National Security

You Want to Kill Bad Guys? Prove That They’re Bad.

Last week, I took a break from my regularly scheduled gender beat to be grieved , as a citizen, about the Obama administration’s newly announced policy that asserted, as Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times : … that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States and if capturing them alive is not feasible. A friend called me to argue with me about my recoil, saying that surely I had misunderstood. There is a process, my friend argued, a very reasonable one: Administration officials define someone as a terrorist who’s an imminent threat to the U.S., and are reviewed by a Congressional committee. So I went back and checked. That’s not what Holder said. He outlined some possible scenarios that would justify extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens, but he did not limit the President’s power to those scenarios. And he said that the administration would...

The Difference a Different Decider Makes

Two different guys.
Two different guys. As the bleating of the Republican war caucus gets louder and louder, it's beginning to sound a lot like 2002, when the Bush administration was treating us to daily news about the terrifying threat posed by Saddam Hussein's vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, ready to incinerate us all in weeks if we didn't launch a war. Some of the same people who made the case then are making the case now that we need to start bombing Iran. As you're watching them, it's hard not to shake your head and say, "Are these people insane? Do they actually believe that it's a good idea for America to start another war in the Middle East? My god, are we getting on this train to disaster again?!?" But before we all get too frustrated, it's important to remember one thing: now matter how loud people like Liz Cheney may shout (and somebody please remind me why anyone should give a crap what she thinks), no matter how much infantile chest-beating we get from the Republican candidates...

Holder Says Killing Citizens Is Okay If You're The Government

I know my “beat” is gender & sexuality. But I’m also an American citizen who loves, and is therefore regularly grieved by, my country. And so today I’m going to talk about something that weighs heavily on my heart: the latest in American “national security” policy, announced by Eric Holder under cover of the Super Tuesday media frenzy. As a young adult, I used to wonder how citizens could stand by why their governments did appalling things in their name—and I assumed that we had learned from those wrongs, and that such things could never happen again. Yes, of course, I wondered about the rise of the Nazis, although for a Jewish child, the Holocaust was almost wallpaper; my mother’s explanation—communicated without explicit words—was that Germans hated Jews, The End. But I wondered more, beginning in eighth grade civics and beyond, about appalling things done by my own country, which I loved. Not just slavery, undertaken by people in peculiar clothes and accents, long ago and far...

Dirty Tactics in Fight for Prison Privatization

(Flickr/mikecogh)
A couple weeks ago, the Florida Senate rejected a measure that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 corrections officers. Nine Republicans voted against the measure, giving the bill's opponents a narrow 21-19 win. It was an impressive victory at the time, but now we're discovering just how hard-fought it was. A senator who's suffered five heart attacks became the focal point of the debate, where advocates hoped to pressure her into changing positions on the bill. Things got so bad, she actually had to have protection. The Tampa Bay Times reports : The debate over privatizing much of Florida's prison system last week probably marks one of the few times a couple of senators provided an escort for one of their colleagues — from the opposing political party, no less. It attracted little attention last week when Sens. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, and Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, walked onto the Senate floor before the debate on privatizing prisons with Sen. Larcenia...

Congressional Battle Ready

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who is making her second run for Congress, lost both her legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2004. Duckworth first ran for Congress in 2006, but lost to Republican Peter Roskam. Now, the EMILY’s List candidate looks poised to win her primary in the Illinois 8th, and the seat in November. A 48-year-old Iraq War veteran, Duckworth has based much of her platform on veterans’ advocacy—a cause that was sparked by her first-hand experience recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I talked to Duckworth about a range of issues, but it was Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s comment about women in combat that sparked the greatest reaction. Duckworth, the daughter of a veteran, joined ROTC over 20 years ago, as a graduate student, and chose to fly helicopters because it was one of the few combat positions open to women at the time. She went on to become one of the first women to fly combat missions in...

Iran Is Not Cuba

In the face-off with the country, the best lesson from the past is that diplomatic compromise doesn't require appeasement.

