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.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The easiest way to get 50,000 people off a mountain

Is for them never to have been there in the first place. In the expanding annals of blog futility, we've tried to keep track of the more bogus news stories about ISIS: the US$500 million bank robbery, the tweet to Lionel Messi, the Rolex watch on the Caliph, and the alleged order of FGM for women. At first there was enough supporting evidence backing up a claim of a crisis of Mount Sinjar that the 50,000 fleeing people number seems to have slipped through the filters and motivated an American intervention which strongly benefitted the Kurds. Now, the Pentagon says there's nothing like that number of Yazidis still there, and it's not entirely clear where they went.

Remember, not everything you read about ISIS is true. 

Word on the street

Every so often this blog makes a futile attempt to enter the word Securocrat into the American news lexicon. Its perfect embodiment of how administration and internal security merge into an unquestioned aspect of every day lives is surely suited to events in Ferguson, Missouri. Of course as in the Northern Ireland context, we only get a good look at the full securocrat infrastructure in particular situations and at particular times.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Always involved

Not specific to David Brooks but here he is repeating a common claim of the last few weeks --

We are now living in what we might as well admit is the Age of Iraq. The last four presidents have found themselves drawn into that nation because it epitomizes the core problem at the center of so many crises: the interaction between failing secular governance and radical Islam.

 The 4 presidents and their involvement being Bush I (Kuwait), Clinton (the no-fly zones), Bush II (Saddam) and now Obama.

The thing is, it's the last 5 presidents. Reagan supported Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war and actively intervened in the so-called Tanker War, which benefitted the Saddam regime. Iraq has been at war since 1980, and the US has been a player on the field since then.

The Syria shambles

At The Monkey Cage blog (hosted at the Washington Post), Marc Lynch argues very persuasively that US military supplies to the Syrian rebels would never have worked and would have pulled the US in even deeper as there would have been inevitable pressure to scale up once such an intervention had failed. Nonetheless, a few points may be worth setting out.

Lynch's basic diagnosis is that the anti-Assad forces were too fragmented and had too many competing external supporters for US support to be decisive. But that fragmentation of the opposition and the multiple external partners was itself due to a lack of direction from western countries in how to handle the uprising -- the default position was to outsource it to Turkey and the Gulf countries.

But taking that narrative of the opposition as given, how does the actual White House policy on Syria stack up? At key stages of the conflict, American policy weakened the moderate opposition and thus strengthened the hardline elements like ISIS and the Al-Nusra Front. Consider:

  • Repeated announcements by the US that they would be supplying weapons to the rebels -- which as far as anyone can tell, never arrived. Not helpful to the moderates' credibility.
  • Championing the Geneva peace talks even though they knew this was a disorganized opposition across the table from a cohesive Assad regime, which in turn had backing from Russia for a maximalist position. Not helpful to the moderates' credibility.
  • The "red line" fiasco. Even if it was the right outcome, it confirmed to all sides that Assad could do anything and no western military intervention was coming. A gift to hardline rebels saying that jihad was the only solution. The massive private fundraising in Kuwait that Lynch describes doesn't happen in a vacuum -- it happens against a video backdrop of Assad regime atrocities committed with impunity, motivating donors to the rebel cause in the Gulf.
  • Russia. The US spent at least two years operating on the assumption that Russia was not a bad faith actor in international relations, including in Syria. Key decisions including participation in Geneva (see above) and how to handle the chemical weapons attack (see above) flowed from that. Only with Ukraine (and despite claims from Ben Rhodes that there was no link between Ukraine and the Arab crises) did the scales fall from the eyes. Bad assumptions lead to bad policy outcomes.
And finally, even if all the above can be refuted, and Lynch is 100 percent correct, there is still the issue of managing the spillover. ISIS came to Iraq from Syria, apparently catching the US by surprise. If the rational decision was to let Syria fester for 3 years, the idea that all the chaos was going to stay one side of a Sykes-Picot line was delusional.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Not the last war's bad guys

Josh Marshall solicited reader views on why ISIS had been so successful encroaching on Kurdish-protected territory in northern Iraq and an apparently well-credentialed but unnamed reader provided a response --

As for ISIS, they are just a resurgent and re-named al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have the same combat capability they have always had. They fight with suicide bombers, AK-47s and RPG-7 rocket launchers, single vehicle long range battlefield rocket launchers and are mobile in what we call TTFs – Toyota Task Forces.

