Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Last in first out

In Scottish #indyref week, a quote from the oft-quoted Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chapter 3) --

By a union with Great Britain, Ireland would gain, besides the freedom of trade, other advantages much more important, and which would much more than compensate any increase of taxes that might accompany that union. By the union with England the middling and inferior ranks of people in Scotland gained a complete deliverance from the power of an aristocracy which had always before oppressed them. By a union with Great Britain the greater part of the people of all ranks in Ireland would gain an equally complete deliverance from a much more oppressive aristocracy; an aristocracy not founded, like that of Scotland, in the natural and respectable distinctions of birth and fortune, but in the most odious of all distinctions, those of religious and political prejudices; distinctions which, more than any other, animate both the insolence of the oppressors and the hatred and indignation of the oppressed, and which commonly render the inhabitants of the same country more hostile to one another than those of different countries ever are. Without a union with Great Britain the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely for many ages to consider themselves as one people.

[Previously in this series]

Monday, September 15, 2014

The winner doesn't take it all

At Vox, Matthew Yglesias hails the Swedish election result as an example of how bad monetary policy can be costly to incumbents --

Both Sweden's early success and its later failure can probably be laid at the feet of monetary policy, rather than anything [PM] Reinfeldt did per se ... But from late 2011 onward, the Riksbank [Swedish central bank] insisted on moving toward tighter money despite high unemployment and low inflation. The stated reason for this, which has also had some influence inside the Fed, was that the bank had to act to prevent "instability" in the financial system. As Lars EO Svensson, a Princeton economist who worked at the Riksbank during the crisis years but lost the argument about post-crisis tightening, explains in this great presentation this has proven to be an extraordinarily costly way of obtaining uncertain benefits. And now it's likely going to cost the governing coalition their jobs.

Here's a Reuters account of the election aftermath in terms of its dynamics --

Under Reinfeldt Sweden lost much of its image as a socialist welfare state. The country's tax burden fell 4 percentage points, to 45 percent of GDP, under France's. Taxes on inheritance and wealth were lowered or abolished. More Michelin star restaurants than ever opened in Stockholm. "These have been fantastic years where the Alliance have taken responsibility for Sweden," Reinfeldt told party supporters on announcing his resignation. "My hope is that the journey will continue, but it will be without my participation." Many Swedes are worried that reforms under Reinfeldt have gone too far, weakening healthcare, allowing business to profit from schools at the expense of results and dividing a nation that has prided itself on equality into haves and have-nots. Voters have been shocked by scandals over privately run state welfare - including one case where carers at a home for the elderly were reportedly weighing diapers to save money - and bankruptcies of privately run schools ... Widely admired for its triple A-rated economy, stable government and liberal attitude to immigration, Sweden nevertheless faces significant challenges, which a weak government will struggle to deal with. Unemployment is high at 8 percent, hitting immigrants and young people especially, and a potential housing bubble threatens economic stability. Widespread riots last year in Stockholm's poor immigrant suburbs highlighted a growing underclass in Sweden, which has had the fastest-growing inequality of any OECD nation. The rise of the far right points to a society starting to question its role as what Reinfeldt calls "a humanitarian superpower". The number of asylum seekers from countries like Syria is expected to reach 80,000 this year. Even Reinfeldt has said government finances would be strained due to the cost of new arrivals. They were figures that played into the hands of the far right.

That list is much more about quality of public services, the perception of tax-cutting zeal, lack of public harmony with migration policy, and the ability of the far right to capitalize on the Syrian refugee influx. Monetary policy surfaces only obliquely (high unemployment among selected groups, but also very high housing prices).  The loss for the centre right is therefore an awkward narrative in which they suffered both from supply side obsession but also humanitarian policies that journalists like Matthew Yglesias would presumably favour (we're all for taking more Syrian refugees than bombing it, right?). In any event, monetary policy looks like an externally imposed narrative looking for one decisive factor that be blended into a broader EU story, even for a country not in the Euro.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Especially New Provo Front, Liberté de Quebec, and Asian Dawn

John Kerry in Cairo, calming everyone down --

The fact is that in today’s globalized world, it’s only a matter of time before the threat of terrorism anywhere becomes a threat of terrorism everywhere.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Being voted off the island

Ian Paisley in the House of Commons, 2 July 1979; it reads especially interestingly in light of the Scottish referendum --

