Tag Archives: iran

Bigger than Trump

Trigger warning: islamophobia, war, mass surveillance

Donald Trump has returned to dominate lists of trending tags with an astounding call to bar all Muslims – only days later clarifying citizens would probably be exempt – from entering the United States. His campaign underscored exactly what he was talking about when asked to clarify. He really means everyone, from immigrants to refugees to tourists, with a complete and total ban on admission into the United States for any amount of time.

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Cordoba House supporters protesting in New York City in 2010, from here.

With that, the Republican front-runner has managed to do the unthinkable, and draw criticism from not only outside of his party but also some of the most militant voices in the Republican establishment for being too vocally or categorically or extremely anti-Muslim. Dick Cheney, Carly Fiorina, and Lindsey Graham have spoken out, in Graham’s case with a request for a Party-wide rebuke of Trump.

That speaks to an odd, scapegoating dynamic. Trump isn’t the source of anti-Muslim attitudes in the US, he’s simply ridden them (and related prejudices) to the top of the polls in the Republican primary. The establishment or establishment-approved voices now calling for a rejection of Trump and his politics have all dabbled in the building blocks of his call for an anti-Muslim travel ban. Previously a number of other candidates had called for a smaller scale version of the precise same thing, with a complete ban on Muslim refugees, including establishment-favorite Jeb Bush.

I’ve touched on this before, but the anti-Muslim elements that Trump has put out in full display have long been woven into the national politics in the US. The language not only Republicans or conservatives but almost everyone in political discussion uses to describe militancy or oppression – jihad, Taliban, Mecca- is studded with words borrowed from various Islamic contexts. Their use draws on that negative image of Muslims, and repurposes some of that. That speaks to the way that islamophobia has become a public resource, tapped into to find ways of characterizing others you disagree with.

More unique to the American rightwing, however, has been the development of an entire industry devoted to weaponizing that. The research cited by Trump’s campaign to justify their proposed policy has come under scrutiny for its lack of rigor. The study, however, speaks to the vast web of connections within anti-Muslim conservative politics, in which the head of the group conducting the study was active in stirring up a whole series of panics over the past few years.

In 2011, Frank Gaffney Jr. of the Center for Security Policy inspired multiple Republican congressional representatives and several Republican-controlled state governments to look into the possibility of efforts to enshrine Sharia law within the US. From there, his organization’s periodicals and pamphlets shifted to trying to root out a first Iranian, later Wahhabi conspiracy within the White House. In each of those cases, Gaffney explicitly sought out “a new and improved counterpart to the Cold War-era’s HUAC” and Republicans at both the national and state level attempted to deliver.

While extremist figures in the Republican Party tilted at those windmills, like representative Peter King and former representative Michele Bachmann, Gaffney’s description of a US at existential risk appears to have circulated in other, more establishment-aligned Republican circles. Presidential contender Marco Rubio is widely considered the moderate Republican alternative to the imploding Jeb Bush, and his campaign seems to be making “civilizational struggle,” a tweaked version of Gaffney’s “civilizational jihad,” their main refrain.

The policy prescriptions within these discussions are quite predictable – bans on immigration or even visitation, more militarization at US borders, more US military presence and operations in Muslim-majority countries. It’s at its core the state-centered politics that a number of conservatives spent 2009 declaring their abject opposition to, only to call for all that and quite literally a reboot of the House Un-American Activities Committee. As has been said before, it’s a smaller government… for some. For others, namely Muslims, it’s a sprawling global system of mass surveillance and warfare.

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Decatur Boarding the Tripolitan Gunboat” by Dennis Malone Carter in 1804, a depiction of the first conflict in which the US flag was planted in military triumph – in a majority Muslim territory’s soil. From here.

The Republican efforts to win at the state or local level often with these investigations and policy ideas speaks to which side ultimately wins between the establishment and the base.

The national party has a campaign war chest and their share of candidates. Still, their money has lost handily to Trump going national with what’s worked for them at the state level. In the meantime, establishment-friendly candidates like Bush and Rubio have been presenting policies and making claims cut from the same anti-Muslim cloth.

Trump is just one person, saying more obviously and at the national level what’s been said throughout the Republican Party and more broadly even for years. It’s worked in more local elections, and so far in this primary the same sort of thing has only helped him amass support. National polls haven’t yet documented whether Trump’s support has eroded after his recent comments, but initial signs show his appeal only growing within the primary.

Just like the steady drift towards a more heavy-handed solution in conversations among self-described libertarians, he’s simply following a Republican playbook to its logical conclusion. Doesn’t that say more about the playbook than about him?

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We can walk away from the table

Trigger Warning: war, sanctions, imperialism, medical violence

It’s easy to dismiss the rejection of the new accords between Iran and the US as a sort of simplistic radicalism. Actually, with people like former congressional representative Michele Bachmann, saying that these terrible deals are ushering in the end times but are also great because its, again, ushering in the end times, it’s difficult not to conclude that it’s a mix of strange eschatology and hypernationalism that has led to members of both nations to speak out against the deal.