Reuters report on the ISIS advance --

The Sunni militants routed Kurds in their latest advance with tanks, artillery, mortars and vehicles seized from fleeing Iraqi troops.  

Saturday, August 09, 2014

R2P, T&C may apply

New York Times processology on the American military intervention in northern Iraq --

Officials told Mr. Obama there was a real danger of genocide, under the legal definition of the term. “While we have faced difficult humanitarian challenges, this was in a different category,” said an official. “That kind of shakes you up, gets your attention.”

Since thousands of deaths in the Assad regime chemical attack on Damascus, not to mention the overall death toll in Syria, failed to generate this kind of shaking or attention-getting in the White House, one has to conclude that if any group of civilians is planning to be murdered in the thousands, they need to do it within driving distance of a US diplomatic facility (since the proximity to the Erbil consulate is being used as one rationale for intervention), or that the threatened group amounts to a significant percentage of the overall population.

Sorry, Sunni Arabs, you're out of luck.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Boundary issues

Barack Obama is conducting limited air strikes against ISIL and at Vox, the verdict is already in -- it's brilliant!

Max Fisher -- If you are a member of ISIS, here is how you might hear Obama's message: Stay away from Iraqi Kurdistan, and the rest of northern Iraq is yours to keep. Based on Obama's words and actions so far, you would not be so wrong.

Matthew Yglesias -- A policy of assisting Kurdish forces against ISIS while declining to do much to help the Iraqi government reconquer the rest of the country packs a lot less emotional punch than a stern declaration of America's commitment to fighting this truly evil group would. And yet it's the right call.

There's just one problem. The last President who thought he could confine ISIS to a particular zone with calibrated military intervention was ... Bashar al-Assad! It's well documented strategy of the Damascus regime to ignore the ISIS-held areas as long as they stayed away from the critical corridors from the capital to the sea, the thinking being that they were performing a useful role in fighting other anti-Assad militias behind the lines while discrediting the opposition overall. Unfortunately for everyone, ISIS used their space in Syria to grow into a much more dangerous trans-national force.

So now we have a situation where Bashar al-Assad thinks he can confine them to particular parts of Syria (except they've now popped up in Lebanon) and the Vox-approved Barack Obama approach is based on confining them to particular parts of Iraq.

And somehow Turkey -- a NATO member -- is not supposed to be alarmed by any of this.
 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Crowded attention space

The current focus on the plight of the Iraqi Yazidis makes it worth recalling the disastrous bombings they suffered in 2007, but occurring at another time when Iraqi deaths didn't seem to matter much, it was quickly forgotten. It's not clear whether the apparent White House rush to intervene now on their behalf reflects a reassessment of previous assumptions (e.g. that the Kurdish military would perform better than the Iraqi military) or of broader strategy in the region (e.g. the "let's leave Bashar al-Assad there and see what happens" approach to Syria). Without such rethinking, the current Yazidi crisis will be dust in the wind as quickly as 2007.

UPDATE: Good post from Josh Marshall making the same point as the latter element of the above i.e. that some of the assumptions about ISIS prospects in Iraq must be wrong. He puts it in terms of whether the Peshmerga was weaker than advertised or ISIS stronger, but the foundational assumption of the entire White House Levant strategy since 2011 is that Syria could be ignored -- and most pundits have dutifully followed that assumption.

Just in case anyone is telling you about the natural beauty on their Aran Islands holliers

Irish Times --

A massive logistical operation got under way off the west coast today [6 Aug] to deliver water to two island communities. Up to 240,000 litres of water is being transported daily to the Aran Islands of Inis Méain and Inis Oírr after a drought which left water supplies there at dangerously low levels. While many parts of the country have experienced repeated downpours and localised flooding since the start of the summer, the Aran Islands have had very little rainfall and the porous limestone terrain has meant that only small amounts of rainwater have been retained there.
 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Up the Republic (of Scotland)

As we've previously outlined, the Best of Both Worlds position on the Scotland referendum is that contrary to their mockery of the pro-Union catchphrase, er, Best of Both Worlds, it's the SNP who tried to have an unattainable Best of Both Worlds in the form of an independent Scotland with the pound as its currency, no lapse in EU membership, and the Windsors as the head of state. From that perspective, it follows what the SNP should do in the final 6 weeks to get to Yes, so here's the 3 point plan:

