Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion 2016-09-28T05:41:42Z http://www.juancole.com/feed/atom WordPress Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[RIP Shimon Peres: Last Great Israeli leader to believe in 2 State solution]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163589 2016-09-28T05:41:42Z 2016-09-28T05:41:42Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

I met an emperor once, but have only met a couple of presidents. Shimon Peres (1923-2016) was one. I met him briefly in the Green Room when doing an interview with Charlie Rose.

The Polish-born Peres made his best impression on me with his support for the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995. Had this peace process succeeded, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might have been settled once and for all, with incredibly positive benefits for Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Israel and the United States. One key argument for terrorism against the US, that it is helping crush the stateless Palestinians, would have evaporated.

I know all the critiques of Oslo– that it essentially made the PLO into a policeman providing security to Israel. But it did also aim to halt and reverse the colonization process on Occupied Palestinian territory, and in my view the Palestinians were more likely to succeed if they had any kind of a state. Peres was willing to give them that. The stateless do not even have the right to have rights.

Make no mistake, Peres was a hard line Israeli nationalist, and had viewed Palestinian nationalism as a dire enemy. He had helped get arms for the Jewish community to prosecute the 1947-48 war, during which Israel won its independence but ethnically cleansed some 740,000 Palestinians. He later served as minister of defense. He played a sinister role in proliferating nuclear arms to Israel.

But he was also a dedicated Socialist and at one point headed the Socialist International, and that stance gave him an appreciation of the need for human rights for all human beings.

After the first Palestinian uprising or Intifada of 1987-1991, he and Yitzhak Rabin became convinced that it was implausible for Israel permanently to annex Palestinian land while keeping Palestinians themselves stateless. Peres was then foreign minister, and it took guts for him to meet with his old enemy, Yasir Arafat, to prepare for a peace process.

I remember an interview Peres gave at that time, in which he ascribed his willingness to try to achieve an epochal change in the stagnant Mideast situation. He said he had read a lot of Buddhist thought, and it came to him that nothing is permanent. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he thought, is ephemeral. It would come to an end. He implied that he concluded that it might as well end sooner than later.

That’s about the coolest thing a sitting politician has ever said.

Again, I’m not naive. He could be paternalistic toward the Palestinians and chauvinist about Israel, and, indeed, pushed Israeli propaganda in the US relentlessly. But it is hard to fault a man for being a dedicated patriot. When push came to shove, he put everything on the line to try to make peace. He was viciously attacked and lambasted as a traitor and a fool by the Israeli right wing, which has now taken complete control of the government.

His friend and colleague, Yitzhak Rabin, who as prime minister signed off on the Oslo Accords, was brutally murdered by the Israeli far Right, and the Israeli Right in general bears responsibility, what with all its talk of treason (traitors are executed, no?). Peres risked the same fate.

Binyamin Netanyahu thought peace with the Palestinians and giving up the West Bank were stupid ideas and he vowed to annihilate the Oslo Accords so as to assure the future of Israeli colonization of Palestinian land. He ran against Peres for the position of prime minister and won. He succeeded in his plot to derail the peace process.

In 2013, when Peres was ceremonial president and Netanyahu was prime minister, Peres broke protocol to criticize Netanyahu for continuing to say he couldn’t make peace because he had no Palestinian partner. He said that he’d known Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas for 30 years and knew that he was a peace partner. There is no Israeli left of any stature who would talk like that today.

Peres was the last decent man to rise high in Israeli politics. His removal from the scene leaves the management of the Israeli government to racists, warmongers, war criminals, ethnic cleansers, militant colonizers, and generally arrogant pricks and insufferable douchebags. They are smartly marching us toward a dangerous blow-up that Peres would have averted if they hadn’t marginalized him.

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Related video:

AP: ” Former Israeli President Shimon Peres Dead at 93″

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contributors <![CDATA[If Spec Ops are the future of the US Military, it isn’t Winning many Wars]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163585 2016-09-28T04:16:00Z 2016-09-28T04:16:00Z By Nick Turse | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

Americans expect to be number one.  First Lady Michelle Obama recently called the United States the “greatest country on Earth.” (Take that, world public opinion, and your choice of Germany!) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton went even further, touting America as “the greatest country that has ever been created.”  Her rival, Donald Trump, who for political gain badmouths the country that made him rich and famous, does so in the hope of returning America to supposedly halcyon days of unparalleled greatness.  He’s predicted that his presidency might lead to an actual winning overload.  “We’re going to win so much,” he told supporters.  “You’re going to get tired of winning. You’re going to say, ‘Please, Mr. President… don’t win so much’… And I’m going to say, ‘No, we have to make America great again… We’re gonna keep winning.’” 

As Trump well knows, Americans take winning very seriously.  Look no further than the U.S. gold medal count at the recent Rio Olympics: 46. The next highest total?  Great Britain’s 27, almost 20 fewer than those of the country whose upstart rebels bested them in the eighteenth century, the nation’s ur-victory.  The young United States then beat back the Brits in the early 1800s, and twice bailed them out in victorious world wars during the twentieth century.     

In the intervening years, the U.S. built up a gaudy military record — slaughtering native tribes, punishing Mexico, pummeling Spain — but the best was yet to come.  “Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” boasted President Barack Obama in this year’s State of the Union address.  In this he echoed his predecessor, George W. Bush, who, in May 2001, declared that “America today has the finest [military] the world has ever seen.”

In the years between those two moments of high-flown rhetoric, the United States military fought in nine conflicts, according to a 2015 briefing produced by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), the umbrella organization for America’s most elite forces including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets.  The record of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world, according to SOCOM: zero wins, two losses, and seven ties.

This dismal record is catalogued in a briefing slide produced by SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate last September and obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act.  “A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — a timeline of conflicts ranked as wins, losses, and ties — examines the last 100 years of America’s wars and interventions. 

“Gray zone” is an increasingly popular term of the trade for operations conducted somewhere on the continuum between war and peace.  “Traditional war is the paradigm,” the briefing slide asserts.  “Gray zone conflict is the norm.”

While he finds a great deal to fault in SOCOM’s analysis, retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, believes its assessment of post-9/11 conflicts “is quite accurate.”  Although American politicians like Hillary Clinton regularly insist that the U.S. possesses “the greatest military” on the planet, they avoid addressing the question of what the country’s armed interventions have actually accomplished when it comes to policy goals — the true measure of success in war.  “We have not shown an ability to achieve our stated political aims in a conclusive way at an acceptable cost,” Bacevich says.  “That’s simply a fact.”


