Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

Democrats stayed up all night fighting to expand unconstitutional Bush-era powers

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Originally published at Rare

I’m months from my thirtieth year on this earth, and starting to feel old.

Before you get offended by this, consider that when I was in college, Democrats were the anti-war party. I mean a let’s-reject-Hillary-for-Obama-because-he’s-anti-war kind of party. Code Pink was essentially mainstream on the left a decade ago. George W. Bush-era surveillance was markedly beyond the pale. The Patriot Act? Sedition? The TSA? Absurd.

Enter the left, circa 2016. What do today’s protests look like? A Civil Rights era-style sit-in. This is noteworthy given the historical implications of such an act. For a spectacle this extensive—in which Democrats have been literally sitting on the House floor holding up the works—the objective had to be worthy.

So what’s led Democrats to this extreme behavior? Their goal is to use Bush’s no-fly list as a means to deny you your basic constitutional rights.

It’s true: In the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, Democrats are promoting a vast expansion of war on terror-era powers that strip innocent people of their second, fourth, and fifth amendment rights. They’re pushing the use of a secret government list, in which the people on it, often arbitrarily assigned as a terrorists, have no means to combat the designation.

Essentially, what Democrats spent hours demanding, into the thick of the night and into Thursday morning upending regular legislative order for, is the expansion of broadly defined national security powers not long ago opposed by their party and in most cases, them specifically.

Interestingly, House Democrats have both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on their side. And though they’ve dwindled in numbers, a few vestiges of the principled left remain in opposition to this attempt, in concert with libertarians and conservatives.

The ACLU, for example, opposes using the no fly list as a means to deny gun rights. And not because they’re particularly pro-second amendment, but due to an understanding that secret government lists aren’t a metric citizens should accept as a replacement for our traditional “innocent until proven guilty” standard.

Libertarian-leaning Republican Congressman Justin Amash summed the scene up well by tweeting a relevant family anecdote.

This is a matter our friends on the left ought to consider. Particularly those who crow about how Trump is “literally Hitler.” Do liberals really trust a man like him with the kind of power they’re seeking to expand? A man who suggested that putting Muslims in internment camps might not be such a bad idea since, after all, FDR did the same to the Japanese?

It’s easy to sit on the House floor and create a spectacle, demanding a vote on gun control legislation that wouldn’t have even prevented the terrorist attack they’re politicizing. It’s less easy to admit that the answer isn’t a new law made in haste, but a hard look at our national security and intelligence apparatuses.

After all, Orlando terrorist Omar Mateen was investigated by the FBI twice, reported again to the FBI for suspicious behavior just days prior to his attack, and no follow up was initiated.

There are unfortunately no easy answers to the question of how to prevent lone wolf terror attacks, no matter how understandably desperate many are to find them.

To the Democrats sitting on the House floor so they can feel good about “doing something,” I’d suggest that denying innocent Americans their basic due process rights is no solution.

These are the only 3 Republicans in the House who voted to close Guantanamo Bay

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Most Republicans oppose President Obama’s plan to close the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba, where terrorists are often held indefinitely and without trials. But in a recent House vote, three Republicans—congressmen Mark Sanford, Justin Amash, and John Duncan—broke ranks and supported an amendment that would have shuttered the controversial holding facility.

Sanford explained to McClatchy DC that his opposition to Guantánamo is consistent with his concerns about indefinite detention, a controversial provision that was added to the annual National Defense Authorization Act in 2012, under which those merely suspected of terrorism could be held without constitutionally required due process.

“Indefinite detention is not consistent with the values that America was based on,” said Sanford. “I think if you look at the military tribunals, there was finality to the process: ‘We find you guilty in military tribunal, we’ll take you out back and shoot you, or we’ll let you go.’ It was not, ‘We’re going to hold you for the next 40 years.’”

From a libertarian or constitutional conservative standpoint, Sanford’s outlook makes sense. It’s not that we aren’t going to punish terrorists—he mentioned military tribunals, after all. It’s that throwing someone into a prison like Guantánamo Bay on the mere suspicion of terrorism and holding them indefinitely without charge or trial is anti-American from a human rights and constitutional standpoint.

The issue of closing Guantánamo has resurfaced recently, as Obama struggles to fulfill a promise he first made over seven years ago.

“Keeping this facility open is contrary to our values,” said President Obama earlier this year. “It undermines our standing in the world. It is viewed as a stain on our broader record of upholding the highest standards of rule of law.”

That’s a nice statement, but civil liberties advocates on both the right and the left have reason to be skeptical. After all, Obama signed reauthorizations of the Patriot Act and new indefinite detention provisions into law, even after talking a big game about what a civil libertarian he was.

Nevertheless, the president does seem committed to at least attempting to move past the wartime abuses of his predecessor, while acknowledging the difficulty of the logistical challenges.

As Obama said: “The plan we’re putting forward … isn’t just about closing the facility at Guantanamo. It’s not just about dealing with the current group of detainees, which is a complex piece of business because of the manner in which they were originally apprehended and what happened. This is about closing a chapter in our history.”