No one in Northern Ireland who takes the name of Unionist wants to jeopardise the Union or interfere with it, but let it also be said that the people of Northern Ireland are sick and sore at heart when it is suggested in this House and elsewhere that they are citizens of the kingdom only by a charitable act of this House. It would be far better for the House to grasp the nettle. I put again to the House what I have put on two previous occasions. If the people of Scotland, England and Wales have decided that Northern Ireland should no longer be part of the family, let the nation be tested on that issue. I see in this House a great connivance to run away from the ballot box—to say what is good for the people of Northern Ireland but never to test it. Let the United Kingdom, apart from Ulster, be tested on that issue. Let the people speak. Let us have a verdict from the nation. I say with Kipling that if we are driven forth we must seek our destiny elsewhere ... The idea that as long as the majority of people of Northern Ireland want to be part of the United Kingdom all is well is a farce. I voted against that in this House, as did others. What would happen if there were a vote on this question, and there was a majority of one for going into the Irish Republic? We all know what would happen. That is only an exercise to put off the real issue. The House, the Government and the Labour Opposition should be prepared to grasp 1040 the nettle. It they do not want the Ulster people as part of the United Kingdom they have no right to say so; they must let the people say it. 

[Previously in this series]

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Turning and turning in the widening crash


New York Times Ireland advertorial, 11 September 2014.

Non-expert non-bipartisan non-elite Obama speech reaction

There were at least two people who spent the Obama ISIS speech splitting their sides laughing. Those two people are Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Bashar al-Assad.

On what was is September 11 in most of the world, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi watched his organization be declared the new Islamic super bad guys whom America would have to go after. What better validation as the new Osama bin Laden could an aspiring bad guy ask for?

Then there's Bashar al-Assad. He learned that there will be US airstrikes against ISIS in Syria -- supposedly counterbalanced by support to the moderate Syrian opposition. But whereas airstrikes can happen at the click of a button, that support (now announced for the 4th time) will occur through layers of approvals and intermediaries. In other words, it's a lot less potent than air strikes. So al-Assad knows that his most dangerous foe is being attacked, with no counterweight, and he can go on television and complain that if only Syrians would unite behind him, he could deter the American aggressor.

The speech also contained a jarring transition from recounting of the toll of the new super bad guys to how well the economy is doing. Beheadings are up -- but so are the jobs numbers!

Finally, the Iraqi and Syrian people were told that, Inshallah, they'll be like Yemen and Somalia. We know those Google searches can be overwhelming, but did anyone at the White House at least narrow the Yemen search to recent news?

Better late than never

Josh Marshall --

Very Good Questions Has the world been bamboozled by the ISIS PR machine?

The link is to an AP story noting the effectiveness of ISIS exaggeration in making them seem more powerful than they actually are.

So who are these gullible media types who've been making ISIS seem all-conquering?

Here's Josh Marshall approvingly quoting an expert reader e-mail --

Why is ISIL so successful? Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. TSV for ISIL is the belief that they will blow themselves up, they will capture and decapitate you and desecrate your body because they are invincible with what the Pakistanis call Jusbah E Jihad “Blood Lust for Jihad”. I have worked the Iraq mission since 1987 and lived in and out of Iraq since 2003. TSV was Saddam’s most effective tool and there is some innate characteristic of the Iraqis that immobilizes them when faced with a vicious, assuredly deadly foe who will do exactly as they have done to others – and they will unsuccessfully try to bargain their way out of death by capitulating.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Convenient Surprise

White House memo ahead of the President's speech tonight--

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 301 of title 3, United States Code, I hereby delegate to the Secretary of State the authority under section 506(a)(1) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to direct the drawdown of up to $25 million in defense articles and services of the Department of Defense and military education and training to provide immediate military assistance to the Government of Iraq, including the Kurdistan Regional Government, to aid their efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to make the determinations required under such section to direct such a drawdown.

The relevant clause of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 states "an unforeseen emergency exists which requires immediate military assistance to a foreign country."

The ISIL insurgency in northern Iraq was unforeseen?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

It's PNAC 2.0

The New York Times and the White House combine on some expert trolling of war skeptics --

WASHINGTON — In an effort to win over elite opinion before a speech to the nation this week on Iraq and Syria, President Obama played host at a White House dinner on Monday evening for a bipartisan group of prominent foreign policy experts.