To be fair, that isn’t an entirely unrealistic depiction of the case in Iran, where the government has “suspended” one newspaper for stating that Iran’s negotiators gave away too much ground in this deal. Support for the deal, which would end the international sanctions which have devastated Iran’s economy and restricted access to critical medical supplies and other necessities, is clearly something that many people are willing to show. The dangers and difficulties to be faced by the majority of Iranians if the deal doesn’t go through – the threat of invasion, of war, of economic hardships – are visible, known, and actually a coercive factor in pushing all but the most fiercely militaristic into supporting the deal.

That isn’t the lived experience for most residents of the United States, however. Involvement in some sort of war in broader Middle East and southern Central Asia has been on-going, a part of American life for more than a decade now. But for all but the small minority of people in the US military, it’s a distant reality. War is something that happens somewhere else to someone else. The tiny fraction of the population engaged directly in the conflict is only shrinking further, for that matter, as new military policies and practices replace ground troops with (increasingly automated) drones. There are of course the people who under those conditions are rather jingoistic, and in a Bachmann-esque manner call for an apocalyptic war they won’t have to fight.

iranian protest favor of dealAn Iranian family supportive of the deal hold up a sign welcoming the end of sanctions which reads “Hello, World!” From here.

But there are also numerous “moderates” for whom a rejection of the deal is more than not political toxic, at times politically viable and even useful. Much has been made of Senator (D-NY) Chuck Schumer’s planned rejection of the deal. He was joined yesterday by Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Neither of those Senators are particularly known for voting with the more reflexively militaristic Republicans, and yet, they have found themselves on that side of the vote on this. The processes influencing that are multiple and complex, but fundamentally, there is the reality that the US and Iran come to the negotiating table unequally. We have the ability to reject the deal in a way that they do not. We cannot overlook and equate our critics of negotiation with theirs, because we aren’t them and we don’t have a stake in this the way they do.

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The news that might not seem like news

TW: Iraq-Iran War, Syrian Civil War, chemical warfare, war crimes, US imperialism, neocolonialism

Given how it’s been widely known (just rarely acknowledged) that the US was involved in providing Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime with chemical weapons during the Iraq-Iran War, at first glance the revelations reported by Foreign Policy might seem unremarkable. But the devil in this case is very much so in the details.


(The shaded portions of Iraq and Iran were occupied by the other country during the 8 year war, and were likely sites of chemical attacks on civilians and Iranian forces by the Iraqi government.)

As Shane Harris and Matthew Aid explained in their article:

U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent. The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

In other words, the US did more than simply provide illicit materials, it made certain that those chemical weapons would be used with maximum effectiveness, to guarantee a winner in the war. What was just strongly shown was how true many of the long-standing complaints about that war were. It was transformed from a local war into a larger proxy conflict through the US’s and other military powers’ involvement. A blind eye was turned towards war crimes during it. It is an iconic example of flawed US foreign policy in the Muslim world.

This revelation has the obvious political impact of revealing the US hypocrisy in beginning to intervene in Syria in response to chemical weapons use during the revolution-turned-civil-war in that country. I suspect someone will soon point out that many of the Syrian casualties have been non-combatant civilians, unlike during the Iraq-Iran War. Never mind that the CIA’s own 1983 documents concluded that “If the Iraqis produce or acquire large new supplies of mustard agent, they almost certainly would use it against Iranian troops and towns near the border” (emphasis added).

During the drive towards the Iraq invasion under the more recent Bush administration, the chemical weapons massacres of Kurds and Shia protesters in Iraq were seen as an entirely separate set of events from the more neutral events of the Iraq-Iran War, but that entire framing was clearly, by our own government’s assessment, inaccurate. There was a clear connection between the use of chemical weapons on Iranian troops and their use on Iraqi civilians (as well as Iranians as well) suspected on the basis of their communal identities to be sympathetic to the Iranians.

We knowingly created conditions highly similar to those in play today in Syria. There’s no other way of explain this.

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Extremism in Syria?

I’ve been meaning for a few days now to write about the interview with a member of Jabhat al-Nusra (a Sunni extremist militia network in Syria) that has been widely published, including at The Economist. As I’ve discussed before, Syria is an almost unimaginably complex conflict that I often avoid discussing not because it’s largely unacknowledged (which are the sort of issues I actually try to cover here), but because it honestly seems not my place to comment on how intractable and disastrous the current situation is (and morally speaking how inaction seems monstrous but intervention seems barbaric).

Setting aside the complicated issue of intervention, treating this single member of one of the rebel forces as a voice that can be allowed to speak for the whole of the anti-government bloc in Syria seems strange. Even within the discussion by the young Syrian man, other religious factions (namely the Christians, Shia, and Alouites) are subjects to be broached later not actual players in the on-going conflict. The promotion of this single testimony to the whole of the Syrian opposition, and even more so, the whole of a hypothetical post-Assad Syria seems unmerited.

