felt shock, grief, and immense horror. But I could not register surprise. Since the September 11th attacks, Sikhs like me had spent years preparing for this day and trying to ward it off. But with hate crimes and discrimination against Sikhs still rampant, an attack on our gurdwaras—the community’s gathering spaces and houses of worship—seemed inevitable. We just didn’t know when or where or who. Now we do. Last weekend’s massacre sparked many of the same conversations that came up in the wake of the Colorado tragedy. Politicians, family, and media pundits have commented on gun control, mental health issues, and the gunman’s “normal” childhood. What is different this time, however, is the discussion of the deceased’s identities. Unlike Colorado or Columbine, all of those killed in the Wisconsin massacre adhere to a common religion, Sikhism, which appears to have been the reason they were...

The Army's Bizarre Cover-Up

(AP Photo/ U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte)
Lieutenant General William Caldwell, a rising star in the Army who formerly oversaw the training of Afghan security forces, was recently accused of impeding a 2010 investigation of corruption in the Afghan military medical corps to avoid affecting the outcome of congressional elections, as reported by Danger Room . Caldwell, who now commands the U.S. Army North based in Texas, was supposedly worried that a revelation of mismanagement and neglect would hurt Democrats’ electoral chances, damaging the close rapport he enjoyed with Obama. “He calls me Bill,” Caldwell is said to have told his officers. As Danger Room notes, his fears weren’t without basis; after all, General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command for immature comments just a few months prior. Caldwell’s relationship with the President Obama may be about to take a turn for the worse. But don’t count on the president taking much heat from the voters. To begin, Americans don’t care much for foreign policy; in 2010,...

Lockheed Martin's Creative Lobbying

Lockheed Martin federal contracts.
When the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision, many people predicted that big corporations would start buying elections, now that they were allowed to spend as much money as they wanted on campaigns. While that certainly might happen in the future, it hasn't happened so far, probably because they're worried about the PR backlash that could result from too much partisan activity. Instead, the ones donating millions have been extremely rich individuals, most of whom are Republicans. But that doesn't mean corporations don't have clever ways of playing the political game. To wit : Lockheed Martin is contemplating a pre-election move that could shake up the political landscape. Right before Election Day, the company is likely to notify the "vast majority" of its 123,000 workers that they're at risk of being laid off, said Greg Walters, the company's vice president of legislative affairs. Walters's comments are some of the most specific threats yet from an industry that's...

Talking Honestly About Our War Dead

Arlington National Cemetery (Flickr/Celine Aussourd)
The endless string of mini-controversies that occupy the attention of the media usually run the gamut from stupid to extra-stupid to super-stupid. But sometimes, one comes along that is profoundly dispiriting, the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether we'll ever be able to have a real debate about anything important. I'm speaking of what happened after MSNBC host Chris Hayes had a brief on-air discussion about the use of the word "hero" to apply to every person in the military who died in war. This came in the middle of a show devoted to Memorial Day, the larger theme of which was that Americans don't fully appreciate the sacrifices made by people in the military and their families. When he raised the question of the overuse of the word "hero," Hayes was careful to say that he didn't want to disrespect the memory of any fallen soldier, but that the word sometimes made him uncomfortable, because he was concerned its repetition makes it easier justify future wars. Like everything...

A Plan to Privatize a State's Entire Male Prison System

(Flickr/Tim Pearce, Los Gatos)
It's been tough times for the prison privatization industry. The two biggest companies both have extra space thanks to a recent drop in the number of people sent to private prisons. The companies just can't seem to expand their share of the market. The poor guys really lost out when the Florida Senate killed a bill that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 workers. The lobbying was so aggressive, one senator with health problems actually had to get protection from her colleagues. Then there's the not-so-great press—a two-part series from NPR last year included particularly horrifying tales . All told, these poor private prison company execs have not had much to smile about. So imagine what joy they must have had when New Hampshire put out an RFP to privatize the state's entire prison system. That's right—the entire system. According to the New Hampshire Business Review , previous state debate on privatization didn't exactly win anyone's affection, and the...

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