Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2016-02-13T08:38:34Z WordPress Juan Cole <![CDATA[Despite Syria Cease Fire, Belligerents Plot military Victory]]> 2016-02-13T08:38:34Z 2016-02-13T08:31:39Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Despite the announcement at Munich of a cessation of hostilities in Syria, to be implemented in the next week or so, all the major fighting forces in Syria have announced a determination to soldier on.

According to the London pan-Arab daily al-Hayat [Life] , Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov not only said that the cease-fire did not apply to Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) or al-Qaeda (the Nusra Front or Support Front) but he also said it did not apply to the the Freemen of Syria, the Army of Islam and “other terrorists.” He accused Turkey of being behind all the Syrian “terrorist groups.” But he said there could be a cessation of hostilities with other rebel groups.

Most of the fighting in Syria is between the Syrian Arab Army on the one side and groups like Daesh, al-Qaeda, the Freemen of Syria, and the Army of Islam on the other. So if they aren’t included by Russia, it means the fighting will just go on.

In particular, al-Hayah says that the Russians are determined to take all of Aleppo as quickly as possible and that hasn’t changed.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister reaffirmed that his country’s goal is to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia has been considering sending troops to Syria. These bruited plans drew from Moscow a warning of “world war III.”

Then Bashar al-Assad, the strongman at the head of the Syrian regime, came out and said that he intended to retake all of Syria, even though that task might take a long time.

These statements don’t sound like a cessation of hostilities to me.

There is more. The rebel groups in east Aleppo, which the regime has not yet retaken, have just announced that they got new deliveries of Grad missiles to use against the Syrian Arab Army (presumably from the CIA and Saudi Arabia through Turkey). Most of the rebel groups in east Aleppo are relatively moderate and shouldn’t be defined even by the Russians as “terrorists,” but one has a sinking feeling that they will be. And that they will be starved and that non-combatants in that area will be bombed indiscriminately. If there was any chance the Russians would treat them as moderates rather than terrorists, one suspects that the new weaponry, with a range of 12 miles and aimed directly at the Syrian army, has ended it.

Meanwhile, the YPG or leftwing Syrian Kurdish militia based in the western canton of Afrin has seen an opening to move east, with the defeat of al-Qaeda and other forces just north of Aleppo. They took a small military base just south of Azaz, a key town on the supply road down from Turkey to east Aleppo. Now they are besieging Azaz itself. If the Kurds take that city, they clearly hope to fight on east until they reach Kobane, thus uniting all three major Kurdish cantons to form their hoped-for Rojava region. Syrian Kurds maintain that this Rojava would be a state in a future federal Syria, and that they aren’t seeking secession or an independent Syrian-Kurdish state. Nevertheless, Turkey is extremely upset by the YPG advances and is determined that Afrin won’t be joined to Kobane (which would have the effect of cutting off the ability of Turkey to supply its Salafi clients among the rebels in northern Syria). It would also however, cut off Daesh from its supply routes up into Turkey, which NATO should consider a positive even if Ankara does not.

So in all likelihood, Turkey will do what it can to stop the YPG Kurdish advance.

It is to be hoped that in as much of Syria as possible there will be a cessation of hostilities and that food can be delivered to civilians who are being starved by the various sides. But the big war fronts seem likely to continue to be hot.

Related video:

“Syria conflict: World powers say ‘progress made’ – BBC News”

contributors <![CDATA[Despite Risks, Egypt’s Cartoonists Take on increasingly Authoritarian Regime of al-Sisi]]> 2016-02-13T06:16:24Z 2016-02-13T06:16:24Z By Mohamed Hassan | ( Global Voices ) | – –

Cartoonist Islam Gawish. Photograph from his Facebook page. Photograph by Mostafa Darwish.

Cartoonist Islam Gawish. Photograph from his Facebook page. Photograph by Mostafa Darwish.

Less than two weeks after the fifth anniversary of the January 25 revolution, Egypt is not showing any signs of improvement in its treatment of human rights advocates. On the evening of January 31, security forces raided the workplace of satirist and cartoonist Islam Gawish.

Islam is a prominent cartoonist whose work had been featured in many media outlets. His satirical material is mostly related to social phenomena and rarely involves politics. The 26-year-old, who publishes his cartoons on a Facebook page called Elwarka, which has 1.75 million followers, was arrested after his workplace was raided by police, as reported by albidaiah:

وأوضح المصدر، في اتصال مع «البداية»، أنه جاري حاليا تحرير محضر ضد رسام الكاريكاتير بتهم إدارة موقع «أخبار مصر» بدون ترخيص، وإدارة صفحة «ورقة» بدون ترخيص، وبث بيانات على شبكة الانترنت على غير الحقيقة، وبدون الحصول على إذن من وزارة الاتصالات بالمخالفة لقانون الاتصالات 10 لسنة 2003، وحيازة برامج مقلدة ومنسوخة، بالمخالفة لقانون 82 لسنة 2002، وعرضه على النيابة.

