Miller on the Myths: Why Its Not Obama’s Fault

Aaron David Miller explains five “fictions we have to stop telling ourselves” to keep in mind when we analyze why we are in Syria/Iraq,  how we can be effective, and more importantly, what is really possible.

We’re clearly not yet on the verge of plunging into another pointless Americanasaurus charge much like the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

But last night’s airstrikes in Syria do represent an important escalation and expansion of the war against the Islamic State (IS) and other jihadist forces. And it’s imperative that we bring additional clarity to the problem of coordinating ends and means, and defining what our goals are, to avoid such an eventuality. Mission creep usually results from a certain amount of hysteria, a lack of clarity or confusion in goals, and, most complicating, a miscalculation of the means at our disposal with which to achieve those goals.

via Americanasaurus and the March to War in Syria.

State Dept. Calls Group in Nigeria Terrorists –

What can a label do?  In the case of an African group the answer is, “a lot.”  The back and forth internal government discussions result in Boko Haram being labeled a “terrorist group” with numerous implications.  From the dissenting view:

But other officials cautioned that Boko Haram did not pose an immediate threat to the United States, and that Americans and American interests could be targeted by the group as a result of the designation.The designation “would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long-term strategy and undermine the U.S. government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region,” a group of 25 scholars wrote in a letter sent last year to Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state.

via State Dept. Calls Group in Nigeria Terrorists –

Terrorist Haven in Mali, France Pushes for UN Peacekeepers


France’s foreign minister is seeking for the U.N. vote next month to approve peacekeepers for Mali. These peacekeepers would be put in place because of the Islamic extremists who had taken control of northern Mali. Mali used to have French colonial rule and France is deeply concerned that Mali is becoming a terrorist haven, including links to al-Qaid. Canada has become involved with Mali by sending a C-17 military transport plane. French Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, stated, “The entire region’s security is at stake and, in fact, our own security is at risk as well. Not only France or Europe, but all democracies. This is why we can act together.”


-Kelsey (post for the week of 18th-24th)

The Unmanageable Middle East?

Its not just a diplomatic and personal setback in Libya:

Though the agency has been cooperating with the new post-Qaddafi Libyan intelligence service, the size of the C.I.A.’s presence in Benghazi apparently surprised some Libyan leaders. The deputy prime minister, Mustafa Abushagour, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal last week saying that he learned about some of the delicate American operations in Benghazi only after the attack on the mission, in large part because a surprisingly large number of Americans showed up at the Benghazi airport to be evacuated.

“We have no problem with intelligence sharing or gathering, but our sovereignty is also key,” said Mr. Abushagour.

via Attack in Libya Was Major Blow to C.I.A. Efforts –

And one thought leader makes the case that the US should pull out altogether:

As in Southeast Asia in 1975, the limits of both American firepower and diplomacy have been exposed. Financial leverage, or baksheesh, can work only up to a point with leaders struggling to control the bewilderingly diverse and ferocious energies unleashed by the Arab Spring.

Although it’s politically unpalatable to mention it during an election campaign, the case for a strategic American retreat from the Middle East and Afghanistan has rarely been more compelling. It’s especially strong as growing energy independence reduces America’s burden for policing the region, and its supposed ally, Israel, shows alarming signs of turning into a loose cannon.

via America’s Inevitable Retreat from the Middle East

The Iran Plot

Why would Iran organize such a poorly conceived and executed assassination plot?

Details remain sketchy on the alleged Iranian-sponsored plot against the Saudi ambassador to the United States. U.S. officials have linked elements of Irans Quds Force — a special branch of the Revolutionary Guards military organization — to the scheme, but have not clearly identified to what extent Irans leadership was involved as one anonymous official admitted to the Washington Post, “We dont have specific knowledge” that the head of the Quds Force was involved. Without knowing further details, it is hard to fathom why Iran would pursue such an attack or how this action would advance Irans core strategic interests.

via Worst. Plot. Ever. – By Afshon Ostovar | Foreign Policy.

The skeptic, Max Fisher, wondered the same thing early on–as headlines were breaking:

The Iranian leadership, for all their twisted human rights abuses and policies that often serve the regime at the cost of actual Iranians, are not idiots. Though they use terrorism as a foreign policy tool, the attacks in Iraq and Lebanon and elsewhere have clearly been driven by just that — a cool-headed pragmatic desire to further Iranian foreign policy interests. Unifying the U.S. and Saudi Arabia at a time when they are drifting apart with a plot that would galvanize American publics and policymakers to support Saudi Arabia, and all without actually doing much strategic damage to either country, would be monumentally stupid. They’ve made serious, ideology-driven mistakes before — as government often do — but this plot comes so far out of left field that it should raise more questions than accusations.

If they would go through all the trouble to organize a bombing attack on U.S. soil — no easy thing to do — why target someone so low-level? For that matter, why launch an attack on U.S. soil at all, something Iran has never done in the tumultuous decade since September 11? Why now, as opposed to, for example, during the height of the Iraq war? Why incur the wrath of the U.S. now, so soon after releasing the U.S. hikers detained in Tehran? (Their release was a modest and long overdue concession, but one that suggests the path of Iranian diplomacy.)

via Would Iran Really Want to Blow Up the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S.? – Max Fisher – International – The Atlantic.

Steven Walz wonders if this shows how weakIran really is.