(AP Photo/Franklin Reyes)
Scrolling through news, especially news posted in America, I could think that it's time for me to stock up on canned food and check that my family's Israeli government-issue gas masks are working. The news suggests that Israel's air force is sure to attack Iran's nuclear facilities this year, perhaps this spring, possibly sparking a rain of retaliatory missiles from Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Syria, despite or because of its current turmoil, might join in. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned earlier this month that Iran would soon reach an "immunity zone" in which its nuclear program would be impregnable—implying that Israel must strike first. The news site Ha'aretz's military commentator Amir Oren has bitterly expressed concern that the always-cocky ex-general Barak and his "assistant for prime ministerial affairs, Benjamin Netanyahu," might give the orders on their own, even though the law requires approval of the full cabinet to go to war. The Washington Post 's David...

The Fall of the House of Assad?

If and when the Syrian regime crumbles, an American administration will have to seize opportunities.

AP Photos
B ashar al-Assad has not yet fallen. I note this only because of the tone of inevitability in some news reports on Syria's civil war. The downfall of Tunisia's Ben Ali, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi may be no more predictive than a roulette ball falling on red in the last three spins. Arguably, the popular convulsion in the Middle East began not in Tunisia in late 2010 but in Teheran in mid-2009, when the Iranian regime—Assad's patron—crushed a popular revolution and erased the immense hopes it had raised. Still, it would be foolish to bet heavily on Assad's long-term survival as Syria's leader. His forces may have retaken rebel-held suburbs of Damascus this week, but armed rebels holding suburbs of a capital even for a few days is the political equivalent of a tubercular cough. Wagering on when the regime will crumble or what will replace it is equally risky. Assad has already defied Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's December prediction that the Syrian regime...

Why the Republicans Won't Benefit From Being the War Party

If there was a single moment in this campaign in which a candidate declared, "Here's a position that almost every American will find completely insane, but I'm taking it because Barack Obama sucks," it would have to be the time in one of the debates when Rick Perry declared that not only was he bummed that the Iraq war was over, but "I would send troops back to Iraq." Even his Republican opponents obviously thought that was crazy. I thought of that listening to the radio this morning, when John McCain gave an interview to NPR about how Obama has screwed up Iran policy, and reminded us all not just of why he was such an unappealing presidential candidate four years ago, but how far the Republican party has drifted on foreign policy. Among the absurd things he said were that the "green revolution" protests in 2009 were "literally crying out...'Obama, Obama, are you with us?'" and if Obama had spoken out against Iran more forcefully, things would have turned out differently. You might...

Best New York Times Caption Ever

A typo in the caption of this New York Times photo raises questions about the nature of war. Isn’t that how wars start? Someone tells a story about what happened to them. Another person tells a different story. And so a fissure forms and widens. Fiction between ostensible allies leads to disasters. Honesty is the best policy.

Women, War, & Peace

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
I'm not a gender essentialist. I don't believe that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. I suspect strongly, in fact, that women and men are the same species and might even be able to reproduce. At the same time, it's true that women and men—on average, in general—tend to behave differently. You can't predict any individual woman's or man's behavior based on sex; as we've discussed here before, some boys want to be princesses, and some girls are hard-core jocks with a fabulous swagger. Yet at the same time, the international policy community knows that, on average, women tend to invest in their families while men spend their money on themselves. And that if women are involved in peacemaking and national rebuilding, that peace is more stable than if it were all organized by men. Last month, Hillary Clinton gave an extraordinary speech that got little attention, buried as it was during the holidays. In it, she discussed: ... the growing body of evidence that shows how women...