ومن جانبه، قال محمد الزيات، زميل إسلام جاويش، في تصريحات لـ«البداية» إن قوة من مباحث المصنفات اقتحمت شركة أيجيبشن نتورك لتكنولوجيا المعلومات بأبراج الشرطة بمدينة نصر وقبضوا على إسلام.

A source clarified to albidaiah that Islam is now being charged with operating the website “Egypt News” without a license, running “Elwarka” [his cartoon Facebook page] without a license, publishing false news on the Internet and publishing news without a license from the Ministry of Telecommunications in violation of Communications Law no. 10 of 2003, and using unlicensed software in violation of law 82 of 2002. He will be referred to the Public Prosecution. Islam's workmate Mohamed Alzayat told elbidaiah that a group of the intelligence officials stormed the Egyptians Network Technology offices in Nasr city and arrested Islam.

There are almost 27 million Facebook users in Egypt and we can't confirm how many of them are licensed, since there isn't a public announcement that they should be, how to get this license or where to get it from. That has not slipped the minds of other satirists though as comical account hantarisha tweeted this Photoshopped photograph of his “Tweeting License,” which allows him to use the Internet:

The Tweeting license

The Tweeting license

Thank God I have a license
[Photoshopped image says: licensed to change the avatar and tweet no more than 6 political tweets a day]

Cartoonists were quick to respond to their mate being arrested, offering solidarity on social media. Among the news being circulated while Gawish was being held is that he was arrested for making fun of Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi in his cartoons – charges mentioned to Gawish when he was arrested but then dropped after the backlash his arrest created on social media.

Journalist Hossam Alsokari hits back on Facebook sharing cartoons by other cartoonists who reacted to Gawish's arrest by drawing even more cartoons featuring El Sisi.

‫#‏نصيحة‬.. إغلط في أي حد بس تجنب رسامي الكاريكاتير..
شارك بوضع رسوم أو روابط في التعليقات وسيتم تحديث البوست دوريا
(رسم أنديل من مدى مصر، وعبده البرماوي وهشام رحمة ومهاب من زائد 18، وأيضا صورة عمرو نوهان الذي حوكم عسكريا وحوكم عليه بالسجني سنتين)

Public Service Announcement: You can mess with anyone but cartoonists. Attached are cartoons by Andeel from Mada Masr, Abda Elbermawi, Hesham Rahma and Mohab from Plus 18. Also the picture made by Amr Nohan [featuring President Sisi wearing Mickey Mouse ears], who was tried in a military court and sentenced to two years.

Cartoon by Andeel from Mada Masr. The cartoon shows Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi covering his face and saying: "I don't like to be drawn." The comment below reads: "Islam Gawish was arrested and accused of drawing the president."

Cartoon by Andeel from Mada Masr. The cartoon shows Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi covering his face and saying: “I don't like to be drawn.” The comment below reads: “Islam Gawish was arrested and accused of drawing the president.”

Cartoon by Hisham Rahma, which also features El Sisi. The caption reads: "Ban all laughter!"

Cartoon by Hisham Rahma, which also features El Sisi. The caption reads: “Ban all laughter!”

Egyptian Facebook user Amr Nohan was sentenced to three years in prison by a military court for adding Mickey Mouse ears to President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s image.

Islam's arrest brought prominent activists to Twitter, the satirists and recently Emmy awards host Bassem Youssef tweeted:

if Islam had embezzled 37 million they would have already been reconciling with him and sending him back home. Enough is enough.

. . .

— AlyaaGad AfhamTVأفهم (@AlyaaGad) January 31, 2016

Islam Gawish is trending worldwide

After being interrogated and questioned by the Pubic Prosecution, Gawish was released and all charges were dropped. On his Facebook page, the cartoonist pledges to continue doing what he loves doing most – drawing cartoons:

عمومًا هفضل أرسم أفكاري.. مش هأبطل رسم، وهكمل اللي أنا حابه وهفضل شغال فيه، وأنا لا بطبّل لحد ولا بشتم حد، ولا منحاز فكريًا لحد وليا أرائي سواء الفكرية أو السياسية الخاصة، ولا متطرف في الحوار ولا بدعي البطولة والمثالية
وبشكركم جميعًا..