Europe needs a lesson from 9/11 | GlobalPost

How has Europe responded to 9/11?  A dominant expectation might be that the overall Euro sentiment veers toward human rights and inter-agency coordination, rather than nation building and preemptive intervention:

“The responsibility for this lies with the U.S. but we also need to clean up our own house,” agreed Amnesty’s Beger. “Terrorism is not okay but our response to it has to observe human rights because that’s exactly what we want to defend.”

via Europe needs a lesson from 9/11 | GlobalPost.

The 9/11 Legacy

This will be a week of pondering the result of that horrible morning when two planes crashed into the twin towers and another one fell to the earth in Pennsylvania.  How did this event shape our world?

Ross Douthat notes that most of the same policies (drone wars, targeted assassination, regime change) continue in some form from W to Obama.  And thus:

Here it’s worth asking a version of Ronald Reagan’s famous question: Are we better off than we were 10 years ago?

The case for answering yes is strongest on the counterterrorism front, where our shadow war has clearly diminished our enemies’ capacity to do us harm in ways that our pre-9/11 efforts never did.There are significant moral costs to a policy that depends on routinized assassination and detention without trial. But 10 years without a major attack, the death of Osama bin Laden and the steady degradation of Al Qaeda and its affiliates are not achievements to be taken lightly. The United States will always be vulnerable to terrorists, but in the decade since we were blindsided by Mohammed Atta’s team of hijackers, our spies and SEALs and interrogators have dramatically improved our odds.On the strategic front, though, it is extremely difficult to argue that America’s geopolitical position is stronger today than it was 10 years ago.

via It’s Still the 9/11 Era –

Jeffrey Goldberg explains how the memory has shaped our complicated (and frequently counterproductive) approach to Islam:

The existence of a thousand streams of Islam; the Arab revolts; the loathing of al Qaeda that has spread wide through the Muslim world (the majority of of Qaeda victims by now have been Muslim); none of this has convinced some in the West that we are not, in fact, engaged a clash of civilizations with Islam itself, that if there is a clash, it is taking place within Islam. Even certain presidential candidates in this country have sought to make a war where there is no war. George W. Bush was generally assiduous on this question; he visited a mosque just after the attacks to make the point that the U.S. was not Islam’s enemy. His party today should follow his lead, and stop giving Bin Laden’s heirs what they want. With the murderous sociopaths of al Qaeda there is no compromise, but we will only defeat al Qaeda with the cooperation of the great mass of Muslims, and we won’t have their support if we demonize their faith.

via The Real Meaning of 9/11 – Jeffrey Goldberg – National – The Atlantic.

I wondered if there was a book or film series to see as a reflection or commemoration done well.  My favorite read thus fare is David Simpson’s thoughtful approach to memory and 9/11. (Speaking at the Kennedy Center).  But this piece from Slate made me think a bit, even if I don’t know if I agree with him.

These movies haunt my own personal and inadequate understanding of the events of that day. Our understanding of the movies, too, is inadequate too; we can’t know whether each of these filmmakers, making movies that explicitly don’t reference 9/11, intended them as a response to the tragedy. But in this case, we can know. They don’t, and can’t, because they were all made before 9/11 happened. Waking Life, Mulholland Dr., and Donnie Darko all came out in a cluster just weeks after the attacks. Memento came out earlier that year; it took some months for its reputation to spread across the country, and it was still playing in many cities in early September.

There are two explanations for this disconnect. The first and simplest is coincidence—that I’m forcing meaning into movies that don’t have it, at least in regard to an event that happened after their creation. Accept that one if you wish, and you may be right. But I think it’s something different. I think that the sources of inspiration are hard to pin down. It can take almost 25 years, as it did for Kurt Vonnegut, to come to understand an event that happened literally right in front of you. For others, artistic antennae vibrate to other sensations. In what we accepted as a calm and gay time they found something overbright, hyperreal, and ultimately ominous. They couldn’t tell us they were making 9/11 movies because they didn’t know what they were doing. They remind us that inspiration is a mystery—and that not every response to a cataclysm comes with a press release.

via 9/11 movies: Four brilliant 9/11 films that get overlooked. – By Bill Wyman – Slate Magazine.

And this, relating to memory, from a NYT Op-Ed regular voice, Roger Cohen–who writes with an international twist, formerly posting mostly in the International Herald Tribune:

Tell me your 9/11 and I’ll tell you who you are.

Joseph Brodsky once wrote: “If there is any substitute for love, it’s memory. To memorize, then, is to restore intimacy.” That’s not a bad definition of what the best journalism does: restore intimacy. The Portraits of Grief that appeared in The New York Times for months after the attack hit home because they undercut, through the particulars of single lives, Stalin’s formula: Murder en masse and loss becomes a mere statistic.

via Imagining 9/11 –

And if you have even more stamina, FP provides coverage to liberal and neo-con reportage on various informed views of 9/11.

Conflicts over the meaning of the attacks and the U.S. response remain just as intense today as they were a decade ago, if not more. Here’s how liberal, conservative, and libertarian magazines are covering the 10th anniversary.

via The 9/11 Anniversary Reader: Liberals vs. Neocons Edition | Foreign Policy.

Finally, the “torture question” is addressed in this timely book by FBI agent Ali H. Soufan:

Mr. Soufan writes that the most consequential mistake of all was the C.I.A.’s embrace of brutal tactics for interrogation, which Mr. Soufan says were directed from the Bush White House and opposed by some C.I.A. officers. The book calls the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, the first important prisoner questioned by the C.I.A., as a fateful wrong turn toward torture and away from what he considered more effective traditional interrogation methods.

via Ex-F.B.I. Agents Cites High-Level Dysfunction Over 9/11 –