“A Century of War and Gray Zone Challenges” — A September 2015 briefing slide produced by the Intelligence Directorate of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

CLICK TO ENLARGE

The Greatest Journeyman Military in History?

Twelve wins and nine losses.  In baseball, it’s the annual record of a journeyman pitcher like Bill Caudill of the Seattle Mariners in 1982, Dave LaPoint of the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1983, or Norm Charlton of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, to mention just three examples.  It’s certainly not the record of an ace.

Likewise, 12 victories and nine losses is a far-from-dazzling stat when it comes to warfare, especially for a nation that prides itself on its martial prowess.   But that was the SOCOM Intelligence Directorate’s assessment of the last century of American war: 12 and 9 with a mind-boggling 43 “ties.” 

Among those 64 conflicts, the command counts just five full-fledged wars in which the U.S. has come up with three wins (World War I, World War II, and Desert Storm), one loss (Vietnam), and one tie (Korea).  In the gray zone — what SOCOM calls “the norm” when it comes to conflict — the record is far bleaker, the barest of winning percentages at 9 victories, 8 losses, and 42 draws. 

“If you accept the terms of analysis, that things can be reduced to win, loss, and tie, then this record is not very good,” Bacevich says.  “While there aren’t many losses — according to how they code — there’s a hell of a lot of ties, which would beg the question of why, based on these criteria, U.S. policy has seemingly been so ineffective.”

The assessments of, and in some instances the very inclusion of, numerous operations, missions, and interventions by SOCOM are dubious.  Bacevich, for example, questions its decision to include pre-World War II U.S. military missions in China (a draw according to the command).  “I don’t know on what basis one would say ‘China, 1912 to 1941’ qualifies as a tie,” he adds, noting on the other hand that a good case could be made for classifying two of SOCOM’S gray zone “ties” — in Haiti and Nicaragua — during the same era as wins instead of draws based on the achievement of policy aims alone.   

It’s even harder to imagine why, for example, limited assistance to Chad in its conflict with Libya and indigenous rebels in 1983 or military assistance in evacuating U.S. personnel from Albania in 1997 should make the list.  Meanwhile, America’s so-called longest war, in Afghanistan, inexplicably ends in 2014 on SOCOM’S timeline.  (That was, of course, the year that the Obama administration formally ended the “combat mission” in that country, but it would assuredly be news to the 8,400 troops, including special operators, still conducting missions there today.)  Beyond that, for reasons unexplained, SOCOM doesn’t even classify Afghanistan as a “war.”  Instead, it’s considered one of 59 gray-zone challenges, on a par with the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift or small-scale deployments to the restive Congo in the 1960s.  No less bizarre, the command categorizes America’s 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq in a similar fashion.  “It deserves to be in the same category as Korea and Vietnam,” says Bacevich, the author of America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History

Killing People and Breaking Things

Can the post-9/11 U.S. military simultaneously be the finest fighting force in history and unable to win wars or quasi-wars?  It may depend on our understanding of what exactly the Department of Defense and its military services are meant to do.

While the 1789 act that established its precursor, the Department of War, is sparse on details about its raison d’être, the very name suggests its purpose — presumably preparing for, fighting, and winning wars.  The 1947 legislation creating its successor, the “National Military Establishment” was similarly light on specifics concerning the ultimate aims of the organization, as were the amendments of 1949 that recast it as the Department of Defense (DoD). 

During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee offered his own definition.  He asserted that the “purpose of the military is to kill people and break things.”  Some in the armed forces took umbrage at that, though the military has, in fact, done both to great effect in a great many places for a very long time.  For its part, the DoD sees its purpose quite differently: “The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.”

If, in SOCOM’s accounting, the U.S. has engaged in relatively few actual wars, don’t credit “deterrence.” Instead, the command has done its best to simply redefine war out of existence, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, in favor of those “gray zone challenges.”  If one accepts that quasi-wars are actually war, then the Defense Department has done little to deter conflict.  The United States has, in fact, been involved in some kind of military action — by SOCOM’s definition — in every year since 1980.  

Beyond its single sentence mission statement, a DoD directive delineating the “functions of the Department of Defense and its major components” provides slightly more details.  The DoD, it states, “shall maintain and use armed forces to:

a. Support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
b. Ensure, by timely and effective military action, the security of the United States, its possessions, and areas vital to its interest.
c. Uphold and advance the national policies and interests of the United States.”

Since the Department of Defense came into existence, the U.S. has — as the SOCOM briefing slide notes  — carried out deployments, interventions, and other undertakings in Lebanon (1958), Congo (1964 and 1967), the Dominican Republic (1965), Cambodia (1975), Iran (1980), El Salvador (1980-1992), Grenada (1983), Chad (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-1988), Honduras (1988), Panama (1989), Somalia (1992-1995), Haiti (1994-1995), and Albania (1997), among other countries.

You may have no memory of some (perhaps many) of these interventions, no less a sense of why they occurred or their results — and that might be the most salient take-away from SOCOM’s list.  So many of these conflicts have, by now, disappeared into the gray zone of American memory. 

Were these operations targeting enemies which actually posed a threat to the U.S. Constitution?  Did ceaseless operations across the globe actually ensure the safety and security of the United States?  Did they truly advance U.S. policy interests and if so, how? 

From the above list, according to SOCOM, only El Salvador, Grenada, Libya, and Panama were “wins,” but what, exactly, did America win?  Did any of these quasi-wars fully meet the Defense Department’s own criteria?  What about the Korean War (tie), the Bay of Pigs (loss), the Vietnam War (loss), or the not-so-secret “secret war” in Laos (loss)?  And have any of SOCOM’s eight losses or ties in the post-9/11 era accomplished the Defense Department’s stated mission?

“I have killed people and broken things in war, but, as a military officer, that was never the end. There was a purpose, a reason, a goal,” wrote Major Matt Cavanaugh, a U.S. Army strategist, in response to Huckabee’s comment.  He then drew attention to the fact that “Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States” asserts that “military power is integrated with other instruments of national power to advance and defend U.S. values, interests, and objectives.” 

Did the wars in Vietnam or Laos defend those same values?  What about the war waged in Iraq by the “finest fighting force” in world history? 