I will continue drawing my ideas. I will not stop drawing. And I will continue doing what I like and continue working in this direction. I am not cheering for anyone, nor am I insulting anyone. And I am not biased to anyone. I have my own opinions, whether intellectual or political and I am not extremist in my ideas and don't claim to be a hero and a role model. Thank you all.

Via Global Voices

contributors <![CDATA[The Costs That Come With Russia’s Gains In Syria]]> 2016-02-13T05:42:16Z 2016-02-13T05:42:16Z Charles Recknagel | ( RFE/RL | – –

With Russia's monthslong air campaign in Syria now focused on a key rebel stronghold, Moscow can claim success in putting its stamp on the conflict and strengthening the hand of its ally, President Bashar al-Assad.

Concentrated on the northern province of Aleppo, the bombing campaign launched in late September after Assad's military suffered a string of defeats has significantly boosted Damascus's negotiating position for peace talks.

But the advancements made by Russia and Syria come with high costs. 

Rebellion Is Reeling

With Russian air support, as well as reinforcements from Lebanese and Iranian Shi'ite militias, Damascus has clawed back much of the territory it lost and gone firmly on the offensive.

Now, with Assad's troops progressively encircling Aleppo, Damascus could be on the verge of its biggest victory yet.

"Should the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the start of the uprising in 2011," Emile Hokaymen, senior fellow for Middle East security at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), wrote in Foreign Policy magazine recently.

This not only puts rebel forces on their back foot, but give the Assad regime military momentum that will be hard for outside actors backing Syrian rebels to reverse.

"Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the rebellion's main supporters, are now bereft of options," observes Hokaymen. He says neither country appears willing to give rebels antiaircraft missiles out of fear of Russian punitive actions, leaving the rebels without cover from further air assaults.

Peace-Talk Script Rewritten

The redrawing of the Syrian battlefield likely means it will be the opposition, not the regime, that feels the greatest need to negotiate a peace.

That is clearly not the result envisioned by the various forces fighting Assad, or their outside supporters, just a few short months ago. 


With intra-Syrian peace talks still a possibility, world powers managed to agree to the need for a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria following talks on February 11. The move could be seen as a positive for the holding of peace talks, which were suspended in early February as Russia's air campaign intensified even as negotiators were assembled in Geneva, and the main Syrian opposition coalition welcomed the announcement. 

But the cease-fire agreed in Munich by the 17-member International Syria Support Group, which would go into effect in mid-February, would not halt Russia's bombing of what it considers terrorist targets in Aleppo.

In effect, Russia is bombing Assad's enemies into a corner.

"I think [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry has delivered a very clear message to the opposition that the negotiation room is where they can achieve the most, given the Russian intervention," says Ayham Kamel, Middle East and North Africa director at Eurasia Group in London.

A video grab allegedly shows a Russian air strike in Syria's Latakia Province.

A video grab allegedly shows a Russian air strike in Syria's Latakia Province.

The challenge for the West will be to still broker a peace in Syria that leads to an elected representative government and the departure of Assad from power. But how and when that happens could now hinge largely on Moscow's readiness to force Damascus to make concessions in the interest of stabilizing the country.

"This is what we are heading towards, a deal in which Russia has influence, cements its presence in the Mideast, preserves the interest of its allies, but also forces them to compromise," says Kamel.

Partnership Prospects Take A Hit

Moscow's role as deal-broker will not come cost free, however. Russia's unilateral actions in Syria add to an already very mixed assessment in the West of whether it can be a reliable partner in solving global crises — a role that President Vladimir Putin has pushed often as a counterweight to the world's negative reaction to his interference in Ukraine. 

Russia's notable contributions to the deal struck between world powers and Tehran to end the Iran nuclear crisis gave some traction to the idea that Moscow could help, rather than hinder, international efforts against terrorism and drug trafficking.

But Moscow's decision to carry out air strikes during the UN-brokered peace talks that opened in Geneva last month was roundly criticized by Western diplomats, straining the already tenuous faith in Russia as a potential partner.

The cease-fire agreed in Munich on February 11 did little to assuage concerns. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both took a cautious approach in assessing the agreement, which the BBC quoted some diplomats as saying was "not worth the paper it's printed on."

Those diplomats, no doubt, were well aware of Russia's response to calls by the UN Security Council just a day earlier to halt its bombing around Aleppo. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, in rejecting the idea, labeled it an effort to exploit the humanitarian crisis in Syria for political purposes.