But equally importantly, to the extent that Jabhat al-Nusra is a thing at this given moment in the Syrian civil war, that loose organization has a context to its prominence and influence. As Al-Jazeera’s reported, the reasons behind Jabhat al-Nusra’s ascendancy have much more to do with the availability of weapons and other supplies than a congruence between their vision of a post-Assad Syria and that of the majority of Syrians.

There’s even those who allege that the international flows of weapons into Syria were deliberately designed to create a rebellion with a Sunni extremist front. The arguments behind that seem weak (namely that the US is motivated to create a force that it declares outside of the law… so that Syrian rebels can violate international law). More interesting is the prospect that Qatar is not a US stooge but rather independently acting to facilitate a Sunni hegemony like that which exists in the Arabian peninsula but in further northern areas.

State_Religions
(Saudi Arabia is the only state in the Arabian peninsula that specifies its state religion to be Sunni Islam, but its neighboring Islamic states other than Iraq often interpret the state religion to be decidedly Sunni in nature. Syria is another exception for the immediate region in that it doesn’t have a state religion – and barring an effective takeover by Jabhat al-Nusra, it won’t gain one. Iran is the final one in that it is decidedly Shia in its state religion.)

While it’s possible to perceive a US-backed effort to prop up Sunni extremists in Syria as a means of dismantling primarily Shia pro-Iranian sentiment, it seems quite reasonable to view this as a slightly regionally extended anti-Shia bias financed and supported by often radically Sunni individuals and states situated in the Arabian peninsula. As I’ve pointed to again and again, Syria is an incredibly complex conflict, but it seems worth asking if forces are at play with the intent to turn it into a Shia-Sunni conflict as a means of indirectly striking at Iran and pushing Sunni hegemony ever northward.

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The unreality in America

TW: gun violence, political killings

Over the past couple of days, one particular study has set much of the US blogosphere on fire (along with a few more established media commentators). In a nutshell, congressional representatives consistently estimate their districts to be more conservative than they actually are – independent of their party identity (although Republicans overestimate more egregiously). It’s not just you, US politics really are distorted.


(Both elected Democrats and Republicans estimate their districts to be much more conservative than they actually are, from here.)

While I’m glad that someone’s gone ahead and quantified this phenomenon, I’m sadly not surprised in the least. The US has long had politics that seemed unreal, a fact that comes with nearly daily reminders. I was particularly struck by that confusing part of living in the US while watching Rachel Maddow of all news programs last night. She was explaining the significance of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and noted that he had connections to so many different countries that the US was in direct or indirect conflict with.

She ran through the list: “He buddied up ostentatiously with the Castro brothers in Cuba. He aligned himself with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President of Iran. He signed giant oil contracts with the Chinese government. He bought weapons and fighter jets from the Russians.” It’s a bit curious that we think of these deals and connections as making Chavez exceptional, rather than reflecting the oddly solitary nature of the US in the world. Maybe Chavez was friends with many of our enemies, but doesn’t that imply something about how many enemies we have?

I had another such rude awakening this morning while commuting to work. In front of me I noticed a peculiar bumper sticker:


(A bumper sticker proclaiming: “Exist” written in scopes and firearms, from here.)

There’s a lot being said with that one word, but let’s simply start with the obvious: it say exist, rather than co-exist. It blatantly rips off and responds to that image that’s at least iconic to me, but it modifies it. Rather than mutual effort to understand respect one another, it’s a declaration of a right to violence. It’s a summary of a growing political philosophy in this country – that violence is a means of establishing one’s freedom. It joins the ranks of scores of earlier joke “hunting licenses” and maps with scopes on them.

But there’s also an important question in light of the evidence that the political realities of the US are not what they seem, that those stickers should raise: are they so impacting because of an actual threat of violence? Or are they so shocking because while vocal, they’re such outliers from the rest of the US? In other words, are they the last stand of a disappearing political subculture? And what risks do such last stands pose?

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Why no one is intervening in Syria (yet)

TW: killing of civilians; marginalization of Kurds, Palestinians, and Jews of Ethiopian ancestry; coerced sterilization

Yesterday, Amnesty International posed a question on twitter, or at least seemed to while promoting their most recent report on Syria. Their official account tweeted:

Amnesty International's tweet
(An Amnesty International tweet.)

That’s a fair question to ask, especially since, as the report claims, Syrians themselves are often asking it. It claims that one Syrian woman who the anonymous research spoke with wanted to know, “Why is the world doing nothing while we continue to be bombed to pieces every day, even inside our homes?”

As near as I can tell, one of the most pressing problems with intervening in Syria is that doing so appears likely to ignite a conflict as complicated and multifaceted as the first “World War” was for Europe. And this time, that would be after almost a century of technological refinements in weaponry. On the other hand, the problem with inaction, unfortunately, is that it seems only to reduce the risk of that outcome – not actually actively prevent it.