  • The Scottish currency will be a currency board i.e. a newly issued Scottish pound but backed 100 percent by holdings of sterling and fixed at 1:1
  • The SNP accepts that EU membership will lapse but instead proposes upon independence to seek immediate status equivalent to Switzerland while it reinstates EU membership. Any claim that rejoining the EU means committing to the Euro can be dealt with by the Swedish wheeze.
  • The SNP admits that Queen or no Queen, Scottish citizens will no longer be UK citizens but will look for arrangements similar to that given to the Irish Free State after 1922, which included lengthy transitions on eligibility and generous treatment of resident non-citizens from each jurisdiction (note that for this one, being outside the EU might actually be an advantage).

But all of the above means admitting that independence will have costs and uncertainties, and realizing its full benefits will be protracted. And it doesn't guarantee that an independent Scotland will have no food banks (as Alex Salmond claimed in the debate with Alistair Darling last night). It's also the path to a Republic!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Data gets old quickly

The Glenn Greenwald vehicle The Intercept has a splashy story noting the preposterous size (around 1 million people) of one of the US government terrorist databases. But there are some puzzling things about some of the charts in the article, which appear to draw directly from powerpoint presentations within the US government about the database.

The main problem is that even though the numbers are presented as being as of 2013, they make several references to Al Qaeda in Iraq and even use an obscure acronym for that group (AQIZ) -- a group and a leader (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) that hasn't existed since 2008. Of course that group's DNA is present in ISIL, which descended from it, but ISIL is not mentioned at all in the database, whereas its more established competitor Al Nusra Front is mentioned, but only in the context of a social media-style "trending" analysis.

The Intercept article also presents what it sees as a contradiction -

Although the Obama administration has repeatedly asserted that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula poses the most significant external terrorist threat to the United States, the 8,211 people identified as being tied to the group actually represent the smallest category on the list of the top ten recognized terrorist organizations.

That's the difference between ranking groups based on "number of members" and "the one with a badass bombmaker" which is why the overall assessment can differ from the number of people in a database. It's something easily Googled, which might also be a better use of the NSA powerpointer's time/

If you study sociology, you're a communist

From Barack Obama's really quite good interview with The Economist --

Mr Obama: Well, this is why I say there may be some generational shifts that need to take place. I mean, if you think about a Brazil, an India, a South Africa, much of the leadership in those governments came of age when those countries had very different attitudes towards the global economic system. To their credit, they have made incredible adjustments. If you think about somebody like former Prime Minister Singh of India really dragging this massive, incredibly complicated but incredibly innovative society kicking and screaming into the world marketplace, and below him, though, you’ve got an entire bureaucracy that was trained in thinking that—

The Economist: By the British? (Laughter.)

Mr Obama:—well, but also that may have been schooled by economists who were experts on dependency theory but not necessarily on how are we going to unleash innovation.

From Radical-in-Chief, Stanley Kurtz's book-length thesis that Barack Obama has been always hiding his ultra-leftism in plain sight, there's a discussion of Obama's years in New York City immediately after graduation --

[quoting Obama] I instructed my mother on the various ways that foreign donors and international development organizations like the one she was working for bred dependence in the Third World [end Obama quote] .... Knowledgeable leftists, however, will identify Obama's swipe at his mother as a reference to the dependency theory popular among Marxist students of the Third World at the time.

There's nothing especially Marxist about the view that development aid breeds dependence, in fact it's a view found among conservative critics of foreign aid. And it's definitely not a unique element of dependency theory, which is much more about the structural constraints facing peripheral developing countries, a story in which aid agencies are bit players. Kurtz just needed a leap from his Obama quote containing the word dependence to another piece of evidence for secret Marxism, and he found it.

As the Obama quote to The Economist shows, he knows full well what dependency theory is and how it related to India's flawed development model. To Kurtz, just the fact of him studying those issues was grist for the mill.

