Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

If we must have a hugely invasive national security state, let’s at least listen to it

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 11.21 am

This month’s long article at The Week is about how and why Americans are so much more scared of ISIS than even our intelligence agencies say we need to be—and the damaging consequences that fear has for foreign policy:

I am no fan of America’s national security state, which continues to grow steadily larger, more intrusive, and increasingly dismissive of civil liberties. The NSA has removed all expectations of privacy in digital communications, and the TSA is, at best, inept security theater. The Department of Homeland Security’s “If you see something, say something” campaignimagines a terrorist around every corner, while the CIA is busy spying on Congress and torturing away the rule of law.

But sometimes, America’s intelligence agencies are actually the voice of reason, offering a far less scary view of security threats than public perception or political pontificating provides. But we don’t listen.

Perhaps nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in an unjustified level of fear of ISIS, says Karen Callaghan, a political scientist at Texas Southern University who researches framing in political discourse about terrorism. If you listen to our hyperventilating national media and bloviating lawmakers, you’d think ISIS presented America with an existential threat. For instance, pointing to media coverage of graphic acts of terror (like beheadings), Callaghan says that this “hyperpublicizing” makes it “difficult for Americans to separate out the truth, difficult to decipher how worried they should be.”

Americans are scared of ISIS. More than 70 percent believe that there are ISIS terror cells in the United States, while 90 percent believe ISIS poses a real threat to America, and 45 percent label the threat “very serious.”

But that assessment is nowhere close to the reality of the ISIS threat.

Multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have repeatedly announced their consensus that ISIS is not an immediate threat to America. General Martin Dempsey, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says there’s no evidence that ISIS is occupied with “active plotting against the homeland.”DHS reports ISIS is not in Mexico, attempting to infiltrate the southern border. The FBI swatted down any notion that ISIS is planning an attack in the New York City subway system.

This mismatch between public perception and intelligence reports is not unique to ISIS. Indeed, it has been frustratingly consistent in Iran policy for years. No less than 16 American intelligence agencies agreed in 2012 that Iran had no nuclear weapons in development — a conclusion that apparently stands today. But Americans are consistently concerned that the United States is not doing enough to stop the “threat” of Iran getting nukes.

It’s understandable, of course, that so many Americans are scared: We are consistently told that we should be, a drumbeat of fear which Callaghan argues “elevates risk perceptions and diminishes the capacity for rational information processing.”

Read the whole thing here.

America is complicit in ISIS’s rise. But that doesn’t mean we should bomb Iraq.

Posted on September 11, 2014 at 10.38 am

In a perfect libertarian world, the 2003 invasion of Iraq would never have happened; ISIS probably wouldn’t exist; and if it did exist, there would be no suggestion that we’re obligated to go on yet another war. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world—but I still don’t think more war is necessary or helpful.

Given the ongoing and inevitable fact that Washington is/will continue to be involved in trying to “fix” this mess, I’d rather food and medicine be the fix. Do I want government doing charity? No, of course not. But if we must act in Iraq, let’s at least try something that doesn’t kill people and make them hate us. (Emergency relief aid—not nation-building—would likely also be a heck of a lot cheaper.)

The extremist-fueled sectarian conflicts in Iraq and Syria are, by all accounts, unspeakably awful. ISIS has reportedly crucified peopleburied women and children alive, decimated historic Christian communities, and even beheaded children.

And so here in the States, the clamor for President Obama to do something seems to grow louder by the day. That’s largely why President Obama unveiled a potentially multi-year plan of air strikes in a nationally televised address on Wednesday. Even those who tend to oppose military intervention, like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, have argued that fighting ISIS is somehow different — that the president must take decisive action — that this, finally, is “the right war.”

In many less-hawkish circles, much of the desire to dosomething is motivated by the role U.S. foreign policy played in creating a climate in which ISIS can thrive. As Paul argued, “Our recent foreign policy has allowed radical jihadists to proliferate.” He’s right. The last decade of meandering, ill-justified war in Iraq in particular has made America complicit in ISIS’s rise. There would be no ISIS had America not invaded Iraq in 2003.

And while I appreciate Paul’s provision of a more measured response than has been supplied by the likes of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), I can’t follow him in his call for more war. Dropping bombs and trillions of dollars into a situation we clearly don’t understand and can’t control hasn’t worked yet, and it’s naïve to believe it will start working now. In the words of the Decider of the 2003 invasion, “Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — can’t get fooled again.”

Likewise, the refrain that ISIS, like past Middle Eastern monsters, is an existential threat to American security fails to convince. As Bruce Fein has ably demonstrated, it is laughable to suggest that ISIS could successfully make war on American territory — and it is equally ridiculous to listen to those very fearmongers who claim otherwise as they attempt to make further war inevitable.

Yet I, too, can’t shake the feeling of responsibility. Now, I never supported war in Iraq in any sense more meaningful than a 15-year-old’s ingenuous assumption that the president wouldn’t screw up so important an issue. Today, I (and a majority of Americans) deem the Iraq war a failure. But the long-term impact of American intervention can’t be negated by ignoring it or wishing it away.

So what can America to do help? And by help, I mean actually help, in a very literal sense of the word, not deploying drones for democracy or some such nonsense. What if, instead of sending bombs and weapons, we only sent relief aid: food, medicine, and evacuation opportunities? Indeed, continued humanitarian aid is a part of Obama’s strategy. But it should be the only part.

Read the whole thing here.

Going “abroad in search of monsters to destroy” is making more monsters

Posted on August 11, 2014 at 10.26 am

America is constantly abroad, constantly seeking monsters to destroy—monsters which, like the hydra of mythology or Marvel, only seem to multiply as we launch war after endless war.

As much as we may want to say, “America is coming to help,” it’s never that clear-cut, and innocent civilians too often pay the price.

As ISIS commits atrocity after atrocity, it is easy to wonder if this tragedy might have been prevented had the 2003 invasion of Iraq never occurred—if we’d listen to the wisdom of Founding Fathers like Adams…and Washington, and Franklin, and Jefferson, and Madison, and more.

Adams’ explanation of the dangers of foreign intervention is now writ large in the violence in Iraq and the suppression of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism here at home:

[America] well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power.

She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

For more than a decade, bipartisan U.S. foreign policy has been marked by fighting for causes that are not our own—and mired “beyond the power of extrication” in the inevitable mess which ensues.

The basic posture of our government toward our citizens has changed from liberty to force, as anyone with knowledge of the National Security Agency alone well knows.

And rather than standing as a beacon of hope and liberty for the world, American foreign policy has too often become one of failed and bloody micromanagement, a bull in the china shop that is the Middle East.

I don’t know how to “fix” Iraq. But I do know that what we’re doing—what we’ve been doing for more than decade now—isn’t working.

Maybe we could start over with the advice of John Quincy Adams, and once again make our motto “Freedom, Independence, Peace.”

Read the whole thing here.