Map of Syria and its neighbors
(Syria and its neighbors, from here.)

Syria has a geopolitical context – it shares borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as a narrow maritime border that wouldn’t be terribly in the case of an intervening force having to enter Syria without land or air support from any of those five countries. Syria also has close ties with Iran, which is also the neighbor of both Turkey and Iraq. Having listed all those connections, let me explain – that is an incredibly diverse slice of the world covered in a mere seven countries. Along with that comes an incredibly diverse slice of on-going international conflicts that have in the past threatened all of the states governing those seven countries with destruction. In short, Syria is at the heart of a powderkeg.

Just to run down the events that have happened recently in that corner of the world:

-The Israeli and Iranian governments have begun speaking as if they are on the verge of starting a massive international war, which could potentially draw US, Chinese, and European support and proxies into the fray in a massive conflict between the “West” and the strongest “non-Western” nations in the world. Intervention by Iran would be read as an advance against Israel. Intervention by Israel or the US would be read as an advance against Iran. The balance of power necessary to prevent that outbreak of such a conflict in part requires that no one intervene in Syria, if not the freezing of the situation in Syria where it is.

-Within Israel, extremist factions have successfully lobbied for even more extensive segregation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and the Israeli government has admitted to supporting the coercive sterilization of Jews with Ethiopian ancestry. These adds to the previous months of conflict and violence in Israel and Palestine, which has led to threats of another Intifada (active, potentially armed resistance by Palestinians) and highlighted the continuing conflict within Israeli communities over who qualifies as “properly” or “ideally” Israeli or Jewish. As a result, Israel seems particularly politically unstable at the moment and likely to make choices that are unwise in the long term.

-Turkey, which has long been plagued by undemocratic movements, has experienced a bit of panic over whether Islam has a growing political presence. This seems likely to herald both undemocratic restrictions on free religious expression and the growth of militant Islamism. This is pertinent to Syria as some of the opposition to the government is often couched in religious terms and much of the government’s violence is excused (as undemocratic acts in Turkey have been) as a preventative strategy against militant Islamists. Turkey, to some extent, finds itself fighting the same conflict as neighboring Syria, and is likely to have a stake in the outcome. That fact is complicated by the reality that Turkey has the support of NATO and much of the Western world in a way that Syria doesn’t and thus a trump card to play against Syria if the conflict is either willfully introduced into or accidentally threatens to spill over into Turkey. But Turkey also doesn’t want a destabilized Syria to serve as a training grounds and resupply territory for the increasingly intent Kurdish rebels.

In short, there are multiple ways for the conflict in Syria to ignite a broader religious conflict in the Middle East, to alter the ability of marginalized groups in Israel and Palestine to effectively protest their oppression, and to provide a means of militant Turks who want to guarantee the free expression of devout Muslims and Kurds within Turkey to militarily organize. The risks of intervention are not only that it will fail to actually improve the lives of Syrians, but that it will actively reduce the stability of almost every surrounding country.

But the conflict is already spilling into Iraq, with Syrian forces and anti-regime forces fighting in Iraq (and causing Iraqi civilian casualties). The Iraqi state is stuck in an even more reminiscent position of Syria’s government’s – as a Shia government finding itself in perpetual electoral and military conflict with various anti-government Sunnis. Both have at least some ties to Iran (although Syria’s are much stronger), and unlike Turkey, Iraq doesn’t have the means to have international actors demand that the conflict be prevented from spilling over. With all that in mind, the Iraqi government has started treating the Syrian soldiers injured in its territory. The field of conflict is broadening independent on Turkish, Israeli, Palestinian, and even Iranian interests in keeping Syria’s conflicts contained if not resolving them.

It’s worrisome to think that a better question for non-Syrians to ask themselves in the place of why they haven’t intervened in Syria is whether they will ultimately decide to intervene there and elsewhere in the future as the conflicts spreads.

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Maddows gotta Maddow

I’m currently traveling, so I’ll keep this quite brief. I’ll just point out that Rachel Maddow is doing an excellent news series starting this coming Monday on the way the US was led into the Iraq War under false pretenses. If her promo for it last night is any indication, it’ll be unfortunately all too relevant with regard to false or misleading information being used to legitimize a strike on Iran or Syria.


(The imaginary tunnel mockingly used to explain Romney’s comments during the debates last year that Syria is Iran’s “pathway to the sea”, from here.)

I might end up live blogging that, so be sure to check my twitter Wednesday night to see if I find any parts of it worth repeating or elaborating on there.

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Ill omens for Suu Kyi?