If the ISIS war has been vetted by Prominent Elite Bipartisan Experts (PEBE), what would possibly go wrong?

Is the Mufti Muslim?

It's strange what gets considered news. When the Pope -- entirely consistent with Catholic doctrine -- said military action against ISIS could be justified -- there was much Counterintuitive! excitement. When the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia says --

“This group (ISIS) is wrong, not right, and if they fight Muslims, it is the duty of Muslims to fight them back to ward off their evil and keep it away from religion and people,”

Nobody notices.As with so much about ISIS media coverage, doesn't fit the narrative.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Be careful for what you wish for

President Obama during his Chuck Todd inception interview on NBC's Meet the Press

Well, I think that it is absolutely true that we're going to need Sunni states to step up-- not just Saudi Arabia, our partners like Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Turkey. They need to be involved. This is their neighborhood. The dangers that are posed-- are-- are more directed at them right now than they are us.

It's little over a week ago that UAE jets used Egyptian bases to attack Islamist militias in Libya.

The problem in the Middle East is not people not "stepping up." They'll step up just fine if they see a vacuum. And the implications of Turkey -- a NATO member -- stepping up would be particularly large.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Strongman Forum

From a letter sent by Vladimir Putin to the presumed outgoing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who everyone had seemingly agreed need to go to support an inclusive government in Baghdad --

I am confident that you will continue your work in order to strengthen the state in Iraq and expanding the ties of friendship between our two countries.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Not showing at the Theatre of Dreams

The New York Times quotes Fox Sports USA executive vice president for soccer Jonty Whitehead on their new Multimatch 90 channel which will hop around parallel UEFA Champions League matches --

“This is, after all, where the best soccer players in the world turn out,” Whitehead said. “Bale. Wayne Rooney. Ronaldo. Robin van Persie. The list is endless, and we get to see what they do best.”

There's just one problem. Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie play for Manchester United, which did not qualify for the Champions League this season.

19th province and 20th century

Robert Kagan, in a Wall Street Journal surely headed to the top of Barack Obama's reading pile on war reluctance--

For a time in the 1990s, while the generations of World War II and the early Cold War survived, the old lessons still guided policy. President George H.W. Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, sent half a million American troops to fight thousands of miles away for no other reason than to thwart aggression and restore a desert kingdom that had been invaded by its tyrant neighbor. Kuwait enjoyed no security guarantee with the U.S.; the oil wells on its lands would have been equally available to the West if operated by Iraq; and the 30-year-old emirate ruled by the al-Sabah family had less claim to sovereign nationhood than Ukraine has today. Nevertheless, as Mr. Bush later recalled, "I wanted no appeasement." 

A little more than a decade later, however, the U.S. is a changed country.

Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and Operation Desert Storm evicted him in early 1991. That's 23 years ago. That's a lot more than a decade ago.

Is some of the weirdness of conservatism simply a matter of a different sense of the passage of time?


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Islamic Magnetic Pulse

One segment on Greta Van Susteren's Fox News show this evening, linked to the latest ISIS beheading, featured terrorism expert William Forstchen discussing the threat that ISIS could pose to the US homeland. He cited his book Day of Wrath, which was prominently plugged in the segment. The book was claimed to describe a "scenario" in which ISIS launches an attack on US soil.

His prolific output as a historian and technology expert -- not mentioned in the segment set-up -- consists recently of books of historical fiction, several co-authored with Newt Gingrich. He also had a spell of prominence from another book which portrayed societal breakdown in the wake of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

Anyway, the punchline of his new scenario, which necessitates war to eliminate ISIS, is that America has a lot of soft targets like churches, schools, and synagogues that ISIS could attack. Apparently a crazy Islamic guy could show up at a school and kill lots of people. Frightening!

Monday, September 01, 2014

Fashion Jihadi

In the House of Commons today, David Cameron laid out the need for new powers to deal with British citizens committing terrorist atrocities in Syria (BBC) --

Under his proposals, UK nationals suspected of being involved in terror acts would be allowed to keep their British citizenship, but they would be prevented from re-entering the UK for a period of time. He added: "Adhering to British values is not an option or a choice. It is a duty for all those who live in these islands so we will stand up for our values, we will in the end defeat this extremism and we will secure our way of life for generations to come."