In March 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out U.S aims for that conflict.  “Our goal is to defend the American people, and to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and to liberate the Iraqi people,” he said, before offering even more specific objectives, such as having U.S. troops “search for, capture, [and] drive out terrorists who have found safe harbor in Iraq.”  Of course, the invasion and occupation of Iraq would turn that country into a terrorist magnet, leading to the ultimate safe harbor; a terror caliphate extending over swaths of that country and neighboring Syria.  The elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction would prove impossible for obvious reasons.  The “liberation” of its people would lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands; the forced displacement of millions; and a country divided along sectarian lines, where up to 50% of its 33 million inhabitants may suffer from the effects of trauma brought on by the last few decades of war.  And what about the defense of the American people?  They certainly don’t feel defended.  According to recent polling, more Americans fear terrorism today than just after 9/11.  And the particular threat Americans fear most?  The terror group born and bred in America’s Iraqi prison camps: ISIS.

This record seems to matter little to the presidential candidate who, as a senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq.  Regarding that war and other military missions, Hillary Clinton, as Bacevich notes, continues to avoid asking the most obvious question: “Is the use of the American military conclusively, and at reasonable costs, achieving our political objectives?” 

Trump’s perspective seems to better fit SOCOM’s assessment when it comes to America’s warfighting prowess in these years.  “We don’t win.  We can’t beat ISIS.  Can you imagine General Douglas MacArthur or General Patton?  Can [you] imagine they are spinning in their grave right now when they see the way we fight,” he recently told FOX News’s Bill O’Reilly, invoking the names of those military luminaries who both served in a “draw” in Mexico in the 1910s and U.S. victories in World Wars I and II, and in the case of MacArthur a stalemate in Korea as well. 

Neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns responded to TomDispatch’s requests for comment.  SOCOM similarly failed to respond before publication to questions about the conclusions to be drawn from its timeline, but its figures alone — especially regarding post-9/11 conflicts — speak volumes.

“In order to evaluate our recent military history and the gap between the rhetoric and the results,” says Andrew Bacevich, “the angle of analysis must be one that acknowledges our capacity to break things and kill people, indeed that acknowledges that U.S. forces have performed brilliantly at breaking things and killing people, whether it be breaking a building — by putting a precision missile through the window — or breaking countries by invading them and producing chaos as a consequence.” 

SOCOM’s briefing slide seems to recognize this fact.  The U.S. has carried out a century of conflict, killing people from Nicaragua and Haiti to Germany and Japan; battering countries from the Koreas and Vietnams to Iraq and Afghanistan; fighting on a constant basis since 1980.  All that death and devastation, however, led to few victories.  Worse yet for the armed forces, the win-loss record of this highly professionalized, technologically sophisticated, and exceptionally well-funded military has, since assuming the mantle of the finest fighting force in the history of the world, plummeted precipitously, as SOCOM’s Intelligence Directorate points out. 

An American century of carnage and combat has yielded many lessons learned, but not, it seems, the most important one when it comes to military conflict.  “We can kill people, we can break things,” Bacevich observes, “but we don’t accomplish our political goals.” 

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch, a fellow at the Nation Institute, and a contributing writer for the Intercept. His book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa recently received an American Book Award. His latest book is Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. His website is NickTurse.com

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2016 Nick Turse

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Inside U.S. Special Operations”

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contributors <![CDATA[Vote For Hillary Clinton Or Die in a Fiery Apocalypse: A Letter To Young Progressives]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163582 2016-09-28T04:02:50Z 2016-09-28T04:02:50Z By David Faris | (Informed Comment) | – –

Dear young progressives,

If recent polls are to be believed, younger progressive voters like you are either preparing to vote in unusually large numbers for Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, or planning to stay home. If you’re going to stop reading now because tl;dr, the takeaway of this article is the following: please don’t do this. This is a very bad idea. If I had to rank-order all the bad decisions available to you in the universe it would go: 1) Any of these 3 options 2) Everything else.

You need to vote for Hillary Clinton or you may die in a fiery apocalypse that will make the plot of The Walking Dead seem like a story you tell to small children to comfort them and help them fall asleep. Voting for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, or writing in Bernie Sanders, or staying home, will contribute materially to the Armageddon which will follow. This article will explain why.

Don’t worry though, this is not another Millennial Trend Piece, where middle-aged people shame you about how you’re not buying cars or having enough sexy time or whatever. I’ll trade car ownership rates for a whole generation that believes women are people and climate change is real. I’ll make that trade every single time.

(Side note: How did we determine that the Generation X ended in 1980? Were the doctors and nurses standing around on the morning of January 1st, 1981 saying, “Well that’s a wrap. The next baby born in this country is part of a new generation. Look at this baby right here! See? Totally different! This stupid baby clearly has the attention span of a hamster! We shall call this baby a Millennial and spend the rest of our lives prosecuting this arbitrary concept for the crime of living in the world we made for it.”) There will be no cringe-inducing Snapchat jokes in the paragraphs that follow. I will not yell at you and call you selfish or a child or any of the other unhelpful devices that commentators deploy to shame people into voting their way. And unlike most of the people that write smarmily about you, I actually adore your generation. As a college professor, I spend dozens of hours every week with you and I consider it a privilege. You’re navigating an economic world that is much more challenging than the one I grew up in, and you’re doing it with grace.

I am, however, going to dish it to you straight.

Let’s take the low-hanging fruit first. Gary Johnson is a bizarre choice for young progressives to consider. I know the Libertarians promise to get the government out of your weed stash and your marriages, which is dope. But they also believe a lot of really preposterous and regressive things that would functionally obliterate modern society. The Libertarian Party platform explicitly calls for abolishing or repealing the following things: income taxes, Social Security, public education, the Environmental Protection Agency, Obamacare as well as and I quote, “all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution.” Since the U.S. Constitution does not really call for very many federal programs at all – it being a shortish document that establishes the rules of political order rather than a draft of the federal budget for a country of 319 million people in the year Twenty-Sixteen – that pretty much covers most of them except the military. These delusional fabulists are allowed to run around blabbering about their absurd fantasy of stripping the modern state down to its pre-industrial shell because none of them will ever get within a million miles of actual power and thus will never be held accountable for any of it. That their hilarious platform now exists on the Internet – a thing that was invented by government researchers, using a method (government-funded partnerships with universities) that Libertarians would abolish—is an irony beyond their grasp. On top of that, Gary Johnson himself appears to be high as a skyscraper 24 hours a day and has the general demeanor of someone who can’t quite remember what happened yesterday but thinks maybe he left the oven on. In short: libertarians are not serious people with well-thought-out plans for how to grapple with the many challenges of modernity. You should not vote for them in general. You definitely should not vote for this one.

