Saturday, 13 September 2014

Why ignore the Al-Nusra Front?

Priorities, priorities, the Obama Administration has decided that al-Qaeda can wait while it focuses its bombing sorties and drone fired missiles on ISIS. Is it logically consistent to explain a strategy to the nation by making reference to successes in Somalia and Yemen places that make for an impressive Pentagon-CIA PowerPoint presentation where the target has been groups that announce their association with al-Qaeda while ignoring the al-Nusra Front – al-Qaeda’s designee in Syria? Is it logical to spare from attack a group that pledges its loyalty to one of America’s chief adversaries over the last 13 years?

Yes – consider for a moment that America’s allies are Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, states that have allowed their citizens to fund both the al-Nusra Front and ISIS; and Turkey that has made itself a main thoroughfare for “extremist travelers” (™ property of Government of Canada) otherwise called foreign fighters.  Qatar in particular hosts a major American military base while using al-Nusra as its preferred proxy in its competition for influence with Saudi Arabia. The regional allies are only willing to give up the dog in the fight that found a way to slip the leash.

If anyone is going to defeat ISIS in Syria surely someone is peeking out from an undisclosed location toward the Islamic Front  , as a sometime ally of the al-Nusra Front and adversary of ISIS, and hoping it does its part. Given that America’s allies can agree with the U.S. on one point, Assad must go (and they are going to hold Obama to those words) ; the U.S. must rely on the rebels groups that have proven to be the most Islamist competent notwithstanding any plans to train new and improved fighters.

Obama has created a new reality by acting now, like Karl Rove said empires do. In this new reality, a designated terrorist organisation associated with al-Qaeda, can rest easy because the attention of America’s foreign policy elite is directed along with its bombs and missiles, at somebody else. Meanwhile any help al-Qaeda the al-Nusra Front can provide will be welcome. 

Sunday, 7 September 2014

St, Louis County and the exploitation of the poor

Radley Balko reports:
Today, Bel-Ridge has about 2,700 people, 83 percent of whom are black, and 42 percent of whom live below the poverty line. In 2013 the town’s municipal court handled 7,706 traffic citations and issued 1,723 arrest warrants. As the ArchCity Defenders report in their white paper, the town estimates that in 2014, “it will collect $450,000 in fine revenue–or, an average of about $450 per Bel-Ridge household — making municipal court fines the largest single source of revenue in the budget.” The firm also reports that the Bel-Ridge municipal judge will make $18,600 this year, its prosecuting attorney $25,000, and its court clerks $38,350 — each to work three four-hour evening court sessions per month. The town also has a nine-member board of trustees and a police department. Bel-Ridge is also the town that issued fines to residents who didn’t subscribe the one private trash collection service authorized to pick up garbage.

Research for hire

The New York Times has apparently only now realized that think tank research is as much policy advocacy as it is the study of social phenomena. What has caused the NYT angst is that  much of the money  funding objective academic research is coming from foreigners: foreign governments to be specific. Among the leaders in the debasing of America's otherwise wholesome intellectual elite is Norway. The Norwegian government demands that its donations go toward promoting foreign aid and action on climate change - the audacity of the thing. As a matter of fact if think tanks are entering into an advocacy relationship with foreign governments they may be subject to the terms of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.  So to be fair the NYT concern is narrowly focused on the rule of law and its the lack of transparency for consumers of the research. 

The Center for Strategic and International Studies is one of the more influential think tanks in Washington. It is quite clear about the identity of its donors if not about what strings maybe attached to the donation. In reality while many of the large donors are foreign governments or entities with ties to foreign governments, most of the large donors are American corporations, some of them with business interests closely related to U.S. defence policy. What of these relationships? Any sharp teeth being applied to the benevolent hand? Furthermore, many think tanks have a clear ideological bias: the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation are conservative and aligned with the Republican Party; the Washington Institute Near East Policy  provides research that appears to be independent yet serves the agenda of AIPAC.  