Blast Groundhogs Day

Superb reporting from Reuters on how ISIS is using Saddam's tunnels and drawing a response from the Iraqi government --

Fighters in the area are using rough terrain to evade death and capture: swamps, high reeds, bushes and irrigation canals that military vehicles can't traverse. Desperate to gain an upper hand, the army has started to pound the terrain with "barrel bombs" - drums filled with explosives or fuel dropped from the air. "Islamic State fighters swept the town and kicked out security forces, and to regain control we need to deal with around 10,000 acres of farmland area," said a military colonel."We have stared to follow a scorched earth policy. This is tough, we know, but army helicopters should have clear vision to chase and destroy them."

So the government is destroying farmland like Saddam Hussein and using barrel bombs like Bashar al-Assad. And yet there's headscratching among foreign policy elites about why ISIS can attract popular support!

Monday, August 04, 2014

Here's one theory you don't want to know about Gaza

Classic Vox journalism from Matt Yglesias at Vox about Gaza: apparently one reason there are lots of child casualties from the Israeli assault is that ... Gaza has lots of kids! He claims to be presenting the demographic background to something others have noted, but all he does is present a chart showing the percentage of the population that is young people. The much more edgy yet data-driven approach would have been to ask why Gaza has such a skewed population structure. But that would get into some very touchy areas for Israel, the Palestinians, and even the United Nations -- if for example one delves into the theories of Gunnar Heinsohn. We think there's a lot more going on than in Heinsohn's approach, but isn't this the kind of thing that Vox was going to help sort out?

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Cranky World War I post

It is great that we will not have to get the downer World War II memorializing until 2039. And it is also excellent that the Great War started in August allowing the media to put all their planned programmes on tape 6 months ago and then run them during the silly season. Unless of course we are running the risk of not seeing the significance of news that happens in summer.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Sometimes you have to unplug rather than reset

Hillary Clinton in an interview with NPR On Point, via CNN --

"When Putin announced in the fall of 2011 that he was coming back, I had no illusions," Clinton said. "I wrote a memo to the President, in fact I wrote two memos to the President, pointing out that we were going to have to change our thinking and approach. We had gotten all we could get from the reset."

President Obama in his 2012 congratulatory phone call to the returning Putin --

President Obama and President-Elect Putin agreed that the successful reset in relations should be built upon during the coming years.

"Built upon" is not the same as "gotten all we could from" or "change our thinking and approach."

Fool me fivance, shame on me

Finally, finally, the media are exhibiting a bit of scepticism about whatever the latest ISIS outrage is. The claim that ISIS had ordered female genital mutilation -- reported by a UN official on video-conference from Erbil (i.e. not in an ISIS area) is already being debunked. And it never made sense. FGM occurs in some Arab countries (generally the poorer ones or the poorer areas thereof) but it is not in the culture of the Levant or Gulf countries (despite occasional attempts by Islamophobes to claim that it is).

Now if only we could get more acknowledgement that the ISIS $400 million bank robbery, the ISIS tweet to Lionel Messi, the $3000 Rolex on the Caliph, and the 1800 year-old church burning were also fake.

Folks, they do enough bad real stuff that you really don't need to fall for this unholy alliance of link-chasers and notoriety-seekers.

Strategery

In a New York Times analysis article, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes defends the Obama foreign policy stances --

We have longer run plays that we’re running. Part of this is keeping your eye on the long game even as you go through tumultuous periods.

The problem with this is its assumption that the White House is the only one playing the long game. In fact, none of the crises that they are dealing with are easy to understand from the perspective of short-term gains, since the various players (Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Hamas, ISIS) are all suffering significant costs for their current adversarial roles. The question needs to be: where will these crises stand 2 years from now? And the White House doesn't have a particularly good story for why things will look better than they do now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Border control

In the mid-afternoon cable news cycle (US East Coast), it was clear that the big crisis in Israel was not the hundreds of deaths in Gaza but the fact that foreign airlines had suspended service into Tel Aviv for 24 hours. In fairness to the cable news talking heads, they were clearly reflecting what they were hearing from the Israeli government. Anyway, it must have been one of those cognitive dissonance moments for Fox News viewers, inculcated in the belief that Europe hates Israel, to hear the list of mostly European carriers that normally fly to Israel.

Given that the Israeli government is usually portrayed as being strong in strategy and public relations, it seems like a strange blunder to make such a big deal about the flight cancellations. They've told the world their point of sensitivity. European airports have bad days for various reasons -- strikes and weather -- but after the disruption has passed, things return to normal. So the claim that it's concern about "economic impact" doesn't ring true. Instead it seems that international air service is one of those badges of being a western state that Israel wants -- while at the same time wanting a free pass on using heavy weapons in urban areas, because after all, Bashar al-Assad is worse.