Just to review, if for the past week you stuck exclusively to American media you’d probably have heard either nothing about President Obama’s recent trip to Myanmar, or saw an awful lot of this image:

Helpfully, Al Jazeera can provide you with a more nuanced look at the talks in which multiple issues are clearly at play. Obama has done a lot of work in opening Myanmar to democratic influences from namely the US but the broader world. But there’s also speculation around the world about what else will happen now that the country with the world’s tenth largest natural gas reserves has been opened up. Aside from potentially exchanging isolated exploitation for a globalizing variation on the same theme, there’s always the possibility of a close bond between the US and a democratized Myanmar to further politically contain China. As we’re still trying to extract resources from the region and contain Chinese political influence, it seems worth asking if this is just a smarter version of the same US policies that brought us the Vietnam War.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the effective leader of the democratizing movement in Myanmar brilliantly said, of the gains made while Obama has been in office, “We have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success and that we are working towards genuine success for our people.” With brave talk like that, from someone who’s been under house arrest almost continuously for the past twenty years, we should all have hope. But for her to provide the tenacious leadership that won’t settle for exchanging a Myanmar run at the behest of China for a Burma designed for the benefit of the United States, she’ll have to beat the odds.

Suu Kyi will have to avoid the fates of former Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and former Chilean President Salvador Allende. She’ll also have to overcome the temptation to avoid challenging the powerful that daunted the still lauded Nelson Mandela. There’s actually been another democratizing female politician from a politically dynastic family trying to fight against military rule in a former colony in subtropical Asia – former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who seemed to combine the worst of Mandela’s subverted democratization and Allende’s and Mossadegh’s inability to avoid assassination. That’s not a very positive predictor of either Myanmar’s or Suu Kyi’s futures.

Perhaps a better question than why some Burmese people created a mural of Obama is why didn’t they create one of her? And how does that bode for any emerging democratic government in Myanmar?

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What are the US and Israel partners in?

TW: excessive use of force by the police, voter suppression, voter disenfranchisement

Why are the United States and Israel allies? As that connection seems increasingly dependent on both nations tolerating blowback for the other’s policies (with the US endangering Israel with the long-term impacts of “regime change” and Israel possibly dragging the US into war with Iran), it seems worth investigating why the United States is still bothering with this. Israel is much more politically isolated, so the answers are much more straightforward.

If you listen to advocates of a close relationship between the two nations, some of whom are even quite liberal, it’s almost impossible to get through the explanation without a certain word coming up: democracy. Now one of the US Senators from Minnesota, former comedian Al Franken wrote during the Bush Administration, “Neo-cons support the Jewish state for the same reasons I do: because it is the only democracy in the region”. You see, the US apparently has to support some threshold number of governments in the region, so we might as well go with supporting the democracies.

This investment in Israel’s democratic bona fides as legitimizing the unique relationship between the United States and Israel is a noticeable media phenomenon in both countries. It’s seemingly reached the point where any uncertainty that the  political system of Israel is as democratic as it should be has come to be labeled as criticizing the positive relations between the two nations. Deriving the good relationship from the shared democracy has grown more difficult as of late.

Anti-Israeli-Arab Police BrutalityPolice Brutality against US student protesters
(Left, Israeli police attacking an Israeli-Arab family during an eviction last year. Right, pepper spray of illegal strength being used on protesting UC Davis students by US police. Photos from here and here.)

If nothing else, the recent realization that several hundred thousand Jerusalem residents and millions of Americans will be effectively disenfranchised should shake this vision of Israel and the United States as partners in democracy.

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What exactly does Romney think the presidency entails?

TW: genocide, antisemitism

Yesterday, I noted sadly that there was virtually no chance of Romney being pressed on how his past statements suggested that he viewed the office of the United States’ presidency as primarily a kingly position for providing moral example, rather than a key  position in influencing regulatory policies. Although this was still overlooked, Romney graciously gave us another glimpse into his very… unusual view on how the presidency functions during last night’s debate. I am, of course, talking about his call for charging Iranian President Ahmadinejad with genocide. Romney baldly stated during the debate that “[h]is words amount to genocide incitation” and afterwards one of his aides is recorded as having said something along the lines of “the World Court could arrest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, cutting off the regime’s leadership in one fell swoop”.

There’s many factual problems there. To begin with, Ahmadinejad is the President within a government that has both a parliamentary legislature (which selects a Prime Minister who has greater control over domestic policy than any President) and theocratic oversight (which clearly exerts some control over Ahmadinejad’s potential policy decisions). Additionally, the contemporary Iranian government is very unique in not providing control of the military to the presidency (which is understandable given the 26 years of military-like violence from the SAVAK secret police under the previous regime). In short, there are numerous positions in the Iranian government that even Wikipedia points to as being more powerful.

Likewise, the words that were tantamount to genocide have been contested as such by even Israeli officials. Even among the supposedly targeted population, it’s not unanimously understood that there was intent to commit genocide behind a single statement years ago.

