US Opinion and Commentary

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Diplomatic Revolt on Syria Policy

Posted June 17th, 2016 at 12:54 pm (UTC-5)
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51 U.S. diplomatic officials took the advantage of a a legally protected channel to express their dissent with Obama administration policy in Syria, and called for the use of targeted military strikes against the Syrian government.
The cable came from the State Department’s Dissent Channel, designed to give the Secretary of State and others an opportunity to hear alternative or dissenting perspectives from official U.S. policy.
This comes on the heels of criticism from Sen. John McCain in which he blamed President Obama and his policies regarding Iraq and Syria for the mass shooting in Orlando last Saturday.
Obama’s policies regarding Syria has been well chronicled (see “The Obama Doctrine” by The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg) and subjected to dissection by some of the world’s foremost experts on foreign policy.

The Danger of Killing Islamic State’s Caliph

Posted June 16th, 2016 at 3:09 pm (UTC-5)
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The best way to cripple a terrorist group may be to take out its “middle managers.”…the figures found on the org chart between the leadership elites and the field troops are the “connective tissue” that holds the organization together….”Without them, nothing could be done on the ground.”

What America Keeps Getting Wrong in the Middle East

Posted June 16th, 2016 at 3:01 pm (UTC-5)
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Americans must be led to correct our counterproductive misunderstanding of Islam….The presumptive candidate of one of our two major parties has suggested banning Muslims from entry into the United States….If we do not correct these attitudes, we will continue to pay not just in treasure but in blood. Lots of it.

Orlando: The Gun Debate

Posted June 16th, 2016 at 12:39 pm (UTC-5)
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There is movement, a pulse, in Congress after all.
After the slaughter of 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub, there were the usual expressions of sorrow, moments of silence and verbal posturing. But instead of the usual inaction by Congress on gun laws, Senate Democrats took action by grinding the deliberative body to a noticeable stop.
The 15-hour filibuster by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy forced Senate Republicans to agree to votes on Democratic-backed gun control measures: expanding background checks and preventing suspected terrorists from buying guns. It will put senators on the record about gun laws before the November election.
Democrats efforts got a boost from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Donald Trump tweeted he would meet with the politically powerful National Rifle Association about banning gun sales to those on the terrorist watch list or “no fly” list.
No matter which way the votes go, the debate over guns in America has both sides locked and loaded.

Orlando Shooting Reaction has the Feel of Eternal Recurrence

Posted June 15th, 2016 at 4:29 pm (UTC-5)
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Whether the culprit is American imperialism, guns, Guantanamo Bay or, this week, homophobia, we instantly race to comfortable excuses and comfortable arguments. The true nature and scope of the challenge is too unpleasant to contemplate, and so we return to our scripts and read our lines until the next slaughter…

To Say or Not to Say: ‘Radical Islam’

Posted June 14th, 2016 at 5:34 pm (UTC-5)
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What’s in a word, or two?
President Obama’s refusal to use the term “radical Islam” is back in the American political discussion, raised by Donald Trump in the aftermath of Saturday’s massacre in Orlando.
Trump demanded Obama’s resignation because he refuses to use the term “radical Islam” when referring to acts of terrorism.
Obama responded tersely Tuesday, saying “there’s no magic to the phrase radical Islam. It’s a political talking point; it’s not a strategy.”
It’s a debate that’s raged for years: “can you defeat an enemy if you don’t know what to call it?” versus “can we expect help from Muslims if we paint the entire religion with the same brush?”

Madmen and the Politics of Islamophobia

Posted June 13th, 2016 at 2:32 pm (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin The worst mass shooting in U.S. history – at a gay bar in Orlando, Fla. – brings to mind another slaughter of innocents by a madman claiming allegiance to an ideology: the 1977 killing of 77 people, most of them children at a holiday resort, by Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik. Like Omar […]

How America Stopped Thinking Strategically About the Middle East

Posted June 3rd, 2016 at 11:52 am (UTC-5)
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The absolutely simplest strategic objective might run something like this: Protect American interests. By such a standard, the last 15 years of war have been a massive failure. Imposing a new political order at bayonet-point has failed, squandering trillions of dollars and thousands of lives — while spawning even more violent successors to al Qaeda.