What Can Replace Social Security?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Manchester, New Hampshire— Last night, some of Ron Paul’s younger supporters—and Ron Paul supporters are disproportionately young—held a pub crawl through the bars of downtown Manchester. During the first two hours (after which time I crawled away), about 50 largely male Paulists, behaving far too decorously for serious pub crawlers, drank and munched and yacked. Paul himself had arrived in the state just that afternoon—electing, for some mysterious reason, to spend Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning back in Texas. At a welcome rally at Nashua’s small-plane airport, he spoke in his usual generalities about libertarian values, interspersing occasional anecdotes about unnamed congressional colleagues who had voted to fund one damned project after another. He was hailed, of course, as a conquering hero—Paul’s supporters are the only true zealots among the Republicans this year. One such zealot who turned up at the pub crawl was Nick, who’d driven all the way from Boston. Like many if...

Occupying Grand Central Station

OWS rings in the new year with a fight against NDAA.

Sargeant Shamar Thomas protests against NDAA Tuesday at Grand Central Station.
Five hundred people returned to Zuccotti Park on New Year's Eve, with drums, chants of "Whose Year? Our Year!", and a tent, which they say they gave to police in exchange for entrance to the park. An hour before midnight, police and occupiers attempting to remove metal barricades around Zuccotti had a violent confrontation and, by 1:30 a.m., police had cleared activists from the park. Tuesday, occupiers mobilized against the National Defense Authorization Action signed by President Obama on New Year's Eve. After a lunchtime march to the offices of New York senators, occupiers gathered in the Grand Central train station, where multiple people were arrested while leading "People's Mic" recitations of an anti-NDAA script. The indefinite detention provisions of the NDAA have become a lightning rod for Occupy actions, including Philadelphia—where activists presented "Fascist of the Year" awards to actors portraying their Senators—and Iowa, where they occupied the hotel headquartering the...

Pruning the Pentagon

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) President Barack Obama, center, shakes hand with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., left, and Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta, right, at a news briefing on the defense strategic guidance at the Pentagon, Thursday, Jan., 5, 2012. Looking on are Sec. of the Army John McHugh, far left, and Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos, far right. Y esterday, President Barack Obama crossed the Potomac River to hold a press conference at the Pentagon, the first time a president has addressed reporters from the military’s headquarters. Flanked by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, and other senior military leaders, the president introduced the findings of a nine-month review of U.S. military strategy that will guide how the Pentagon allocates defense dollars as military spending slows following a decade of war. The review, which calls for a leaner, more agile military and a...

The Last King of the Iron Curtain

Socialism was supposed to create a new socialist man—a fellow or gal whose labor was unalienated, who was freed from want, who had time off to read, to fish, to play, to parent. He would be healthier, longer-lived, better educated and wiser than his counterpart under capitalism. To a considerable degree, social democracy (or even its attenuated American cousin, New Deal liberalism) has accomplished some of those goals (higher pay, more time off, widespread education) if not all of them (unalienated labor, widespread wisdom). But what the comrades used to call “true socialism”—that is, communism—not so much. And most certainly, not the creation of a new socialist man. If it had, thousands or millions of citizens in communist countries could be entrusted with the reins of government. Instead, leadership in the few remaining communist countries looks increasingly dynastic. In North Korea, Kim Jong Il has been succeeded by his son, Kim Jong Un, even as Kim Jong Il succeeded his father,...

The War on Terror Comes Home

Passage of the NDAA brings issues of indefinite detention and military trials to American shores.

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley
It is usually difficult to find an issue, particularly in the form of current legislation, that unites retired generals and admirals, civil libertarians, Tea Party activists, retired intelligence officers, current Obama administration national-security officials, and former Bush administration officials. But this year's defense authorization bill, which passed both houses of Congress this week, did just that. The 666-page bill is a vast document that authorizes $662 billion in defense spending for the fiscal year. Nestled in in this overarching bill are a series of controversial provisions that authorize the president to indefinitely detain terror suspects and require the military to take custody of anyone deemed to be a member of al-Qaeda. The White House issued a veto threat to both the House and Senate versions of the bill. Just about every member of the administration’s national-security team—the director of national intelligence, secretary of defense, secretary of state, CIA...

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