This blog is pleased to reveal the exclusive must-credit results of an in-depth investigation of one particular British citizen linked to numerous outrages in Syria, including chemical weapons, barrel bombs, indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets and industrial-scale torture. The name and address of this affront to British values but holder of British citizenship is:

Asma Al-Assad
Presidential Palace
Damascus
Syria.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pre-Communist

Kremlin announcement --

The President of the Republic of Belarus, Chairman of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has been awarded the Order of Alexander Nevsky for his great personal contribution to the development of traditional friendly ties between Russia and Belarus, to deepening bilateral cooperation in the political, defence, economic and social spheres.

Among Alexander Nevsky's titles are Grand Prince of Kiev. He also cut deals with Russia's eastern neighbours at the expense of good relations with the west.

Vladimir Putin never misses an opportunity to send a message, in this case using an award that goes back to Catherine I. 

Post-Communist

On the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, Phil Gramm and Michael Solon, building off an Atatürk exhortation to Turkey for economic success in 1923, write about Ukraine and Poland's highly divergent economic paths following the collapse of the USSR, but then segue to their real message --

Atatürk's dictum is a warning that without economic growth and prosperity, political and military victories can be transient and historically inconsequential. President Obama has won historic political victories. ObamaCare, the Dodd-Frank financial reforms, the largest stimulus program in American history and the most pervasive expansion of regulatory authority in three quarters of a century largely fulfilled a progressive agenda that predated the 20th century. While Mr. Obama has transformed American society, his program has failed to produce an economic triumph, a failure that a free society will not long tolerate.

For some conservatives, it's always 1938. For others, it's always 1989.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

That's what friends are for

With President of the South African Republic Jacob Zuma.
On a day when as far as everyone except readers of The Nation are concerned, Russia has invaded Ukraine, South African President Jacob Zuma kindly shows up at the Kremlin to discuss ... The BRICS Development Bank.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ankara not a big college town

Barack Obama yesterday in a speech to the American Legion --

And more broadly, the crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today's evolving terrorist threat. The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military, and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism. Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL. So we’re strengthening our partners -- more military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria. We're urging Iraqis to forge the kind of inclusive government that can deliver on national unity, and strong security forces and good governance that are ultimately going to be the antidote against terrorists. And we're urging countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.

Barack Obama announcement today --

President Barack Obama today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Ankara, Turkey to attend the Inauguration of His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President-elect of the Republic of Turkey on August 28, 2014. Mr. Jess L. Baily, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the Embassy of the United States to the Republic of Turkey, will attend the Inauguration.

So when the supposed distinguishing feature of his counterterrorism strategy compared to that awful man George W. Bush is that it relies more on regional partnerships, all Turkey gets for its Presidential Inauguration of the country's dominant politician is that the interim ambassador will hop in a car and head over to the event? That would be Turkey: NATO member, Syria and Iraq neighbour, transit route for foreign fighters, outlet for Kurdish oil, and all-round major player in the region!

Barack goes wobbly

Richard Haass (President of Council on Foreign Relations), no doubt speaking for many of Washington DC's Very Serious People (VSPs) on foreign policy, advocating (in the FT, subs. req'd, preview) that Bashar al-Assad is Our Man in the Levant against ISIS --

Such a policy change would be costly but not as costly as a scenario in which Isis could use Syrian territory from which to mount attacks on the region and beyond. The Assad government may be evil – but it is a lesser evil than Isis, and a local one.

Richard Haass, explaining way back in the early 1990s to a PBS Frontline documentary about how the US Very Serious People on foreign policy had gotten Saddam Hussein so wrong in the late 1980s --

Q: And, again, you must have thought long and hard about this, why didn't you spot what was going to happen [in Kuwait]? What do you think was the fundamental reason why you weren't able to say to the President, hey, this guy [Saddam] we've got to watch, he's really dangerous, he's going to do it? 