The reluctance to stop concentrating on Aleppo strengthens long-standing doubts about Russia's stated reason of getting involved in Syria — fighting the Islamic State extremist group.

If that is Moscow's true intention, the West has argued, then Moscow should stop bombing rebel-held areas of cities and direct its fire toward IS extremists. 

As recently as February 3, the United States said Russian forces do not attack IS unless its fighters are battling Assad's troops, and that only some 10 percent of Russia's air strikes so far have targeted the extremist group.

The prospect of Assad retaking Aleppo with Russia's help would not only add to the questions about Moscow's intentions, it has led to worries that the Islamic State or Al-Qaeda-linked militants could benefit, and regional stability could suffer further.

An unexploded cluster bomblet is seen along a street after air strikes by pro-Syrian forces in the rebel held town of al-Ghariyah al-Gharbiyah in Deraa Province on February 11.2016

An unexploded cluster bomblet is seen along a street after air strikes by pro-Syrian forces in the rebel held town of al-Ghariyah al-Gharbiyah in Deraa Province on February 11.2016

"The now plausible rebel collapse in the Aleppo region could send thousands of fighters dejected by their apparent abandonment into the arms of Nusra or IS," warns Hokaymen of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

High Human Cost

The ongoing campaign around Aleppo has caused tens of thousands of people to flee the city for the Turkish border. The exodus has added to the Syrian refugee crisis that already has seen 4.5 million people flee to neighboring countries and Egypt. Since last year, thousands have moved on further to seek refuge in Europe, helping fuel the migrant crisis there.

No certain statistics are available for how many civilians have died in Syria as a result of the intense Russian bombardment of populated areas held by anti-Assad rebels. But in January a Britain-based independent monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, put the civilian death toll from Russian air strikes since September at 1,015. It said 238 of those killed were children. 

Some of the deaths have come with the use of internationally banned weapons.

Human Rights Watch reported on February 8 that joint Russian-Syrian Army operations over the past two weeks used cluster bombs in at least 14 attacks, killing at least 37 civilians. Because of their indiscriminate impact, cluster munitions are banned under an international convention that went into effect in 2010.

The Russian military previously has denied it has cluster munitions in Syria.


Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

contributors <![CDATA[Do Latinos really view Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as their Leaders?]]> 2016-02-13T06:33:43Z 2016-02-13T05:19:53Z By Adriana Maestas | TeleSur | – –

The problem with promoting Cruz and Rubio as “Latino leaders” is that they have turned their backs on the Latino community with their policy positions.

In the primary race for the Republican nomination for the president, it was noted that in the Iowa caucuses Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida placed first and third respectively with both earning over half of the Iowa GOP caucus goers’ support. This week in New Hampshire, Cruz placed second and Rubio came in a disappointing fifth place. Yet, there has been some speculation that the first Latino president or vice president could be a Republican, and in La Opinión, one of the oldest Spanish language daily papers in the U.S., there was a piece titled, “Why don’t we celebrate Cruz’s victory in Iowa?”

The problem with promoting Cruz and Rubio as “Latino leaders” is that they have fundamentally turned their backs on the Latino community with their policy positions. For instance, Cruz has said that he would triple the border patrol, put in place a biometric identifying system, and deport “criminal, illegal aliens.” Rubio has turned his back on the immigration bill that he co-sponsored in 2013, which would have given a pathway to citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants. Rubio, like Cruz, has also called for more immigration enforcement even though the Obama administration has set records for deportations. For children of immigrants, these candidates have effectively distanced themselves from the immigrant community, of which Latinos constitute a large percentage.

When it comes to issues other than immigration, Cruz and Rubio have consistently remained to the right of the larger Latino community in the U.S. Both candidates have campaigned against Obamacare, the President’s signature health care law that has given the Latino community the largest gains in insurance coverage since enrollment in the program began in 2013. Latinos have been supportive of raising the minimum wage with 84 percent indicating that it should be increased to $10.10 an hour. Both Cruz and Rubio voted against a proposal to raise the minimum wage in 2014.

And beyond policy, Cruz has never identified as a Latino. Born Rafael Edward Cruz to an Irish-American mother and Cuban father, and known as a child by the nickname ‘Felito,’ Cruz opted to be called Ted when he was 13. On the other hand, Rubio has been more apt to bring up his parents’ immigration story and speak in Spanish on the campaign trail, but his Latinidad is rooted in his Cuban heritage and shaped by representing Florida, a state where 31 percent of Latinos identify as Cuban and 27 percent of Latinos identify as Puerto Rican. About a quarter of Florida’s population is Latino.