Obama doesn’t have nearly the support he needs from Congress to close Guantánamo. The recent amendment, even with backing from the three Republicans, failed by a margin of 259-163.

The results of a new poll of Arab youth reveal a lot about our foreign policy

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

A survey by ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller that chronicles the views of men and women between the ages of 18-24 in 16 Middle Eastern and North African countries was recently released, and it contains an interesting common thread.

In the countries where there’s been a great deal of military and political turmoil, youth view the United States negatively by an overwhelming margin.

In Iraq, Yemen, and the Palestinian Territories – all of which have been embroiled in major conflicts – youth view the United States as an enemy as opposed to an ally by margins of 93%, 82%, and 81%, respectively.

On the other hand, youth in Arab nations with stronger economies and less military strife view the United States in a more favorable light. Young citizens of Arab Gulf states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), collectively view the United States as an ally at a rate of 85%.

As Murtaza Hussain noted at The Intercept, “The results of the poll offer an interesting window into long-term perceptions of the Iraq War by Iraqis themselves. Advocates of the 2003 invasion often justified it by claiming post-Saddam Iraq would be an ally of U.S. interests in the region.”

Added Hussain, “Dick Cheney cited experts who claimed Iraqis would ‘erupt in joy’ over the invasion, predicting it would result in ‘strong bonds’ created between the two countries.”

“But years later, after hundreds of billions of dollars spent and more than a hundred thousand Iraqis dead, the United States is overwhelmingly considered an enemy by young men and women who were children when the war began.”

That view isn’t an entirely monolithic one, however. Rare spoke with Taif Jany, an Iraqi native who serves as the Program Manager for the Education for Peace in Iraq Center (EPIC) in Washington, D.C. about this data, along with other issues that plague the Middle East.

Jany explained, “It is important to make the distinction between Iraqi perceptions of the U.S. government and Iraqi perceptions of the American people. The survey does not make this distinction clearly, and it does not ask about distrust, either – only whether the average young person considers the U.S. an ally.”

Jany makes an important point. It’s true that viewing a government negatively is not the same as viewing its people in that same light.

Said Jany, “As a young Iraqi, I can say that most of my friends like Americans and American culture very much, but have reservations about how much the U.S. government is doing to help make Iraq safe and prosperous again.”

“I hope most Americans would agree,” he added.

Rare also asked Jany what he believes accounts for the disparity in a country such as Iraq viewing the United States government as an ally versus opposite perceptions in the Gulf States.

“Iraq experienced a war. I think it’s that simple. Of course, there will be some hard feelings about the governments involved,” said Jany. “Trust me when I tell you that Iraqis are not sitting around Baghdad and other parts of the country lamenting the 2003 war and who is to blame for it. We are trying to move on and create a future.”

While a focus on blame may not be paramount, war-torn countries such as Iraq are in fact picking up their pieces. And the same sentiment about military conflict likely applies in Yemen.

Wrote Hussain, “[In Yemen,] the U.S. conducted an assassination campaign via drones and special forces, and … for the past year the U.S. has supported bloody Saudi bombings [of Yemen.]

What does this mean for the future of countries such as Iraq?

As Jany explained, “The present reality is that 3 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of violence, and over 10 million Iraqis are in immediate need of assistance – half of them are children. That is where the Iraqi government, Iraq’s allies, and those of us in the humanitarian sector need to focus our attention.”

This is certainly important, because whether or not the Iraq War of over a decade ago was the right move – and it’s almost universally regarded as a mistake today – the Middle East faces a present crisis in the form of ISIS and other terrorist activities.

One piece of good news from the ASDA’A survey is that, across the board, young Arabs have a negative view of ISIS. Half believe the group’s rise is the greatest obstacle the Middle East currently faces, beyond the looming issue of terrorism in general, which was cited as the second most pressing concern by 38% of respondents.

“Millions of Iraqi youth who have been forced from their homes because of ISIS are missing out on a proper education and on their childhoods in general. The government of Iraq and the entire international community need to work together to fix it and fix it now,” said Jany.

As Jany concluded, “Iraqi Security Forces and their allies are working to make Iraq safe, but we need to be thinking about what happens next. How do we rebuild and return to life after cities are cleared of ISIS? How do we involve Iraqi youth in the future of Iraq? Those are the questions we need to ask ourselves.”

Is this American who joined ISIS now the best tool to stop others from being radicalized?

Friday, April 15th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Believe it or not, nearly 500 Americans (that we know of) have left the country to fight with ISIS – the terror group responsible for the attacks in Paris and Brussels, along with countless other atrocities.

It’s hard to imagine someone from the United States leaving to join such a radical group, but ISIS has a sophisticated recruitment system. Americans and Europeans alike are being radicalized, and in some cases even coerced, into joining this horrific network of terrorists.

Mohamad Jamal Khweis, the first American to join ISIS, defect, and make it out alive, defines his choice as a “bad decision,” an understatement if ever one existed. After physically running away from ISIS, Khweis was found last month in the mountains of northern Iraq by Kurdish forces, who have been fighting the terror group. He remains detained by Kurdish authorities.