RH: None of us harbored any illusions about Saddam Hussein. I think though that the reason we failed to predict what he did was simply because of its sheer brazenry and its magnitude. The idea that on a Sunday afternoon or something I was going to stroll into the Oval and go, by the way, Mr. President, Saddam Hussein is going to amass 100,000 plus forces and is going to walk into Kuwait and he's going to make this the 19th province of Iraq, and this is going to be major test of the post-Cold War world. It was too dramatic. Particularly when he probably could have had a lot of what he wanted short of doing that. Saddam, simply by being ... powerful, simply by being next door to Kuwait, it could have probably Finlandized and could have done what Syria did to Lebanon originally or what the Soviets did to Finland. He could have ..... pressured Kuwait into probably giving him a lot of what he wanted. Maybe we were - maybe we were victims of a mindset. Here it is, it's the post-Cold War world, people are talking about the end of history. Maybe we thought that the era had passed when countries, if you will, ............ with all their military force and simply tried to erase other countries off the map. Maybe it was simply too big of a thought for us to comfortably absorb. And if that's the case, I plead guilty.

So having admitted a long time ago that he underestimated the regional ambitions of a Baathist dictator, Richard Haass now wants us to gamble on another Baathist dictator.

If Bashar al-Assad actually comes out of the Syrian civil war that he caused still in power, he will do so owing Russia and Iran a lot of money and needing even more money to launch some kind of rebuilding, especially to keep his core Baathist constituency onside. And of course he has the track record of a semi-occupation of Lebanon for 20 years until his overreach of ordering Hezbollah to assassinate Rafik Hariri forced him out of there.

But despite the obvious parallels to the 1990 version of Saddam Hussein, Washington's VSPs are ready to cast their lot in with Bashar al-Assad. History happens the second time as farce in Washington, but always as tragedy in the Middle East.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Arnoud the American

Former French Minister of Economy Arnoud Montebourg quoted Paul Krugman in the speech that triggered the dissolution of the Cabinet but that wasn't the only American he quoted (or adapted) despite a line of rhetoric given to attacking American style capitalism. Here is during Monday remarks that sealed his resignation --

« Les faits économiques sont têtus »

That's the John Adams "Facts are stubborn things" line, adjusted for the circumstances. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Trucial Taunt

If events in the Arab World weren't so tragic, they would be funny. New York Times --

CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly teamed up to launch airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation between the supporters and opponents of political Islam. The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington or seeking its consent, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied the operation to American diplomats, the officials said ... The officials said that the U.A.E. — believed to have one of the most effective air forces in the region, thanks to American aid and training — provided the pilots, warplanes, and aerial refueling planes necessary for the fighters to bomb Tripoli out of bases in Egypt. The U.A.E. has not commented directly on the strikes. But on Monday an Emirati state newspaper printed a statement from Anwar Gargash, minister of state for foreign affairs, calling questions about an Emirati role “an escape” from the recent election that he suggested showed a desire for “stability” and a rejection of the Islamists. The allegations about the U.A.E. role, he said, came from a group who “wanted to use the cloak of religion to achieve its political objectives,” and “the people discovered its lies and failures.”

Among the striking things about where the world seems headed is that even the safest of conventional wisdom or smug narratives has an ever shorter shelf life. In this case, all the arguing about whether the US should or should intervene somewhere seems beside the point when other parties are not sitting back and waiting for an American decision. If anything, it seems to be the case here, as in Syria, that it's the lack of US intervention that is drawing in new players, who sense a free-for-all.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Not enough of a minority

The one year anniversary of the Assad regime chemical weapons attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta has passed with little notice. While there was an understandable concern about the unknowability of the consequences of a western military coalition strike on Damascus in response to the red line being crossed, given that tens of thousands of Syrian people have died in the last year and that the one rebel group being ignored by the Assads has taken over northwestern Iraq, those would have had to be pretty bad consequences to be worse than the actual choice of doing nothing. Of course there was that great disarmament deal brokered by Russia, which seems to have decided to observe the anniversary by invading more of Ukraine. Heckuva job all round.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Moral hazard in Algiers

There's a line of commentary on the murder of journalist James Foley by ISIL stating that it shows the difference between European and US policy on hostage negotiations i.e. that European countries pay ransoms (and so fund and incentivize further terrorism) and the US doesn't. It's set out clearly in this Reuters blog post by David Rohde, who himself survived such a kidnapping (by escaping).

