The Middle East
Scandalmania is distorting our discussion of three different issues, sweeping them into one big narrative -- everything is a "narrative" these days -- about the beleaguered second-term presidency of Barack Obama. Forgive me for feeling cynical and depressed about our nation's political conversation.
Syria’s civil war has been going on for more than two years. Seventy thousand people have been killed, most of them civilians. The situation seems to call for a robust international response. Yet as the United States learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, any large-scale military intervention in the Islamic world is more than likely to fail. But pressure is building for the United States to act, especially in the aftermath of what appears to be the use of chemical weapons by the regime.
At his 2009 inauguration, President Obama pledged to close Guantánamo within a year. Many of those imprisoned there have been held for more than a decade without facing any charges, and in recent months, an increasing number of desperate detainees have engaged in hunger strikes to call attention to their plight.
When the news from Boston first hit, there was an immediate divide between those who saw an Islamic terrorist attack and those who saw the hand of domestic, right-wing extremists. We then moved, without delay, to show how the event proved that our side was right in any number of ongoing debates. The response suggests that we live in an age of shrink-wrapped, prepackaged opinions.
The blood runs cold when one fully appreciates how vulnerable Western policymakers are to slogans and magical thinking. The Reinhart-Rogoff case is the latest, and certainly will not be the last, in which the credulity and carelessness of experts wreak havoc among millions of ordinary people.
Jess Bravin’s The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantánamo Bay traces the vexed history of the military commissions at Guantánamo, established to try terror suspects captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The documentary format of The Gatekeepers is tame, the content explosive, splicing interviews with archival footage outlining the history of Shin Bet since the 1967 Six-Day War and the contours of Israeli policy vis-à-vis its Arab nemeses. The House I Live In takes us on a dismal road trip through our nation’s inaptly named corrections industry, issuing a verdict both unanimous and harsh.
War is war and murder is murder. The law draws the distinction. The American armed drone is a weapons system of war, not of policemen. And even if it were a police weapon, the United States does not have a commission to police the world of its radicals, jihadists, and religious fanatics, although for too many years it has acted as if it did.
The administration has set expectations for President Obama's trip to Israel so low you'd think he was making another visit to Ohio. Yet this is a very consequential journey because it comes at a moment when hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are fading away.
Iran will be our next war, if neo-conservatives and certain advisers to the Obama administration have their way -- all acting with the support of the American public, which one might think has had enough of war, after nearly seventy years of it and gaining nothing.
Are northern Mali and southern Algeria about to be declared the new front in the war on terror that still preoccupies the American political class and the foreign affairs community?
President Obama's nomination of Chuck Hagel for defense secretary signals a repudiation of the aggressive foreign policy that has kept the United States fighting wars for over a decade.
Like Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama hopes to usher in a long-term electoral realignment. The Reagan metaphor helps explain the tone of Obama's inaugural address, built not on a call to an impossible bipartisanship but on a philosophical argument for a progressive vision of the country rooted in our history.
'Argo' & 'Zero Dark Thirty'
Little America is the best single book now available on a crucial phase of the American war in Afghanistan.
We are about to have a major foreign policy debate in the guise of a confirmation battle over Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense. President Obama should use this opportunity to stand up for his broader vision of how American power can be sustained and used.
The threat posed by weapons of mass destruction was infamously used to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. That's why clear evidence and a convincing argument must be presented before any action on Syria's chemical weapons.
When Israel wins its campaign to create a single, unchallenged Jewish state on all of the land given by the U.N. in 1948 to make parallel Jewish and Arab homelands, what happens to the Palestinian people left in the country?
President Obama's aggressive campaign of targeted killings against Al Qaeda and the Taliban is the source of bitter resentment toward the United States. Many legal questions about the deployment of drones outside a recognized war zone also remain in dispute. Is the United States establishing a dangerous precedent?
Diminishing Influence, Fewer Options
As a method of war, unmanned drones are illegal and unconstitutional. But the two presidential candidates have each indicated a commitment to the continued use of drones for programmed unilateral killing of selected individuals in Muslim society.
Lebanon is one of the few Middle Eastern countries where large Christian and Muslim populations coexist in a secular state. But how long can this remain so?
It turns out there was no profound ideological conversion of the country two years ago. If Mitt Romney thought the nation was ready to endorse the full-throated conservatism he embraced to win the Republican nomination, he wouldn't be throwing his past positions overboard.
The third debate added to the evidence that the United States is intellectually adrift when it comes to policies concerning the Middle East, and perhaps blundering into serious trouble with Russia and China.
Does Mitt Romney possess a serious understanding of American foreign relations, their past, their present, and the problems they will pose for a new administration?
As the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Mohamed Morsi has been looked upon by Washing with apprehension. But he has same well-founded words for the United States in how it should approach relations with Egypt and the Middle East.
Diplomacy Still the Least Bad Option
New Violence Threatens Christianity's Ancient Roots
Afghanistan and Iraq remain awkward and troubling topics for both political parties.
Neither Mitt Romney nor Paul Ryan seem close to the hawkish ideology that gave the United States its military deployments in Asia and Central Asia. But they seem to have no clear intellectual position at all, which is to say that they might easily become the instruments of others with aggressive ideologies of their own.
Ongoing Analysis & Opinion
Ryan recommends "this succinct book...to anyone faced with gloom-and-doom interlocutors who bloviate about the 'clash of civilizations' or mourn the passing of the civilized 'West,about to be overrun by prolific Muslims with multiple wives and dozens of children."
Report from Iran
Befitting its subject, The Longest War is a very long book, a comprehensive examination of the struggle that began slowly and surreptitiously in the early 1990s and continued—at least until Osama bin Laden’s killing.
According to the Department of Defense, 41,829 U.S. soldiers had been seriously wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan as of December 20, 2010. But while the media routinely report war fatalities, the huge numbers of wounded usually go unmentioned.
Never before have people in the Middle East mobilized in such vast numbers to shake off the chains of autocracy. Whether Egypt and Tunisia succeed in creating genuinely democratic societies remains to be seen—but already we can identify important lessons.
Whatever one’s political commitments, facing the question of Iraqi civilian deaths as honestly and objectively as possible is both an intellectual and a moral imperative.
A complex business agreement will often be preceded by a "term sheet." The term sheet outlines points of agreement of major consequence to both parties that must be settled. What would a term sheet for an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty look like?
What is the price of "progress"?