Jill Stein, I suppose, makes a bit more sense for you. She seems like a nice, idealistic woman, and she clearly cares and has poured her heart into her activism, some of which has been quite effective. But I would argue that this is not enough to be considered presidential material. The sum total of her experience in government is serving a term-and-a-half on a small-town council in Massachusetts, a position she quit to run for governor. She has since run a series of campaigns for higher offices and has never come close to winning any of them. This isn’t about what she has or hasn’t said about vaccines. There is a reason that you do not invite someone from the U.S. Senate to analyze your MRI or pilot your next flight, just as there are very good reasons why we should not plunge total political neophytes directly into the highest political office in the country. Government is not neuroscience but it does require some basic expertise and experience. Barack Obama’s four years in the U.S. Senate are something that should be considered a bare minimum.

An even better reason to dismiss voting for Stein and the Greens in this election is structural. That’s because “third party” is a kind of shorthand that obscures more than it illuminates. I frequently hear from many of you that you would like a third party option. The polling reflects this desire. But America isn’t just missing a third party – it’s missing a fourth, fifth and sixth too. The reason isn’t because they don’t exist – you’ll see them right there on the ballot in all kinds of elections. It’s because of the electoral system – the rules that we use in the United States to elect our national legislature. The United States uses a system known in political science as “Single Member District Plurality.” We conduct 435 separate elections for the House of Representatives, and in every district, we elect a single person according to whoever has the most votes, even if it’s less than a majority. Before you start stabbing yourself with a fork to stay awake, please stick with me for a second. Political scientists have consistently found that countries using this system have fewer major political parties than countries that use versions of “proportional representation” where parties are awarded a number of seats that corresponds roughly to their percentage of the vote. Think about it: The Green Party could run a candidate in every district, have that candidate come in third in each race with 20% of the vote, and end up with zero seats in the House. In a PR system they’d get around 20% of the seats. Here they get zero. This is why people keep yelling about wasting your vote. It’s actually true. It’s like if you had two options for dinner and you didn’t like either of them and decided to fry up something that does not exist. You could probably succeed in replacing the position of the Democratic Party with the Greens, but it would take a generation and the world would be torched in the interim.

Look, I know most of you wanted Bernie Sanders to win the nomination. This was shocking to the Olds because we mistakenly saw him as the second coming of Dennis Kucinich rather than as a plausible candidate whose ideology and rectitude inspired you. Our bad. Important to note: Bernie Sanders has also realized that he would prefer not to spend his last years on Earth watching the charred remains of everything he believes in buried in a shallow grave by a hateful charlatan with cartoon hair who runs around the country promising to ethnically cleanse 11 million Latinos and spend scarce public resources building a wall around a country that could not possibly do us any real harm. That’s why Bernie is out there stumping for Hillary Clinton, a woman he plainly does not like and would prefer to never see again, even for a beer.

Bernie also remembers the 2000 election, and what transpired in its dreadful aftermath. One of the hardest things for your elders to quite grasp is that events that were seminal in our lives are ancient history to you. The newest voters in this country were two years old for Bush v. Gore. Al Gore bringing a new personality to each of the three debates? I know! Unforgettable, right? No. Those debates might as well be Lincoln-Douglas to someone coming of age today.

It strikes me as odd that the discourse in the Democratic primary focused much more on the 90s (the crime bill! Welfare reform!) than the 2000s. So it’s worth taking something of an extended detour in here to think about the 2000 election. There were two major-party candidates for president, as there always are. One was Al Gore, the sitting Vice President, a man who came off a bit like a tranquilized Vulcan in public but had pretty standard left-liberal leanings and would later go on to become a major climate change activist. (Seriously: An Inconvenient Truth was a crucial catalyst for the discourse about climate change). The other option was George W. Bush, the “folksy” two-term governor of Texas who even on the campaign trail in 2000 displayed a shockingly limited grasp of public policy and was rather obviously pretending to be more moderate than he was. The Green Party ran the activist Ralph Nader. The Libertarians ran an economic cult leader named Harry Browne.

What was that campaign like? A measure of how much of a different planet the 2000 election took place on is that the longest-running debate between the two candidates was over what to do with all the extra scratch we had lying around. We were told America was so flush it wouldn’t have to go to the ATM for a decade. We were the big winner at poker night and we were thinking about buying a vacation house. Gore talked, in ways that seem dull even 16 years later, about setting the budget surplus aside in a “lockbox” to keep elements of the social welfare system, like Social Security, solvent. Bush spoke unapologetically about giving the extra money back to the Hamptons set so that eventually it might find its way miraculously into the hands of middle class and poor people, according to the precepts of a discredited economic theory that no one who has spent an hour studying the evidence could seriously believe.

The race was shockingly close. Gore won the popular vote. But he lost narrowly in the Electoral College after an absurdly close race in Florida was resolved by a genuinely ludicrous Supreme Court decision that had to have been written with a knowing smirk. Had even a miniscule percentage of Nader’s 97,421 Florida votes gone to Gore, George W. Bush would never have been president. Very few people who have studied the Florida vote dispute this.

So how did that work out for everyone? If you didn’t live through it as a conscious adult, you might not quite understand what a generation-wrecking disaster the presidency of George W. Bush turned out to be. He was a narrow-minded mediocrity that we are now all preposterously nostalgic about because he’s not a sociopath like the current GOP nominee and because he likes to dance inappropriately at the funerals of murdered police officers. He wasn’t necessarily a bad person but he was also easily one of our worst presidents. He left office with the approval rating of head lice. His reckless tax cuts blew a more or less permanent, Texas-sized hole in the federal budget. His inane decision to invade Iraq – a country that had not a single discernible thing at all to do with the tragedy of 9/11 – will be haunting you like the Demogorgon from Stranger Things for the rest of your lives. The total cost of the Iraq War – which may rise as high as $6 trillion –will eventually exceed the value of all the oil imported to the United States since 1980. These things happened because Bush – who never knew anything meaningful about government or public policy or economic theory, or really anything aside from baseball and executing people– immediately turned his administration over to a collection of aggressive ideologues who had been waiting patiently in their think tank offices for years to unleash their theories about taxes and power on an unwitting public. These maniacs, nearly all of whom remain completely unapologetic about everything they have done and are waiting once again for you to put them back in office, filled up the empty vessel of George W. Bush’s brain with their thoughts and convinced our erstwhile captain to steer the ship of state directly into the damn iceberg.