Unfortunately this depressing episode reveals (among other things) how quickly previous hostage crises and the lessons thereof are forgotten. In January 2013 the big news story was the siege at the In Amenas gas plant in southern Algeria, and the decision of the Algerian military to shoot their way into the plant to relieve the siege and take the risk of some hostages dying, which they did. There was a tone of mystified superiority in much of the western media coverage of the Algerian response (a debate well reflected in this New York Times article), even though the Algerians had faced much more brutal tradeoffs than any western country in dealing with extremists; it's also worth noting that the Algerian approach does involve direct attack by ground forces and not from the safety of drones, so it's not that they are taking the easy way out.

Anyway the point is that once again, Syria is going to challenge any simple narrative of what should have been done. Paying ransoms funds terrorists, so in fact contrary to the anecdote mentioned by Rohde, it's Europeans who should be prevented from going to kidnap risk areas, not Americans. The US did send special forces to attempt a rescue, which failed, but it's not like they did nothing. It might be tempting to compare the Algerian approach to the Assad approach, but at this stage the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s looks like a model of finesse and legitimacy compared to the Assads. But there is no new moral conundrum in the Foley case.What's new is the widening circle of people who are becoming aware of it.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Typed through gritted teeth

US President Barack Obama statement on the destruction of Syria's declared chemical weapons stockpile --

... we appreciate the assistance of Russia and China.

Note: Russia and China have blocked a referral of the use of chemical weapons in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Here's one tweet that doesn't explain anything

At Vox, Max Fisher is excited --

News from 1096 AD: Pope endorses military force to destroy Middle Eastern caliphate ... Pope Francis, normally quite a peacenik, has endorsed the use of military force against Islamic State (ISIS), the terrorist group and self-declared caliphate that has seized large chunks of Syria and Iraq and is terrorizing civilians, especially Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities.

There follows a supercilious comparison of the alleged papal endorsement of the northern Iraq intervention with the Crusades against actual Caliphates.

The claimed endorsement is based on a Ken Thomas (AP) tweet which claims Pope Francis endorsed the use of force to protect minorities in Iraq. To leap from that to say that the normally "peacenik" Pope is suddenly endorsing wars is not consistent with a fuller account of the conversation occurring on the papal plane returning from Korea, as reported by Vatican news service --

Answering questions regarding the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities by fundamentalists of the Islamic State (IS), the Pope said that “it is legitimate to halt the unjust aggressor”. And he underlined the word “halt” pointing out that does not mean to “bomb”. He said the methods used to halt the aggressor are to be evaluated. The Pope also pointed out that in these cases we must not forget “how many times with the excuse of halting the unjust aggressor (…) have powerful nations taken possession of peoples and waged a war of conquest!” A single nation, he said, cannot judge how to stop an unjust aggressor, and he pointed to the United Nations as the right venue to discuss the issue. Pope Francis also pointed out that persecuted Christians are close to his heart but he underlined the fact that there are also other minorities suffering persecution, and they all have the same rights.

But that's all too subtle in the quest for click-bait.

UPDATE: A day later, a different Vox writer returns to the issue with a more considered approach.

So much for flypaper

From the US State Department announcement of additional sanctions against ISIL and Al-Nusra Front following the UN Security Council resolution on Friday --

Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, born Taha Sobhi Falaha in Syria, is the official spokesman for and a senior leader of ISIL. Al-Adnani is ISIL’s main conduit for the dissemination of official messages, including ISIL’s declaration of the creation of an Islamic Caliphate. Al-Adnani was one of the first foreign fighters to oppose Coalition forces in Iraq before becoming ISIL’s spokesman.

Recall that one of the ex post justifications for the 2003 invasion of Iraq was that the resulting fighting would attract bad guys from around the world to Iraq where they could be efficiently eliminated.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Napoleon Complex

Excerpt from a bizarre meeting between Vladimir Putin and pugnacious French conservative Philippe de Villiers, who was in Moscow to promote a War of 1812 theme park --

PHILIPPE DE VILLIERS: There’s something else I wanted to say with the press here. I want to say that in the hearts and minds of many Europeans, President Vladimir Putin is a much more respected figure, who they would much rather emulate than the majority of European leaders. 

VLADIMIR PUTIN: Thank you very much. 

 PHILIPPE DE VILLIERS: French farmers know full well who began this [Ukraine] war and who set this spiral of sanctions in motion. They know full well that it was the euro-commissioners in Brussels, who blindly follow what their American partners tell them to do. I think that Europe needs a voice now that would tell the other story and that would be heard. Though you can barely hear this voice right now, but it belongs to France.