The majority group that falls under the “Latino umbrella” in the U.S. is Mexican-American or Chicano. People of Mexican origin are nearly two-thirds of the Latino population in the U.S., and a majority of Mexican-Americans live in the Western states. Only 3.7 percent of Latinos in all of the U.S. are of Cuban origin.

Mexicans do not enjoy the special immigration privileges that Cubans do, despite sharing a border with the U.S. Under the “wet feet, dry feet” policy, Cubans are not subject to deportation once they arrive on U.S. soil, whereas Mexicans migrating to the U.S. to escape poverty or drug war violence without documentation are subject to removal by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  

Some Mexican Americans can trace their ancestry in the U.S. to a time when the Southwestern states belonged to Mexico, which means that their roots in this country pre-date those of both Cruz and Rubio.

When pundits and the political establishment assume that because Cruz and Rubio share Spanish surnames and can be classified as Latino, it cannot be taken for granted that people of Mexican descent view them as members of their community. Furthermore, many Mexicans call themselves Chicano, rejecting the government label of Hispanic or the preferred term in the media, Latino. The term “Chicano” comes from the word Mexica, the name for the Indigenous people of Mexico who inhabited the region prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Chicano acknowledges the Indigenous ancestry of Mexicans. In addition, Chicano is often considered a term of self-determination and recalls the struggles of the Chicano movement in the 1960s and 1970s when this community was fighting against police brutality, protesting the war in Vietnam, and demanding that their history be taught in schools. Cruz and Rubio have done nothing to acknowledge the history of the Chicano movement or the political battles fought by members of the largest group of Latinos in the U.S.

It might be convenient for the political establishment and the media to portray Cruz and Rubio as Latino leaders. However, the majority of people who are classified under this label largely reject both candidates and the policies that they promote. When Cruz and Rubio are advanced as Latino leaders, it sets Mexican-Americans up to be represented by candidates who do not share their history and current struggle. Politically conscious Chicanos will not go along with the staging of Cruz and Rubio as members of their community in this election cycle because these candidates have never shown solidarity with them, nor are they signaling in their campaign rhetoric that they are inclined to in the future.

Via TeleSur


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN from last month: “Marco Rubio attacks Ted Cruz’s voting record”

contributors <![CDATA[Israel: Former official Labeled Traitor for backing Vets Denouncing Occupation]]> 2016-02-13T05:01:08Z 2016-02-13T05:01:27Z By IMEMC | – –

Former Israeli FM Director Vilified for Support of “Breaking the Silence”

Attendees of an Israeli Knesset Education Committee meeting, on Tuesday, called for the dismissal of former Foreign Ministry director Alon Liel, after the official criticized the Israeli right and supported efforts to end Israel’s ongoing military occupation.

Liel, also a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, initially came under fire in January after video footage reportedly revealed him in a meeting with members of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization which documents testimonies of Israeli soldiers regarding their time in service.

The recording aired Leil’s support of the group’s efforts to increase international pressure on Israel, citing such pressure as necessary because Israel’s “political system is lost.”

The ex-diplomat also praised members of Breaking the Silence as ”the most moral, wisest people who… were not brainwashed by right-wing messianic propaganda.”



Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT: “‘Breaking the Silence’: IDF whistleblowers expose reality of occupation to Israelis”

Nicholas Kolenda <![CDATA[A Bizarre Argument From a Conservative Israeli Lawmaker Against Palestinian Statehood]]> 2016-02-12T19:06:46Z 2016-02-12T18:00:18Z AJ+ | (Video report) | – –

Anat Berko, a conservative member of the Israeli Knesset, said there could be no Palestine because there’s no letter “P” in Arabic. She made the comments during a debate in parliament about the two-state solution.

AJ+: “There’s No ‘P’ In Palestine So It Shouldn’t Exist Says Israeli Lawmaker”

Juan Cole <![CDATA[Clinton and Sanders on Mideast War and Kissinger’s Legacy (PBS Debate)]]> 2016-02-12T08:41:00Z 2016-02-12T08:34:59Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Both the Middle East conflicts and the ghost of the Vietnam War haunted the PBS Democratic debate Thursday evening. Vietnam was symbolized by Henry Kissinger, former Nixon National Security Adviser (1968-1975) and Secretary of State for Nixon and Gerald Ford (1973-77).