Lastly, as noted in the article covering the aide’s statement, there is no “World Court” but rather an International Criminal Court (ICC), which is ostensibly what the anonymous Romney aide sent out to spin this line meant to reference. In addition to that misnomer and a staggering misunderstanding of the political structures in Iran and the probable meaning of the statement, Romney’s original statement and the follow-up by an aide suggest a very… interesting interpretation of both international precedent, domestic law, and especially the interaction between the two.

Romney’s initial statement seems perfectly measured. Suggesting charging Ahmadinejad with intent is a reasonable argument based on the clear labeling of intent as sufficient to convict a person of genocide in its legal definition. As the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) puts it, genocide is-

any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: {a} Killing members of the group; {b} Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; {c} Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or part; {d} Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; {e} Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. The following acts shall be punishable: {a} Genocide; {b} Conspiracy to commit genocide; {c} Direct and public incitement to commit genocide; {d} Attempt to commit genocide; {e} Complicity in genocide.

Right there – intent is what unifies various state policies (and potentially their effects too) as together a “genocide”. Even simply advocating those policies is grounds for a trial. Except of course, there’s the small matter of precedent. The two sets of convictions provided by the ICC under the CPPCG did incorporate intent, as required, and advocacy, but only when it was already established that selective killings had happened. Intent merely identified those killings as “genocidal” and clarified an intent to do more. Advocacy was likewise legally attached to the action itself. Without significant mass killings, there would likely be no case. What’s more, many examples of recent mass killings organized or tolerated by states can be provided that didn’t lead to convictions or even prosecutions – even that isn’t a guarantee of an ICC trial or guilty decision.

Admittedly, there have been legal cases involving a more active evaluation of intent, most famously the case against Nikola Jorgić for involvement in the genocide of Muslim communities in the former Yugoslavia. The decision reached was that “a biological-physical destruction [of the targets] was not necessary” and “destruction of the group as a social unit in its distinctiveness and particularity and its feeling of belonging together” was alone sufficient. A similar argument could (probably unsuccessfully) be raised against Ahmadinejad. That being said, the highlighting of intent still took place in a case also concerning Jorgić’s leadership in organizing or performing at least 30 murders. What precedent this very intent-heavy case provides is limited in that it still marries intent to observed actions.

Furthermore, it’s note-worthy that the case against Jorgić was not part of the ICC, but a decision by the Oberlandesgericht (high regional court) of Düsseldorf which merely involved evaluating international law in a domestic German case. Even if, somehow, a future President Romney hoped to stretch Jorgić to provide basis for a case against Ahmadinejad only on the grounds of either intending or inciting genocide, it would probably have to be a domestic case. Considering that would require his base to reverse their existing opinions on using international law in domestic cases, that seems like a difficult hypothetical to imagine.


(I’m sure this will go over swimmingly. Image originally from here.)

This paranoia of the (Satanic?) potential for international law to be used against the United States is not only part of popular sentiment, but also our very ratification of the CPPCG, which stipulates

before any dispute to which the United States is a party may be submitted to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice under this article, the specific consent of the United States is required in each case […and] nothing in the Convention requires or authorizes legislation or other action by the United States of America prohibited by the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States.

As they say in politics, the optics of this are very bad. With domestic action politically risky, a hypothetical President Romney might try to force this through to the ICC, where it could be easily seen as the United States doing to Iran what it categorically forbid anyone from doing to it. Much like Romney’s international tour, such actions could easily reignite bitter resentment of the United States, which already led to many countries to add statements to their ratification of the treaty condemning the US’s self exemption. Mexico, a key ally, in fact ruled the declaration of the US to be “invalid” and was joined by numerous European allies which argued that it contradicted the very treaty signed and existing international law precedents. The comparison to the USSR and other dictatorships that waived the application of the treaty to themselves is decidedly unflattering.

Ultimately, the choice Romney faces in clarifying this question is between admitting he wants to maintain an international double standard strongly associated with despotic rivals of the United States or if he wants to make domestic rulings on international law equally farcical. In either case, he’s shown a commitment to the law creating specific political outcomes – rather than being universally applied. Rather than undermining the legal concept of habeas corpus by allowing imprisonment without criminal charges, this approach simultaneously immunizes certain actors from charges (like the United States from criminal accusations of genocide) and expands (or reinstitutes) legal grounds for charges against others (like Ahmadinejad being tried on the grounds of inciting or having intent to commit genocide based on an unclear statement). As a result, even if habeas corpus isn’t repealed, the new legal context Romney’s proposing makes it nonsensical. His idea seems impossible without making the United States a nation of men, rather than a nation of laws. And the man on top would have to be called a king.

This is not only an indication like earlier statements that Romney favors a pseudo-royalist governance, but rather inegalitarian judicial policy. This seems to be a growing pattern that statements he makes have implications of dramatically reworking the political landscape of the United States in decidedly undemocratic ways.