The predictable fiasco of his 8 years in office happened because progressives (back then we just called ourselves liberals) couldn’t tell the difference between George W. Bush and Al Gore. Many stayed home because the outgoing Clinton Administration did some things that turned out not to be very progressive at all, and people were super frustrated and kind of bored. Some voted for Bush. The math of who would or wouldn’t have won Florida is less important than this simple fact: Al Gore would have been a much better president than George W. Bush. Like, your lives would be improved right now, in meaningful ways. For starters, we wouldn’t be so broke that we can’t pay for higher education, or really any education at all, because Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. He would have done more progressive things with our surplus bling rather than cutting checks to yacht owners and appointing ageless archconservatives to the Supreme Court in between ruinous overseas adventures.

Why am I telling you this? If you live long enough, I promise you that eventually you will hear all of the arguments that are getting bandied about today again, and they will be verbatim. In 20 years they will sound like farce to you and you will want to scream. And I am hearing and seeing so much that reminds me of the 2000 election. Then as now the Democratic nominee was a stiff policy wonk who was first elected to office when many liberal ideas and policies were politically toxic and therefore was considered more conservative than he actually was. Then as now we were at the tail end of a reasonably successful two-term Democratic presidency that nevertheless disappointed the progressive left. Then as now the outgoing president was far more charming and effective on the stump than the current nominee. And then as now, the minor-party candidate threatens to throw the election to the Republicans. The other day I even heard someone refer to Clinton and Trump as “Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber,” a phrase borrowed directly from the Nader campaign that remains as profoundly wrong now as it was 16 years ago. To this day I still hear people argue that the outcome of the 2000 election was Al Gore and the Democratic Party’s fault – that he wasn’t progressive enough and he took the Left for granted and he ran a crappy campaign. And: some of that is true! But good God, the punishment did not fit the crime! Why penalize the entire country for eight unbearably long and terrible years for the crimes of Al Gore’s clueless political strategists? Once again we are in danger of letting the left’s legitimate frustrations with the Democratic Party, and the nominee’s “likeability,” obscure the very simple fact that Hillary Clinton would be a much better and more progressive president than Donald Trump, even if she is not as progressive as you might like her to be.

What’s particularly horrifying is that Donald Trump would be a much worse leader than George W. Bush, a bottom 10 president who would probably be in the bottom 5 if not for the long succession of 19th century morons that plunged us into the Civil War. Whatever else you want to say about the man, I do believe that Bush meant well. That doesn’t excuse the horrors he visited on this country (and many others) but it is something. Donald Trump hits the jackpot of being both an execrable human being, and also dumber than George W. Bush by several orders of magnitude. The words that come out of his mouth about public policy – like how we should have “taken” Iraq’s oil to prevent the rise of ISIS– transcend partisan ideological differences by the sheer magnitude of their absurdity. What would we have taken the oil with? A Breitbart tote bag and some truck drivers from New Jersey? This is a man whose sentences literally do not make sense in the language they are spoken in.

The language they do make sense in is the lingua franca of reactionary racists, misogynists and bigots, people who have been dreaming their whole lives about how they can dominate and destroy anyone who isn’t like them, who resent the (incomplete, mostly half-assed and in some cases non-existent) steps we have taken as a society to treat women and minorities as equals, and who openly wish to return society to its pre-modern condition, in which straight white men could do and say whatever they wanted to anyone anywhere and if you got in the way you were enslaved or murdered or marginalized. This is why they love it when Trump says we should take Iraq’s oil. It used to be routine to invade and steal the resources of other societies. The fact that globalization has made the economic plight of some of these people somewhat worse does not mean that you should be ok turning power over to them. It is not going to make anything that currently bothers you about our politics or the Democratic Party any better. It is not going to cancel your student loans.

The reason for the headline of this article is not that Trump has spent his entire adult life aggrandizing himself at the expense of working people. Capitalism is lousy with this kind of garden-variety huckster and occasionally they slip into public office without lasting damage. It’s not his creepy children or the fact that he can’t spell or speak in complete sentences and has no idea how a bill becomes law or how treaties work or what is even in the United States Constitution and obviously detests women. These are real problems that should have prevented him from being the nominee let alone the president, but they are not Dinosaur Extinction problems. You should fear calamity because this dollar store Robespierre who has never held a single elected office in his life is truly dangerous. I have nightmares about him, and let me tell you: I didn’t have any nightmares about Mitt Romney or John McCain. I didn’t want them to be president, but in the short run we would have been just fine. True story: The President of the United States walks around all day trailed by an aide carrying a satchel with the nuclear launch codes. Donald Trump is a man with impulse control problems and no moral compass who has asked his advisors why we can’t use the nuclear weapons that we have. Do the math.

It is not difficult to imagine plausible scenarios that would bring us to the brink of nuclear obliteration. Trump has mused openly about blowing NATO apart and sports a barely contained man-crush on Russian President Vladimir Putin. If Trump succeeds in weakening NATO, it isn’t a stretch to imagine the Russians swooping in to reclaim the Baltic states, on the pretext of protecting ethnic Russians. He’s done this repeatedly, in both Georgia and Ukraine, only this time it would trigger an even graver crisis because the Baltic countries are in NATO, which in addition to being a fun acronym is also a mutual defense pact. Do you really want this guy – a man who can’t even control his anger toward Rosie O’Donnell in a nationally televised debate – running the show when that happens? This is to say nothing of all of the sub-apocalyptic crises his policies will trigger, like the global financial meltdown that will ensue when he starts his trade war with China.

You’ll notice I haven’t said much about Hillary Clinton. The salient fact here is that notwithstanding her flaws, she’s a better, more progressive option than Donald Trump. I think she’ll be a terrific president but I understand if you disagree. I would just ask that for now you settle for sanity. You can resume your inspirational struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party after November 8th.