Policy relevant research is always open to compromise. Start with the fact that sometimes the research agenda is set by governments themselves through their own funding initiatives and the power they have to shape public discourse. The term "rogue state" for example has been used more as means to organize and explain foreign policy than as an analytic concept in IR research. In a similar way terrorism and now "foreign fighters" are subjects that are driven largely by the presumed needs of policy makers than general social inquiry - at least within the think tank community. When you start writing a research paper by asking the question you think policy makers want answered you are risking taking on their assumptions and biases. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Economist doesn't believe that capitalists can be evil

The Economist has apologized and withdrawn a shameful book review that sought a fair and balanced view of slavery:
.........Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy
Chris Blattman provides a review of the academic literature on slavery while Henry Farrell reminds us of the The Economist's contemporaneous view of the Irish potato famine:
 … the people, rapidly increasing, have been reduced, by acts for which they are chiefly to blame, to a sole reliance on the precarious crop of potatoes. It would be unjust to Ireland – it would be a neglect of a great duty which is imposed on us at this time – if we did not point to this calamity, assuming as it does this aggravated form, as in a great measure the natural result of that crime which has precluded the people from other available resources. That the innocent suffer with the guilty, is a melancholy truth, but it is one of the great conditions on which all society exists. Every breach of the laws of morality and social order brings its own punishment and inconvenience. Where there is not perfect security, there cannot be prosperity. This is the first law of civilization.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Westernizers v. Russophiles in Ukraine

From Keith Gessen:
The people from the west wanted to be rid of the people from the east. Not so much in the name of Ukrainian nationalism as in the name of progress. For two decades the centre and especially the west of the country had been pursuing Europeanisation. There was certainly a socioeconomic difference in Donbass between the supporters of a unified Ukraine and the supporters of the DNR. 
........ I mention all this to stress the difference between those who supported the DNR in Donetsk and those who didn’t. But among the young professionals I also met a journalist from Lviv. She wasn’t just dressed better than anyone in Donetsk, she was dressed differently, as if on a civilisational level. She looked like she was from France.
And so imagine if for two decades you have been trying to pull your country, bit by bit, into Europe. Imagine that it’s been a bumpy road – everything you accomplish seems to get sabotaged by the political forces from the east. Imagine that finally the contradictions within your country have come to a breaking point. Imagine that all the people who opposed your politics for twenty years – all the most backward, poorest, least successful people in the country – got together in one place, declared an independent republic, and took up arms? What would you do? You could let them go. But then you’d lose all that land and its industrial capacity and also what kind of country just lets chunks of itself fall off?
More here 

Monday, 25 August 2014

A new Arab cold war?

The Sunni-Shiite conflict is now yesterday's war. According to the NYT, the U.A.E has carried out air strikes against Islamist militias that have been on the advance in Tripoli, Libya. The attacks originated from Egyptian bases, though the Egyptians deny that their forces participated. The Times quotes Michael Dunne , an expert with the Carnegie Endowment, who suggests that Qatar and Turkey have allied to support Islamist parties and militias across the region, bringing them into competition with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E and Egypt. 

The last time the region witnessed a major ideological competition was the emergence of pan-Arabism, leading to what Malcolm Kerr dubbed: the Arab Cold War. At that time the opposing factions aligned themselves, in practice, with a superpower patron. Indeed one could say that the greater cold war exacerbated regional tensions and helped the ideological conflict take on military dimensions: see North YemenThe current ideological competition is endogenous and the parties are all American allies. 

Unless one believes that civil wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya are going to end imminently; or that Hamas will defer to the leadership of Fatah, or that the Qataris are going to run out of money and now president Erdogan will tire of the spotlight; there will be ample opportunities for the competition for influence to continue. Turkey is a Nato ally, while Qatar hosts a major U.S military base. An American tilt to its major Arab allies, Saudi Arabia and Egypt is likely but not without concessions to Qatar and Turkey. 

It is reasonable for the United States to demand an end to the cash and military support for Islamist militias in states where there is an ongoing military conflict - asking is not getting - however the more complicated matter is democracy. The Egyptian military has shown that it will not tolerate an Islamist government; on this point the Saudis and the U.A.E appear to concur. If the U.S is serious about democracy promotion it will have to distinguish between a violent and democratic path to power for Islamist parties. The former being unacceptable and on the latter the U.S would have to express a willingness to reserve judgement. 

Meanwhile in places like Syria , neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia has shown that it can entirely keep from indulging extremism: the more important priority for American and its western allies. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Grin and bear it

How should you react to a police officer violating your rights? Sunil Dutta explains for the Washington Post:  
But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment. Worse, initiating a physical confrontation is a sure recipe for getting hurt. Police are legally permitted to use deadly force when they assess a serious threat to their or someone else’s life. Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.
Of course, the system is highly effective at identifying examples of police officers abusing their power. 

H/T djw