As Public Radio International (PRI) reported, Khweis, a 26 year old from Virginia, said in an interview with Kurdish television that he traveled to Europe, ultimately making his way to Turkey, where he “met an Iraqi woman whose sister was married to an ISIS fighter. She arranged for them to go to Syria and later on to Iraq.”

As Khweis explained, “I made a bad decision to go with the girl and go to Mosul. I made the decision to go because I wasn’t thinking straight.” He says it wasn’t long before he became disillusioned.

PRI spoke with Anne Speckhard, Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, about what would be in store for Khweis. She explained that if Khweis were returned to America, the U.S. would almost certainly prosecute him, as she believes should be the case.

But Speckhard added, “[Y]ou might want to offer some kind of a plea bargain or reduced sentencing in exchange for going out and speaking to the public [against radicalization].”

While it may seem odd that the government would be even remotely lenient on an American who joined ISIS, there’s a precedent for turning former terror group sympathizers into anti-terror advocates.

 

Speckhard explained that there’s a member of the Lackawanna Six, a group of young men who were part of a terror cell in the Buffalo, New York, area around the time 9/11 occurred, who now cooperates with the FBI. “[These men] joined al Qaeda, and went to their training camp, and also became disenchanted,” she said. Now, with an FBI agent at his side, “[One of them] gives a very good talk about why he went in and that it wasn’t a good choice.”

In an ideal world, U.S. counterterror efforts would be enough to stop homegrown radicalization. But the attacks in San Bernardino and Boston show that, unfortunately, the system isn’t foolproof. And it’s even harder to stop Americans from traveling to ISIS strongholds in the Middle East or Europe to fight or plot with the group.

This is why there does need to be a system in place to best vet any defectors who regret their actions and want to help the U.S., especially if they can act as informants or are willing, like the former member of the Lackawanna Six, to speak out against radical perversions of Islam.

But it’s not always that simple, of course. In her interview with PRI, Speckhard recounted a story of a Belgian man who claimed to denounce his former ties to ISIS and told authorities he’d cooperate with them. But as the Belgian consulate looked into him further, they found he was just trying to make his way back to Europe to plan an attack from the inside. Clearly, a strong and thorough vetting process in these instances, including ongoing surveillance, is required.

Realistically, dealing with defectors is simply another front in the ongoing fight against terrorism. While what will happen to Khweis remains uncertain, one thing is clear: he’s far better off in the hands of Kurdish authorities, who have a long history of cooperating with the United States, than he is with ISIS. If his defection is genuine, that he made it out alive is, in and of itself, nothing short of a miracle.

How Rand Paul plans to stop the sale of U.S. weapons to Pakistan

Friday, March 4th, 2016

Originally published at Rare

Senator Rand Paul is about to introduce a creative resolution that would halt U.S. arms sales to the government of Pakistan.

“This power hasn’t been used since the Reagan administration,” Paul told Rare, citing a 1986 push to stop arms salesto Saudi Arabia.

Sen. Paul said it’s dangerous for the U.S. government to continue arming that country, with its long history of human rights violations, particularly against Christians.

He plans to take advantage of a little-known procedural maneuver that allows senators to object to arms sales. “I object to continuing to feed the arms race in that area of the world,” Paul said. “Once we give planes to one side, the other side will need more planes,” he added.

Paul noted Pakistan’s holding of Asia Bibi, a Christian, is troubling. “[Bibi] is on death row for supposedly criticizing the state religion. I think that’s a human rights violation to such a degree that we shouldn’t be subsidizing arm sales to a country that is persecuting any Christians,” Paul said.

Bibi has been jailed by Pakistan for five years for breaking that country’s blasphemy laws.

Paul also noted his opposition to U.S. taxpayers subsidizing this endeavor to the tune of at least $4 billion. Paul says he’s concerned because Pakistan’s behavior hasn’t been reliable.

Rare asked Sen. Paul what he believes those who support arming Pakistan expect to get from it. He explained that, “They say it’s a way to fight terrorism. But frankly, Pakistan has been an uncertain ally as far as the War on Terrorism goes.”

“There are some allegations that the ten years Osama bin Laden spent in Pakistan, that could have almost never have occurred without their knowledge,” Paul noted.

The senator noted that some politicians believe the United States influences Pakistan’s behavior by giving them weapons. Paul doesn’t buy it.

“Not only is Pakistan’s imprisonment of Asia Bibi wrong, they imprisoned Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped us get bin Laden,” said Paul.

“Until they release those [two prisoners], I will be forcing votes on any arm sales to Pakistan,” the senator insisted.

For Sen. Paul, who since leaving the presidential race has been focusing on reelection in his home state of Kentucky, the issue also comes down to a matter of priorities.

“As I’m traveling around Kentucky and I see the looks on the faces of people who are out of work, and we have a lot of people who have lost their jobs in the coalmines, it saddens me to think of where they are, and their situations. Yet then we’re sending money to Pakistan.” Paul said.

“We don’t even have enough money take care of our people at home,” he added. “We have no business sending hundreds of millions of dollars overseas, and fueling an arms race at the same time.”

Sen. Paul said that he expects that his objection to arming Pakistan will be heard on the Senate floor during the week of March 7th.