In the last Democratic debate, Sec. Clinton had boasted openly of her close relationship to Kissinger. Last night, Sanders used that relationship to critique Clinton as a warmonger:

“I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend. I will not take advice from Henry Kissinger. And in fact, Kissinger’s actions in Cambodia, when the United States bombed that country, overthrew Prince Sihanouk, created the instability for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to come in, who then butchered some 3 million innocent people, one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. So count me in as somebody who will not be listening to Henry Kissinger.”

Sanders deploys Kissinger as a symbol of war and aggression, blaming him for the Nixon administration decision to widen the Vietnam War to Cambodia, and for the subsequent Khmer Rouge genocide. By tying him to Sec. Clinton, Sanders is hoping to depict her as an inveterate war monger in he arena of Public consciousness.

Clinton did not reply effectively, resorting instead to saying that as secretary of State you listen to all kinds of people.

Sanders continued the ‘warmonger’ tack:

“Now I think an area in kind of a vague way, or not so vague, where Secretary Clinton and I disagree is the area of regime change. Look, the truth is that a powerful nation like the United States, certainly working with our allies, we can overthrow dictators all over the world.

And God only knows Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator. We could overthrow Assad tomorrow if we wanted to. We got rid of Gadhafi. But the point about foreign policy is not just to know that you can overthrow a terrible dictator, it’s to understand what happens the day after.

And in Libya, for example, the United States, Secretary Clinton, as secretary of state, working with some other countries, did get rid of a terrible dictator named Gadhafi. But what happened is a political vacuum developed. ISIS came in, and now occupies significant territory in Libya, and is now prepared, unless we stop them, to have a terrorist foothold.”

Sanders even went back to the CIA overthrow of the Iranian nationalist prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953.

This time, Clinton was a little better prepared, claiming that Sanders’s voting record reveals that he was less consistently anti-war than he now maintains:

“CLINTON: If I could just respond. Two points. One, Senator Sanders voted in 1998 on what I think is fair to call a regime change resolution with respect to Iraq, calling for the end of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

He voted in favor of regime change with Libya, voted in favor of the Security Council being an active participate in setting the parameters for what we would do, which of course we followed through on.

Clinton also defended herself from the charge of lacking political judgment by saying that she was among those who urged President Obama to send a Navy Seals team in after Osama Bin Laden. She thus recovered from he charge of serial interventionism by instancing a positive intervention.

On Syria, Sanders continued to urge a rapprochement with Iran, and Clinton attacked him on that point.

The focus was not in fact on Syria but on Iran. Clinton is making a play for older more conservative voters, whether Jewish or Gentile, who are wealthy enough to give substantial donations to her PACs. Sanders feels as though he doesn’t need those money men since he has a wide grassroots donor base.

Sanders argued that Iran could gradually be brought in to a better relationship with the US, just as Cuba had been. He thus turned the table on Clinton, since she couldn’t strongly denounce either principle without attacking President Obama, who is very popular with South Carolina African-Americans. The two candidates are vying for the African-American vote there, which is 56% of the Democratic vote.

That is the way that Kissinger hung over the debate on the modern Middle East. Kissinger is an exemplar of Realism, an amoral approach to foreign policy, seeking to uphold US interests without reference to ethics.

Clinton uses Kissinger as a way of underlining her ability to talk to Republicans and to avoid petty boycotting of others.

Bernie came close to accusing her of hanging out with war criminals.


Related video:

PBS: “Sanders calls out Clinton on taking advice from Henry Kissinger”

contributors <![CDATA[Is our Military-Industrial Complex a Fat Spoiled Brat?]]> 2016-02-12T08:37:04Z 2016-02-12T06:13:29Z By William J. Astore | ( | – –

The word “affluenza” is much in vogue. Lately, it’s been linked to a Texas teenager, Ethan Couch, who in 2013 killed four people in a car accident while driving drunk. During the trial, a defense witness argued that Couch should not be held responsible for his destructive acts. His parents had showered him with so much money and praise that he was completely self-centered; he was, in other words, a victim of affluenza, overwhelmed by a sense of entitlement that rendered him incapable of distinguishing right from wrong. Indeed, the judge at his trial sentenced him only to probation, not jail, despite the deaths of those four innocents.

Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, VA h/t Wikipedia

Experts quickly dismissed “affluenza” as a false diagnosis, a form of quackery, and indeed the condition is not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association. Yet the word caught on big time, perhaps because it speaks to something in the human condition, and it got me to thinking. During Ethan Couch’s destructive lifetime, has there been an American institution similarly showered with money and praise that has been responsible for the deaths of innocents and inadequately called to account? Is there one that suffers from the institutional version of affluenza (however fuzzy or imprecise that word may be) so much that it has had immense difficulty shouldering the blame for its failures and wrongdoing?