Finally, there were some noises in the cable news cycle, presumably coming from Israeli officials, that the flight cancellation were disrupting Christian pilgrimages. There's an easy way for Israel to deal with that. They could just simplify admission procedures from Jordan at the Allenby Bridge, which on the West Bank side is already very close to Bethlehem and Nazareth. It might be another bout of cognitive dissonance for Fox News viewers to hear that it is possible to go from Jordan to Israel. But perhaps even worse, it would give western visitors using the land crossing an insight into what it's always like for Palestinians wanting to visit the territories.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vox.com denies occurrence of 1970s oil shock

In that previously criticized here MH17 storystream on Vox, Matthew Yglesias contributes One Fact That Explains How Europe Could Crush Russia's Economy. The actual discussion in the text is about trade, but the accompanying chart shows Russia's GDP compared to Europe, the point being that Russia's economy is not that large compared to combined European Union GDP.

So since this new data-driven wonk journalism seems to be what the kids are doing these days, we've presented up above 1972 GDP (obtained from the World Bank online databank) for the USA, France, Germany, the UK, and the USA compared to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. We tried to get more Arab countries such as UAE and Iraq but the data was not available.

By the logic of the Yglesias calculation, isn't it astounding that a 1973 trade embargo by countries that don't even register on a chart of GDP (and others with no data at all) could cause such disruption to western countries?

There must be something special about those countries that is not in the chart (or in the Vox Russia chart) -- what could it be?

About that new-look chastened Vladimir Putin

Here is addressing his national security council today --

However, in today's world is increasingly the language of ultimatums and sanctions. The very notion of state sovereignty is eroded. Objectionable regimes, countries that pursue independent policies or simply stand in the way of someone's interests, destabilizing. To do this, in the course are the so-called color revolutions, and if we call a spade a spade - just coups instigated and financed externally ... Often relies on the radical, nationalist, or simply on the neo-fascist, fundamentalist forces, as it happened, unfortunately, in many countries of the former Soviet Union, and what is happening now in Ukraine, almost the same thing - that we are now seeing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

And since Bibi was elected, that means ...

We had to check this one first to make sure it's not a parody, but indeed here's a straight up Thane Rosenbaum writing in the Wall Street Journal, and a headline with scare quotes around the world Innocent --

... The asymmetry is complicated even further by the status of these [Gaza] civilians. Under such maddening circumstances, are the adults, in a legal and moral sense, actual civilians? To qualify as a civilian one has to do more than simply look the part. How you came to find yourself in such a vulnerable state matters. After all, when everyone is wearing casual street clothing, civilian status is shared widely ... On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets ... Surely there are civilians who have been killed in this conflict who have taken every step to distance themselves from this fast-moving war zone, and children whose parents are not card-carrying Hamas loyalists. These are the true innocents of Gaza. It is they for whom our sympathy should be reserved. The impossibility of identifying them, and saving them, is Israel's deepest moral dilemma..

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Freedom's just another word for some important technicalities

In the New York Times Sunday Review, Neal Ascherson summarizes the independence debate in Scotland --

This referendum, the third, dares the Scots to go the last mile: proposing an independent Scottish state within the European Union, sharing a monarch (after the fashion of Commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia), and possibly a currency, with the rump of the old United Kingdom.

Other than the first clause (an independent Scotland would be outside the EU for a long time), the second (Alex Salmond has used a bogus Ireland analogy to explain Scotland's status after leaving the UK), and the third (England will not agree to a sterling union), he's right!

Indeed, the problem with the independence proposal is precisely that it doesn't go the last mile and frankly propose full sovereignty and accept that international relations would have to be evolved from risks of isolation and ambiguity -- as the Irish Free State did.

So he's right about that last mile thing too!

Valid if you also include the airspace of those neighbours

A sentence from Barack Obama's March news conference in The Hague, a sentence that did not get found out quite as fast as ISIS undermined his West Point speech, but still --

Russia is a regional power that is threatening some of its immediate neighbors not out of strength, but out of weakness.

What does that mean when that "weakness" includes handing anti-aircraft systems to puppet-separatist goons?