I know that it’s not fair for the stakes to be this high for your first national election. It’s like if the casualties from a 47-car pileup were directed to your hospital on your very first night as an E.R. Resident. That is, however, the situation that we find ourselves in together. I don’t want to make you nervous, but if you make the wrong choice here you’re going to spend the rest of your adult lives cleaning up the mess of a Trump presidency in the same way we just spent 8 years dealing with the fallout of the Bush Administration– the tax cuts for the wealthy and whatever dark machinations Trump has in store for Latinos and Muslims and the racist fervor that will be legitimized by his victory. That’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenarios run from the dismantling of our democracy all the way up to a nuclear cataclysm. A vote for Johnson or Stein is not the progressive thing to do here. It’s not the right thing. And believe me, if the worst comes to pass, you will regret it, from the radioactive ash pits that will serve as your graves.

Thank you for listening to me.

David

David Faris is a professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. He is also the director of Roosevelt’s interdisciplinary International Studies Program. His book Dissent and Revolution in a Digital Age: Social Media, Blogging and Activism in Egypt (2013) focuses on the use of digital media by Egyptian opposition movements.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

BBC News: “Is Donald Trump a danger to national security? BBC News”

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Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[The Presidential Debate that did not really Happen]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163573 2016-09-27T05:57:00Z 2016-09-27T05:30:53Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Regular readers will know that in my view the 2016 presidential election did not happen.

Likewise, the first debate between the two candidates did not take place. There was no debate as the word is usually understood, where the two take turns setting out policy positions. A debate on policy would have involved staking out positions on what to do about Syria, or about ISIL in Iraq. Sec. Clinton did occasionally attempt to mention a policy (apparently the Kurds are somehow central to her plans) but was promptly interrupted by a hectoring Trump attempting to bring back the viewers to the character he was scripting.

He interrupted her 26 times in 25 minutes. For the first 20 minutes moderator Lester Holt, a Republican, was AWOL. He let Trump repeatedly cut Clinton off, badger her, and even take over Holt’s putative role, of asking her questions. If there is one rule of debates, it is that one debater is not allowed to ask the other the questions.

Trump also wove his alternative reality. In that world, he ceased his racist birtherism as soon as President Obama produced his long form birth certificate, and did the president a favor in making him publish it (something never required of any white president [i.e. from any of them]).

This is not true.

In Trump’s alternate reality, he never said that climate change is a Chinese-promoted hoax. But of course he had said it.

trumpchina

In a double piece of illusionism, of course, Trump continues to deny that climate change is an issue, even though he denied having denied it in public to a hundred million people. That is why the debate did not really take place.

Trump also maintained that cutting taxes in half on the rich would produce economic growth, jobs and shrink the deficit. It would of course cause the deficit to balloon by trillions and reduce employment by increasing the gini coefficient.

But of course Ronald Reagan made the same pledges, and Republicans during the Great Depression had said the same thing, demonstrating how an alternative reality of falsehoods had dominated our political illusions for decades before Trump took control of this machine.

Trump said he was just endorsed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is a Federal agency and does not endorse candidates. The press was reduced to scrounging around trying to figure out if there was actually any endorsement in any way connected to ICE, as a way of “explaining what he really meant.” But this activity assumes that there is a reality to the Trump candidacy. There is not. It doesn’t matter whether ICE endorsed him. He said it did and that is all that counts. Trump’s reality is like the bad pirated copies of movies (sometimes shot sideways or missing half the screen) that are purveyed in New York’s China Town. They aren’t really even copies of the original but something pretending to be a copy, so as to cheat greedy tourists out of a few dollars.

Trump again asserted that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, which he did not. Pressing him on this issue and on his racist birtherism were Lester Holt’s two finest moments.

Trump again said that the US should have taken Iraq’s oil and that that would have forestalled the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL). But Daesh did not originally arise because of oil money support, and it is mainly in Syria that it captured some refineries. Daesh arose to rid Iraq of US occupation. It didn’t need a lot of funding. It had ex-Baath ex-officers in its ranks who knew where Saddam Hussein’s old weapons stockpiles were.

Daesh or ISIL did not arise because the US failed to steal Iraqi petroleum.

Then Trump repeated his claim that if Obama had left 10,000 troops in Iraq in 2011 and after, Daesh would never have arisen. But the US military occupation of Iraq was what provoked al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which became the ‘Islamic State of Iraq.” Some 10,000 US troops couldn’t prevent that development if 160,000 could not, during the Bush occupation.

The things Trump said bore no relation to reality.

So the debate did not take place.

It was not a debate so much as an opportunity to display his ability to weave an alternate reality for his acolytes.

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Related video:

The Young Turks:
Presidential Debate | Who Won?”

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contributors <![CDATA[Israel Apartheid Wall Is the Muse to Trump’s Mexico Border Wall]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163569 2016-09-27T04:23:04Z 2016-09-27T04:21:54Z By TeleSur | – –

Trump’s signature campaign propsosal is modeled, he says, on Israel’s “successful separation barrier.”

Ahead of Monday’s presidential debate between U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, the two nominees cozied up to their favorite ally in the Middle East, holding meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Trump’s gaudy, gold penthouse in New York, the two discussed Israel’s apartheid wall at length, with Trump hailing it as inspiration for his own proposal to build a wall made of concrete and rebar as high as 55 feet along the nearly 2,000-mile border between the United States and Mexico.

Israel’s 440-mile wall, touted as necessary for “security” reasons, cuts deep into the West Bank and isolates Palestinians in the region into ghettos and “military zones.” Along with its vast expanse, it is decked out with electric fences, trenches, cameras, sensors, razor wire and military patrols.

And in following suit with the covenants of past U.S. presidents, Trump confirmed his intentions to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a disputed territory, once elected President.

“Mr. Trump acknowledged that Jerusalem has been the eternal capital of the Jewish People for over 3,000 years and that the United States, under a Trump administration, will finally accept the long-standing Congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel,” a statement by his campaign communications team, posted on his Facebook page, read.

Hillary Clinton, too, has established her pro-occupation bona fides, saying in a speech at AIPAC in March, “I feel so strongly that America can’t ever be neutral when it comes to Israel’s security or survival.” Last summer, she publicly denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement last summer.

In planning her itinerary on Sunday, Clinton chose to meet Netanyahu in lieu of heading to Charlotte, the scene of city-wide protests after the police killing of a Black man last week, Keith Lamont Scott.

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Euronews: “Trump vows to recognise Jerusalem as Israeli capital”

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Juan Cole http://juancole.com <![CDATA[Syria, Russia push to take East Aleppo pocket as airstrikes kill 66, wound 200]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163564 2016-09-26T13:38:23Z 2016-09-26T06:00:02Z By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Only a week after seeming to agree to a ceasefire, Russia and the Syrian regime in Damascus appear to have decided to throw caution to the winds and simply wipe out the pocket of rebel resistance in East Aleppo.