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No evidence is proof of conspiracy when OWS is involved

You potentially have heard that The Weekly Standard bizarrely publicized yesterday that the Occupy Movement in the United States was going to speak with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his upcoming visit to the US. Specifically, the Standard noted,

A report today in an official outlet of the Iranian regime claims that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, will meet with members of the Occupy Wall Street movement […] ‘Ahmadinejad is also set to meet American university students, artists, intellectuals and elites, including Occupy Wall Street anti-capitalist protestors, despite the ongoing efforts made by the pro-Zionist lobbies to prevent direct link between American people and the Iranian president.'”

Yes, they uncritically took that statement as factual, after noting that this was released by the official outlet of the Iranian regime, and reading and republishing the quote about the pro-Zionist lobby trying to stop a meeting between Occupy “protestors” [sic] and President Ahmadinejad. And it’s not as if the Iranian government would like to co-opt the new media and international protests that brought down the dictatorship in Egypt!

Actually speaking with major figures in the Occupy Movement produces statements like – “Nobody in their right mind would meet with a fascist dictator like Ahmadenijad”. Still, the conservative media in the United States can’t even neutrally address the false information without their comments reading like Manchurian Candidate fanfiction. One commentator wrote,

Shawn Carrie, an activist with the Occupy Wall Street movement, also denied the report, telling Buzzfeed, ‘Nobody in their right mind would meet with a fascist dictator like Ahmadinejad.’ That’s why I believe OWS-Obama’s gang, has met and is meeting with the American hating thug from Iran.  The OWS-Obama’s gang, lost their minds many years ago.

I’ve written at length about the failings of purportedly “centrist” and conservative US media before, but there’s a terrifying problem revealed by the resistance of those media outlets’ readers to absorb impartially presented evidence that conflicts with their views. As much as terrible reporting deceives people, it’s effects cannot be easily resolved by better reporting. Misinformation is not simply solved. Extensive, constant, ever-reaching-further efforts to accurately and effectively inform people are the only possible means of allowing many people to remain more attached to reality than the commentator quoted above. The Daily Caller and other “respectable” conservative or “centrist” outfits have tried to reach a balance between spreading demonstrably untrue nonsense and impartial stenographer-like reporting. You just have to read the comments to articles like the above to realize this strategy isn’t working and is actively destabilizing the rationality of public discourse in the United States.

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John McCain just called for an American Empire

TW: Imperialism, Neo-Colonialism

Perhaps it’s the now famous soft spot the media has for John McCain, but they’ve been happily ignoring that as the only speaker at either the Republican National Convention (RNC) or the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) to directly discuss international conflicts, he’s advocated for an American Empire.

A week ago today, McCain spoke glowingly of the duty of any American government to assist the downtrodden:

“Sadly, for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria, and Iran, and elsewhere, who feel forgotten in their darkness, and sadly for us, as well, our president is not being true to our values. For the sake of the cause of freedom, for the sake of people who are willing to give their lives so their fellow citizens can determine their own futures and for the sake of our nation – the nation founded on the idea that all people, everywhere, have the right to freedom and justice – we must return to our best traditions of American leadership, and support those who face down the brutal tyranny of their oppressors and our enemies.”

He continued on, insisting that the protracted revolutionary struggles in Iran and Syria (and by implication elsewhere) have wanted and needed American support, potentially even military assistance. As he did in 2008, he’s lent his voice to the extremists in American and in Iran who want a conflict, and have begun or will begin patrolling the other nation’s waters (which practically begs for another Gulf of Tonkin casus belli). In his zeal for endless American war and occupation in the Islamic world, he’s ignored UN appeals for no military intervention in Syria, as even the most distant support of Russia has prolonged the conflict. The United Nations has failed to see the glorious battle for human rights in Syria that McCain somehow perceives, as their Secretary General was paraphrased as noting:

“both the Syrian government and the opposition of large-scale human rights violations, including torturing and reportedly executing prisoners and failing to protect civilians who are fleeing the country in record numbers.”

McCain, whether ignorant or dismissive of the UN Secretary General’s counter-point, remains convinced of the usefulness of military assistance, if not direct military action.

In his speech, McCain also chided the President for implementing a distant timeline for removing troops from Afghanistan “before peace can be achieved and sustained”. He has a point that the Afghani government is in over its head, as it’s taken to mass firings of military recruits that have even the flimsiest connection to the Taliban or other insurgent groups. But as Al-Jazeera coverage argued in the week before his speech –

“the ISAF/NATO mission [in Afghanistan] was simply to decrease the size of the [undemocratic] ‘black space’ and increase the size of the [pluralistic, democratic] ‘white space’. Thanks to their efforts, the democratic space is acknowledged by all of us. But the harsh reality is the emergence of a vast grey space and an increasing size of the black space. This ‘grey area’ consists of complex layers of corruption, bad governance, unemployment, political disunity, alienation and poverty. Against this backdrop, the democratic space is too fragile and vulnerable.”