The answer is hidden in plain sight: the U.S. military. Unlike Couch, however, that military has never faced trial or probation; it hasn’t felt the need to abscond to Mexico or been forcibly returned to the homeland to face the music.

Spoiling the Pentagon

First, a caveat. When I talk about spoiling the Pentagon, I’m not talking about your brother or daughter or best friend who serves honorably. Anyone who’s braving enemy fire while humping mountains in Afghanistan or choking on sand in Iraq is not spoiled.

I’m talking about the U.S. military as an institution. Think of the Pentagon and the top brass; think of Dwight Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex; think of the national security state with all its tentacles of power. Focus on those and maybe you’ll come to agree with my affluenza diagnosis.

Let’s begin with one aspect of that affliction: unbridled praise. In last month’s State of the Union address, President Obama repeated a phrase that’s become standard in American political discourse, as common as asking God to bless America. The U.S. military, he said, is the “finest fighting force in the history of the world.”

Such hyperbole is nothing new. Five years ago, in response to similar presidential statements, I argued that many war-like peoples, including the imperial Roman legions and Genghis Khan’s Mongol horsemen, held far better claims to the “best ever” Warrior Bowl trophy. Nonetheless, the over-the-top claims never cease. Upon being introduced by President Obama as his next nominee for secretary of defense in December 2014, for instance, Ash Carter promptly praised the military he was going to oversee as “the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.” His words echoed those of the president, who had claimed the previous August that it was “the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in human history.” Similar hosannas (“the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”) had once been sprinkled liberally through George W. Bush’s speeches and comments, as well as those of other politicians since 9/11.

In fact, from the president to all those citizens who feel obliged in a way Americans never have before to “thank” the troops endlessly for their efforts, no other institution has been so universally applauded since 9/11. No one should be shocked then that, in polls, Americans regularly claim to trust the military leadership above any other crew around, including scientists, doctors, ministers, priests, and — no surprise — Congress.

Imagine parents endlessly praising their son as “the smartest, handsomest, most athletically gifted boy since God created Adam.” We’d conclude that they were thoroughly obnoxious, if not a bit unhinged. Yet the military remains just this sort of favored son, the country’s golden child. And to the golden child go the spoils.

Along with unbridled praise, consider the “allowance” the American people regularly offer the Pentagon. If this were an “affluenza” family unit, while mom and dad might be happily driving late-model his and her Audis, the favored son would be driving a spanking new Ferrari. Add up what the federal government spends on “defense,” “homeland security,” “overseas contingency operations” (wars), nuclear weapons, and intelligence and surveillance operations, and the Ferraris that belong to the Pentagon and its national security state pals are vrooming along at more than $750 billion dollars annually, or two-thirds of the government’s discretionary spending. That’s quite an allowance for “our boy”!

To cite a point of comparison, in 2015, federal funding for the departments of education, interior, and transportation maxed out at $95 billion — combined! Not only is the military our favored son by a country mile: it’s our Prodigal Son, and nothing satisfies “him.” He’s still asking for more (and his Republican uncles are clearly ready to turn over to him whatever’s left of the family savings, lock, stock, and barrel).

On the other hand, like any spoiled kid, the Defense Department sees even the most modest suggested cuts in its allowance as a form of betrayal. Witness the whining of both those Pentagon officials and military officers testifying before Congressional committees and of empathetic committee members themselves. Minimalist cuts to the soaring Pentagon budget are, it seems, defanging the military and recklessly endangering American security vis-a-vis the exaggerated threats of the day: ISIS, China, and Russia. In fact, the real “threat” is clearly that the Pentagon’s congressional “parents” might someday cut down on its privileges and toys, as well as its free rein to do more or less as it pleases.

With respect to those privileges, enormous budgets drive an unimaginably top-heavy bureaucracy at the Pentagon. Since 9/11, Congressional authorizations of three- and four-star generals and admirals have multiplied twice as fast as their one- and two-star colleagues. Too many generals are chasing too few combat billets, contributing to backstabbing and butt-kissing. Indeed, despite indifferent records in combat, generals wear uniforms bursting with badges and ribbons, resembling the ostentatious displays of former Soviet premiers — or field marshals in the fictional Ruritarian guards.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of brass in turn drives budgets higher. Even with recent modest declines (due to the official end of major combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. defense budget exceeds the combined military budgets of at least the next seven highest spenders. (President Obama proudly claims that it’s the next eight.) Four of those countries — France, Germany, Great Britain, and Saudi Arabia — are U.S. allies; China and Russia, the only rivals on the list, spend far less than the United States.