If the regime has all of Aleppo, all of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Latakia, then it has Syria. Poor, rural, thinly populated provinces such as Idlib (held by al-Qaeda and its allies) and Raqqa & Deir al-Zor (held by Daesh/ISIL) just don’t count. They can make trouble from the margins, sort of the way FARK in Colombia did for decades, but they can’t win.

The military blog Sic Semper Tyrranis is convinced that the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian Aerospace forces can win the war outright. If they mean by winning what I just said– taking and holding all the major urban population centers– then yes. If they mean taking back control over the whole country, then no. Damascus just doesn’t have the troops to take back the rural Sunni areas, and nor can it prevent them from attacking regime forces. Moreover, it is unlikely that Damascus will ever really get control back of the Kurdish regions of the northeast, where the YPG is backed by the Pentagon– and that is 10 percent of Syria’s population and an important agricultural area.

So the regime can have 70% of Syria population-wise, perhaps, though in a fragile way that leaves much of the population open to violence. (Colombia in the days of high FARK activity was among the more violent societies in the world).

Still, taking back all of Aleppo and seeing Daesh strangled to the east by the Kurds and by a newly effective Turkish barricade would be an enormous victory for Damascus.

Unfortunately, precisely because the Syrian Arab Army is woefully understaffed, the methods the regime is using against East Aleppo are extremely brutal.

The Syrian Arab Army took the strategic Palestinian refugee camp, Handarat, near East Aleppo, late last week, but al-Qaeda and its allies say they have recovered it. Some of the bombing was in support of the Syrian army’s attempt to make that advance.

Damascus has put the civilian population under a siege for the last 20 days, and no supplies have come in for weeks. Food staples are running low and so are essential medicines, for the 200,000 to 300,000 who live in East Aleppo. This weekend, the Syrian Air Force intensively bombed civilian neighborhoods, allegedly joined by Russian Aerospace fighter-jets. (That’s what Moscow now calls their air force, and since they can get to space but the US no longer can, I guess they have dibs on it.)

On Sunday, the bombardment of East Aleppo by jets and helicopter gunships is said to have killed 66 persons and wounded some 200. While the Arab press says all of these were women and children, I presume some were guerrillas targeted for elimination by Damascus and Moscow, and that the rest were what the military calls collateral damage– i.e. innocent bystanders savagely murdered from the sky. The neighborhoods targeted were al-Halak, Bustan al-Basha, al-Ard al-Hamra’, Tariq al-Bab, al-Muyassar, al-Mashhad, al-Salihin, al-Qatarji, and al-Ansari.

Arab sources say that since the ceasefire collapsed on Sept. 19, 378 are dead and 1407 wounded.

The siege and the air campaign are surely softening up measures. At some point the Syrian army, supported by Hizbullah and by a new wave of Iraqi Shiite volunteers, will have to invade East Aleppo and take territory. From what we are seeing, it will be a horrible thing, with tens of thousands of new refugees created and a large civilian death toll.

But it will also make the regime unstoppable. Three and a half years ago, the rebels thought they could take Homs and cut Damascus off from resupply by cutting the road to the key Mediterranean port of Latakia. Hizbullah intervened and the rebels were defeated in Homs. Then two years ago, the al-Qaeda-led forces swept into Idlib and thought they might be able to just take the port of Latakia, after which they could starve out the southern capital of Damascus. But last fall Russia intervened and pushed them out of Latakia province, and built up the Tartous base outside Latakia, making the point that Moscow won’t let it fall. So the Salafi forces are bottled up in Idlib and have not prospect of breaking out or challenging the regime in any serious way. Now the FSA may be about to lose East Aleppo. The rebel position in the north is being eroded. And as we speak there is no plausible way for it to overthrow the Syrian government in any time scale that matters.

What is likely is that the rebels can keep enough rural territory to prove a thorn in the regime’s side for years to come, and peace is still distant. And even if the regime really could win, remember that it has killed tens of thousands and is not forgiving. The bloodshed won’t stop soon.

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Related video:

Euronews: “Syrian government planes bombard Aleppo as diplomacy degenerates”

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contributors <![CDATA[Egypt: New Church Law Discriminates Against Christians]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163560 2016-09-26T04:43:03Z 2016-09-26T04:43:03Z By Human Rights Watch | – –

Authorities Fail to Prevent, Punish Violent Attacks

(Tunis) – A long-awaited new law maintains restrictions over the construction and renovation of churches and discriminates against the Christian minority in Egypt. The law, passed by Egypt’s parliament on August 30, 2016, applies only to Christian houses of worship.

Recent incidents of anti-Christian violence that left one person dead, several injured, and numerous properties destroyed were prompted or preceded by anger among some local Muslims over actual or alleged church construction. Even when authorities have made arrests, they have rarely prosecuted suspects, creating a climate of impunity for violent crimes that target Christians.

“Many Egyptians hoped that governments would respect and protect freedom of religion, including for Christians, after the 2011 uprising,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the authorities are ignoring the underlying systemic issues and sending a message that Christians can be attacked with impunity.”

The website of Al-Youm al-Sabaa newspaper published the law and explanatory memo on August 30.

The new law allows governors to deny church-building permits with no stated way to appeal, requires that churches be built “commensurate with” the number of Christians in the area, and contains security provisions that risk subjecting decisions on whether to allow church construction to the whims of violent mobs.

Estimates of the size of Egypt’s Christian population, the great majority of them Coptic Orthodox, range from 6 percent to 10 percent of the total population of 93 million. Authorities have done little in the years since the 2011 uprising to change policies that have long disadvantaged their community.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pledged to respect freedom of belief and made important visits to Coptic Christmas masses. Authorities, however, have failed to protect Coptic Christians from violent attacks and instead enforced “reconciliation” sessions with their Muslim neighbors that deprive them of their rights and allow attackers to evade justice. In some cases, Christians were obliged to leave their homes, villages or towns.

“Many Egyptians hoped that governments would respect and protect freedom of religion, including for Christians, after the 2011 uprising. Instead, the authorities are ignoring the underlying systemic issues and sending a message that Christians can be attacked with impunity.” – Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director

Sectarian clashes have occurred with increasing frequency and intensity since the 2011 uprising. In the southern Minya governorate alone, the independent Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) has documented 77 such incidents since January 25, 2011. Minya, where Christians are an estimated one-third of the population, has also been the scene of violent anti-Christian attacks in recent months.