The poverty, social and economic isolation, political dysfunction, systemic exploitation, and other negative forces in Afghan society are overwhelming. In complaining that the United States is leaving before building a peaceful, democratic, and pluralistic society, McCain has presumed that such a goal is possible. McCain was likewise quite clear, less than a year ago, in dramatically opposing the withdrawal from Iraq – or as he called it giving “victory to Iran”.

At this point, it’s quite clear that John McCain wants to see a blazed path of war or occupation by American forces stretching from the Mediterranean deep into Central Asia.

Countries John McCain wants us to occupy or wage war against
(John McCain has expressed interest in the past year in at least remaining in Iraq and Afghanistan and attacking or occupying Syria and Iran. He has likewise made statements suggesting he would not remove military conflict with Pakistan from the table.)

The countries shaded in the above map have a combined population of approximately 155 million. John McCain wants us to make war against or occupy the territory of a portion of the Islamic world with roughly half the population of the United States. If you include Pakistan (hatched in the map above) in the population and regional estimations, as we could be considered to be unofficially at war within that country, much like Cambodia or Laos during the Vietnam War, the United States would be impacting or combating a population larger than its own by approximately thirty million people.

Interestingly enough, the region McCain wants us to be at war with is perfectly contiguous – even as he argues that this isn’t related to strategic geopolitics or consolidating control over valuable mineral resources, but rather about human rights. We should believe that when he calls for military assistance or support for the people of Mali.

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Israel, please think about this for a minute

TW: potential Israeli-Iranian conflict, Nazi Germany, war crimes, aggressive war

Perhaps you’ve already heard over the past few weeks how Israel is all but preparing for a first strike on Iran. If you’ve already read The Economist’s coverage of the Israeli debate, it seems that the principle matter is whether Israel will be alone in attacking or joined by the United States and potentially other allies. The article returns to that question repeatedly,  with liberal-leaning papers wondering why Prime Minister Netanyahu was “resolved to attack even though the preponderance of opinion in the defence establishment opposes unilateral Israeli action.” This isn’t even a simple argument between doves seeing the risks of unilateral military action and hawks like Netanyahu seeing the risks of inaction for the lack of international support. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has persisted that “if [the United States] felt Israel was on the brink of exercising its own, albeit more modest, option of military action” then “America was far more likely to act.” The distinction between Israel acting alone and as part of a broader military coalition, he seems to claim, isn’t a strict as we might think.

The worrisome part of all this is that only the immediate risks to Israel and other nations are being weighed. The Economist describes civilian preparation for a potential aggressive war against Iran as consisting of “queueing to upgrade their gas masks at civil defence stations” and similar measures to protect against combat spilling into civilian areas. The ignorance this suggests of the Israeli state’s own modern origins, as part of the fallout of the second World War, is painful. In Jewish and Israeli history, the role of Nazi Germany seems to namely be that of an undeniable threat to the Jewish community which convinced major Western powers of the need for a Jewish state, with the massacres of various non-Jewish targets often included, but as peripheral or secondary atrocities. This is a stark contrast to the prevalent understanding of the war throughout Eastern Europe, and consequently the horrors of Nazi Germany are seen as only as the dangerous capacity of antisemitism, and not of aggressive war as well. Forgotten is the fact that the planning and waging of an aggressive war against both the states and civilians of nearly all of Eastern Europe was one of the central facets to the Nuremberg Trials.

There lies the longer term danger to Israel if the current government chooses to wage an aggressive war. Even assuming that like the Bush Administration there will be no culpability for the infraction of international law, there’s a lesson in the way much of Eastern Europe still recalls World War II. In Russia, every May 9th, the anniversary of the victory against Nazi Germany is still heralded with massive public performances, pyrotechnics, and night-long celebrations. In the staunchly anti-Soviet former Yugoslav republic of Serbia, the same day is still celebrated much the same. Between those two countries, in the now radically more Western-friendly Ukraine, artistic references to the war with Nazi Germany and subsequent occupation provoke sobs from people far too young to have lived through the war. The aggressive war fought by Nazi Germany against all of those people have left an indelible mark on their history that they struggle to live with.

Israel, especially if receiving aid from the United States or other nations, will quite likely be able to stunt the nuclear capabilities of Iran and dramatically reduce its overall nuclear prowess with a preemptive attack. But what if, like the residents of the many countries slated for forced relocation under Nazi Germany’s Generalplan Ost, Iranians and any other civilians of nearby nations affected by a potential war remember this act of Israel for seventy, eighty, perhaps even a hundred years. Israel’s past relations with Egypt have repeatedly shown the enormous value in having neighboring allies, so the foolishness in waging an aggressive war seem inestimable – as both a threat to existing and future alliances. Can Israel actually afford the risk of alienating nearby allies for decades, let alone as long as a century?

(As this is post on Israel, I reserve the right to shut down the comments section if an unproductive or hostile discussion develops.)

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