U.S. and Turkey Clash Over Islamic State Lifeline to Syria 

Posted May 19th, 2016 at 9:40 pm (UTC-5)
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By Barbara Slavin It’s called the Manbij pocket and it’s a major impediment to the U.S. goal of defeating the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The enclave in northern Syria, which borders Turkey for 60 miles, has remained open to IS infiltration. It is a lifeline for the IS “capital” of Raqqa that the Barack […]

Why Iran Should Focus on Turkey, not Russia, for Syria Cooperation

Posted May 19th, 2016 at 9:02 am (UTC-5)
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Iran and Turkey are most interested in the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity…. Moreover, Turkey and Iran’s other interests in Syria — preserving a level of influence, maintaining stability in their neighboring regions and containing Kurdish centrifugal tendencies in the wider region — can only be served by preserving its unity and territorial integrity.

Sykes-Picot +100 Years

Posted May 18th, 2016 at 4:37 pm (UTC-5)
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100 years ago this week, a British colonel and a French diplomat drew a few lines on a map of the Middle East. Those lines were the first draft of borders that are still disputed, and battled over today.
Mark Sykes and François-Georges Picot were empowered by their governments to secretly work out an arrangement to split up the Levant part of the Ottoman Empire even before World War I was over.
Sykes & Picot came up with areas of British (area A and area in red) and French influence (area B and area in blue). The brown shaded area would be internationally administered. The secret plan was signed on May 16, 1916, two-and-a-half years before World War I ended.
Sykes-Picot was seen as a betrayal of the Arabs by the British, who promised their support for an independent state in exchange for Arab support against the Ottomans.
Memories of that supposed betrayal remain strong. When the Islamic State bulldozed the barrier marking Sykes-Picot border between Iraq and Syria in 2014 they tweeted #SykesPicotOver.
So, is a line drawn in the sand 100 years ago the cause of the Middle East’s problems today?
Like most issues involving the Middle East, ask 10 people and you will get 10 different opinions.

Joe Biden Didn’t Lose Iraq

Posted May 3rd, 2016 at 4:16 pm (UTC-5)
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Blame Biden if you must, or criticize his unfortunate timing, but we’d be far worse off without him. Given Obama’s inherent antipathy toward Iraq, and the chronic disorganization of administration policy elsewhere, the White House has been lucky to have Biden as the adult in the room.

Baghdad’s Political Battle and the War Against ISIS

Posted May 2nd, 2016 at 1:57 pm (UTC-5)
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Turmoil in Baghdad is a phrase too often seen and heard in the media since 2003. This weekend was no different, when anti-government protesters stormed the Iraqi parliament building Saturday, sending lawmakers fleeing for safety. While the protesters have retreated, their demands for good governance has not. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Baghdad Thursday to demonstrate support for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and his attempt to form a new cabinet. It was 10 years ago, almost to the day, when then Senator Joe Biden suggested partitioning Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish autonomous regions, with a central government in charge of common interests. The partition did not happen, but the political turmoil has continued. Ripples from the current political crisis in Baghdad are felt hundreds of miles north in Mosul, where the Iraqi army, Kurdish peshmerga and U.S. military forces among others are planning an offensive to free the city from Islamic State rule. But without a political solution in Baghdad, military success in Mosul seems less and less likely.

Leave Root Causes Aside – Destroy the ISIS State

Posted April 29th, 2016 at 4:36 pm (UTC-5)
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Admittedly the costs of destroying ISIS as a jihadist ideological movement…are daunting. But that isn’t, or shouldn’t be, the mission. The mission should be crushing ISIS as a state and as a military and economic power. That is a different challenge, and one far more responsive to conventional military power.

Obama’s Last Chance to End the ‘Forever War’

Posted April 27th, 2016 at 1:08 pm (UTC-5)
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There is a good reason the founders gave Congress the authority to declare war and the president the authority to wage it. The decision to go to war — even when carried out remotely from the air with minimal risk to Americans — is simply too important to entrust to a single branch of government.