On July 17, a mob killed a young Christian man and wounded three others in Tahna al-Gabal after an argument that started between some Muslim and Coptic children escalated. Ishak Ibrahim, religious freedoms researcher with the EIPR, told the Daily News Egypt that the village had already been tense because of restorations to a church building. In late June and mid-July, mobs destroyed four Coptic homes in Kom al-Loufi and six buildings, including a nursery, in Abu Yacoub after Muslim neighbors claimed Christians planned to use the houses as churches. In May, a mob forced Suad Thabet, a 70-year-old Coptic woman, from her home in al-Karam and stripped her naked in the street in response to rumors that her son had an affair with a Muslim woman.

Mobs have attacked Christians recently in other cities and towns as well. Video from a village on the western outskirts of Alexandria aired on YouTube in June showed scores of people in the streets chanting, “We don’t want a church.” The mob assaulted Christians and attacked a building next to a church that the attackers claimed offered religious services. Another video that appeared in July showed a mob attacking Coptic buildings in al-Fashn, a village in Beni Suef governorate, north of Minya, after similar allegations that Christians were using a building for prayers.

Though security forces arrested dozens of people following the sectarian attacks in Minya earlier this year, most were released without proper investigation or prosecution. For example, police released 16 people accused of the attacks in Abu Yacoub after a “reconciliation” session.

For decades, Egypt’s courts interpreted an 1856 Ottoman decree as giving the president sole power to permit church construction. In 1934, the Interior Ministry set out restrictive rules for church construction. More recently, several Egyptian governments discussed issuing a “unified” law for houses of worship for all religions, but never did. Article 235 of Egypt’s 2014 constitution obliged the next parliament to issue, in its first term, a law regulating churches “in a manner that guarantees the freedom to practice religious rituals for Christians.”

Egypt’s parliament passed the new law three days after receiving a draft from the cabinet. The government had negotiated the law’s provisions with Coptic Church leaders in secrecy with almost no involvement from nongovernmental groups or activists. The church eventually supported the law, but other Coptic priests, activists, local human rights groups, and some Coptic members of parliament criticized restrictions that continue to discriminate against Christians. Such restrictions amount to discrimination on the grounds of religion, imposed on Christians without justification, Human Rights Watch said.

Egypt’s constitution does not acknowledge freedom of religion beyond the three “official” religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Though the new law devolves power from the president to provincial governors, it requires the size of a church to be “commensurate with” the number of Christians in the area. Since the government has never released statistics about Egypt’s Christian minority, viewing the number as a national security issue, determining the size of local Christian communities is difficult and most likely arbitrary. The parliamentary memo accompanying the law states that governors should take into account “security and public safety” when deciding on church-building applications, effectively allowing mob violence to dictate whether church construction is authorized.

Egyptian authorities strictly control most mosques, especially the appointment of their imams and the content of their sermons, and construction of mosques is regulated by an October 2001 Endowments Ministry decree. But unlike with churches, authorities rarely interfere with mosque building, and Human Rights Watch is not aware of any instance in which they have closed a mosque for failure to comply with restrictions such as on size and architectural features.

The new church law allows existing unauthorized churches to legalize their status after submitting their papers to an administrative committee formed by the prime minister. According to the EIPR, many old churches – those in residences, for example – would not meet the law’s requirements, such as one that mandates that churches have a dome and specific internal features. The inability of many of Egypt’s hundreds of unlicensed Coptic churches to obtain licenses has been the cause of many sectarian incidents and the provisions in the new legislation may likely leave their status unresolved.

A special forces police officer stands guard to secure the area around Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, January 6, 2015. Security is typically tightened at churches ahead of the holiday after a string of attacks on Christian targets over the past years.

The law also includes a requirement put in place by former President Hosni Mubarak in 2005 to obtain a governor’s approval to renovate or expand a church. This provision runs counter to a 2013 Administrative Court ruling that said churches need only receive renovation permission from engineering authorities, according to the EIPR.

The Egyptian parliament should amend the new law to apply to all places of worship in a manner that fully respects the right to freedom of religion, and should eliminate restrictions that are not in line with internationally accepted requirements to protect public safety, Human Rights Watch said. The parliament and authorities should also adopt legislation and policies that ensure protection of Egypt’s Christian minority from sectarian violence, such as serious investigations into such incidents, and hold accountable those who participate in or incite violence against Christians, as well as officials who fail to take all reasonable steps to provide protection and accountability.

Under both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, to which Egypt is a state party, all Egyptian citizens have the right to observe and practice their faith, in private and in public, freely and free from discrimination. Laws that discriminate between individuals, or their houses of worship, on the basis of religion violate both Egypt’s constitution and international law. Article 27 of the ICCPR requires a country to ensure that members of religious minorities can freely practice and profess their religion.

“Egyptian authorities need to hold accountable those who commit violence and reform the law to protect freedom of religion,” Stork said. “All Egyptians hold the right to live their lives in peace, regardless of their religious beliefs.”

Via Human Rights Watch

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Africanews: ” Egypt signs a new law on church construction”

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contributors <![CDATA[Mainstream Media focusing on Political Infotainment, not Policy]]> http://www.juancole.com/?p=163555 2016-09-26T04:30:14Z 2016-09-26T04:30:14Z By Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola | (The Young Turks Video Report) | – –

“Donald Trump is one of those stupid guys who thinks he’s smart. The media still lets him steamroll them with nonsense. Cenk Uygur and John Iadarola, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

“The only explanation for the lopsided coverage of the election by the political press so far is that, for some mysterious reason-defying logic, there’s a “false equivalence” at work. It’s become an almost throw-away phrase, bearing little weight these days. The political press certainly doesn’t take it too seriously, that’s for sure. We’re just gaming the refs, they say. Someone’s always bitching about the media, they say. Whatever helps them sleep at night, I suppose.

Nevertheless, according to what we’re observing online and via cable news, Hillary Clinton’s negatives appear eons more grievous than Donald Trump’s missteps, even though they’re not — and this disparity unfairly elevates Trump and his poll numbers. This is how elections are tilted toward despots and undisciplined strongmen. They’re legitimized and humanized despite their long menu of unprecedented gaffes, lies and treachery.”

The Young Turks: “Harvard Study: Media Ignores Policy Substance, Facts”

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