With respect to its toys, the military and its enablers in Congress can never get enough or at a high enough price. The most popular of these, at present, is the under-performing new F-35 jet fighter, projected to cost $1.5 trillion (yes, you read that right) over its lifetime, making it the most expensive weapons system in history. Another trillion dollars is projected over the next 30 years for “modernizing” the U.S. nuclear arsenal (this from a president who, as a candidate, spoke of eliminating nuclear weapons). The projected acquisition cost for a new advanced Air Force bomber is already $100 billion (before the cost overruns even begin).  The list goes on, but you catch the drift.

A Spoiled Pentagon Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry

To complete our affluenza diagnosis, let’s add one more factor to boundless praise and a bountiful allowance: a total inability to take responsibility for one’s actions. This is, of course, the most repellent part of the Ethan Couch affluenza defense: the idea that he shouldn’t be held responsible precisely because he was so favored.

Think, then, of the Pentagon and the military as Couch writ large. No matter their mistakes, profligate expenditures, even crimes, neither institution is held accountable for anything.

Consider these facts: Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya are quagmires. The Islamic State is spreading. Foreign armies, trained and equipped at enormous expense by the U.S. military, continue to evaporate. A hospital, clearly identifiable as such, is destroyed “by accident.” Wedding parties are wiped out “by mistake.” Torture (a war crime) is committed in the field. Detainees are abused. And which senior leaders have been held accountable for any of this in any way? With the notable exception of Brigadier General Janis Karpinski of Abu Ghraib infamy, not a one.

After lengthy investigations, the Pentagon will occasionally hold accountable a few individuals who pulled the triggers or dropped the bombs or abused the prisoners. Meanwhile, the generals and the top civilians in the Pentagon who made it all possible are immunized from either responsibility or penalty of any sort. This is precisely why Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling memorably wrote in 2007 that, in the U.S. military, “a private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.” In fact, no matter what that military doesn’t accomplish, no matter how lacking its ultimate performance in the field, it keeps getting more money, resources, praise.

When it comes to such subjects, consider the Republican presidential debate in Iowa on January 28th. Jeb Bush led the rhetorical charge by claiming that President Obama was “gutting” the military. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio eagerly agreed, insisting that a “dramatically degraded” military had to be rebuilt. All the Republican candidates (Rand Paul excepted) piled on, calling for major increases in defense spending as well as looser “rules of engagement” in the field to empower local commanders to take the fight to the enemy. America’s “warfighters,” more than one candidate claimed, are fighting with one arm tied behind their backs, thanks to knots tightened by government lawyers. The final twist that supposedly tied the military up in a giant knot was, so they claim, applied by that lawyer-in-chief, Barack Obama himself.

Interestingly, there has been no talk of our burgeoning national debt, which former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen once identified as the biggest threat facing America. When asked during the debate which specific federal programs he would cut to reduce the deficit, Chris Christie came up with only one, Planned Parenthood, which at $500 million a year is the equivalent of two F-35 jet fighters. (The military wants to buy more than 2,000 of them.)

Throwing yet more money at a spoiled military is precisely the worst thing we as “parents” can do. In this, we should resort to the fiscal wisdom of Army Major General Gerald Sajer, the son of a Pennsylvania coal miner killed in the mines, a Korean War veteran and former Adjutant General of Pennsylvania. When his senior commanders pleaded for more money (during the leaner budget years before 9/11) to accomplish the tasks he had assigned them, General Sajer’s retort was simple: “We’re out of money; now we have to think.”

Accountability Is Everything

It’s high time to force the Pentagon to think. Yet when it comes to our relationship with the military, too many of us have acted like Ethan Couch’s mother. Out of a twisted sense of love or loyalty, she sought to shelter her son from his day of reckoning. But we know better. We know her son has to face the music.

Something similar is true of our relationship to the U.S. military. An institutional report card with so many deficits and failures, a record of deportment that has led to death and mayhem, should not be ignored. The military must be called to account.

How? By cutting its allowance. (That should make the brass sit up and take notice, perhaps even think.) By holding senior leaders accountable for mistakes. And by cutting the easy praise. Our military commanders know that they are not leading the finest fighting force since the dawn of history and it’s time our political leaders and the rest of us acknowledged that as well.

William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), is a TomDispatch regular. He blogs at Bracing Views.

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Copyright 2016 William J. Astore