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Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion
Updated: 11 hours 7 min ago

Armed Israeli Squatters attack Jerusalem Home of Returning Pilgrim

Sat, 18 Oct 2014 - 3:12am

JERUSALEM (Ma’an) — Armed Jewish settlers on Thursday attacked a Palestinian home in the al-Suwanna neighborhood on the Mount of Olives east of the Old City of Jerusalem, removing banners celebrating the return of a family member from the Hajj pilgrimage.

Witnesses said settlers from the nearby Beit Orot settlement carrying automatic weapons approached the house on Thursday and tore down Islamic banners that the members of the al-Qadamani family had previously hung up.

The witnesses added that the assailants gave the banners to a dog that accompanied them on the raid.

The family had decorated the exterior of their house with banners reading the traditional Islamic inscription “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his prophet” in order to welcome home their son, who had returned from pilgrimage in Mecca.

Mirrored from Ma’an News Agency


Related video:

PBS Newshour: “U.S. condemns Israel’s development plan in East Jerusalem”

Exclusive: Laura Poitras on the Edward Snowden documentary

Sat, 18 Oct 2014 - 2:50am

Channel 4 News

Channel 4 News: “Laura Poitras’ movie CITIZENFOUR captures the man at the centre of today’s Watergate moment – Edward Snowden – in a compelling story of whistleblowing and NSA snooping. ”

Exclusive: Laura Poitras on the Edward Snowden documentary | Channel 4 News

Rosewater: Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari talk about their Film

Sat, 18 Oct 2014 - 2:39am

BBC News

“Jon Stewart and Maziar Bahari talk to the BBC’s Andrew Marr about their film ‘Rosewater’. The film is based on Bahari’s memoir ‘Then They Came for Me’.”

BBC News: “Jon Stewart & Maziar Bahari talk ‘Rosewater’ to Andrew Marr”

Why is this Man Smiling? Iranian Officials say Confidant of US Deal on Nuclear

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 - 11:07pm

By Juan Cole

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, expressed confidence that the few remaining issues between the UN Security Council and Iran will be settled.

Earlier this week, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also surprised the world by expressing the conviction that a deal would be reached between the US and Iran over the nuclear enrichment program.

It is hard not to conclude that this outbreak of optimism has to do at least in part with the rise of ISIL in Mosul and the consequent US need for an Iranian partner. It seems implausible that the US can stiffen the spine of the Baghdad government and military, and can provide close air support to forces on the ground successfully without Iranian help.

Rouhani said that his optimism derives from the breakthroughs already achieved, especially the UNSC and American recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium to produce fuel for reactors.

He is implying that had the UNSC and the West been irresponsible and had they refused to compromise even a little on Iranian enrichment, then the deal would never have borne fruit.

What is left, Rouhani said, is merely working out the details of how to practically to reassure the UNSC and the US that Iran does not have a secret nucler weapons program.

Iran has already cast most of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.25% for its medical reactor in a form that makes it impossible to use it for bomb-making. That stockpile was a central worry among the nuclear hawks.

Among other steps it must take to reassure the UNSC and the US is to make sure its proposed heavy water reactor cannot be used to produce fissile material. Likewise, it may have to accept frequent and some surprise inspections by UN inspectors. The UNSC wants it to lower the number of centrifuges it can run.

All of these steps are aimed at allowing Iran to retain the capacity for enrichment while mollifying the suspicious among Western analysts.

Rouhani’s point is that they are all possible to achieve, and very likely will be achieved, if not by November 24, then by a later deadline.


Related video:

Reuters: “U.S., Iran and EU begin nuclear talks in Vienna”

Can Marijuana save your Life in a Car Collision?

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 - 1:41pm


“Marijuana users’ brains survive traumatic brain injury at higher rates, according to a study conducted on 446 participants, which showed that those with THC in their systems at the time of an accident had a lower mortality rate than those who did not. We look at the study, in this Lip News clip with Lissette Padilla and Gabriel Mizrahi.”

TheLipTV: “Can Marijuana Save Your Life in an Accident?”


For more see this Reuters report

Daily Struggle of 100,000 Kurdish Refugees from Kobane in Turkey

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 - 3:10am

Vice News

“When Islamic State jihadists launched a major offensive on the majority Kurdish town of Kobane in September, more than 180,000 people fled across the border into Turkey. Local authorities struggled to cope with the influx at first, and thousands of refugees were forced to sleep on the streets of the Turkish border town of Suruc. Now camps are being set up to provide shelter and other assistance.

With the borders closed and thousands unable to leave Kobane, VICE News visited one of six refugee camps in the town to find out how refugee families — some sharing tents with up to 14 other people — are coping with leaving their homes and livelihoods behind.”

Vice News: “Life Inside Kurdish Refugee Camps: Turkey’s Border War (Dispatch 2)”

Top 7 Ways US Intervention in Iraq/Syria could turn Catastrophic

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 - 2:27am

By Peter Van Buren via

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Seven Worst-Case Scenarios in the Battle with the Islamic State
By Peter Van Buren

You know the joke? You describe something obviously heading for disaster — a friend crossing Death Valley with next to no gas in his car — and then add, “What could possibly go wrong?”

Such is the Middle East today. The U.S. is again at war there, bombing freely across Iraq and Syria, advising here, droning there, coalition-building in the region to loop in a little more firepower from a collection of recalcitrant allies, and searching desperately for some non-American boots to put on the ground.

Here, then, are seven worst-case scenarios in a part of the world where the worst case has regularly been the best that’s on offer. After all, with all that military power being brought to bear on the planet’s most volatile region, what could possibly go wrong?

1. The Kurds

The lands the Kurds generally consider their own have long been divided among Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. None of those countries wish to give up any territory to an independence-minded ethnic minority, no less find a powerful, oil-fueled Kurdish state on their borders.

In Turkey, the Kurdish-inhabited border area with Iraq has for years been a low-level war zone, with the powerful Turkish military shelling, bombing, and occasionally sending in its army to attack rebels there. In Iran, the Kurdish population is smaller than in Iraq and the border area between the two countries more open for accommodation and trade. (The Iranians, for instance, reportedly refine oil for the Iraqi Kurds, who put it on the black market and also buy natural gas from Iran.) That country has nonetheless shelled the Kurdish border area from time to time. 

The Kurds have been fighting for a state of their own since at least 1923. Inside Iraq today, they are in every practical sense a de facto independent state with their own government and military. Since 2003, they have been strong enough to challenge the Shia government in Baghdad far more aggressively than they have. Their desire to do so has been constrained by pressure from Washington to keep Iraq whole. In June, however, their military, the Peshmerga, seized the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and other northern cities in the face of the militants of the Islamic State (IS). Lacking any alternative, the Obama administration let the Kurds move in.

The Peshmerga are a big part of the current problem. In a near-desperate need for some semi-competent proxy force, the U.S. and its NATO allies are now arming and training them, serving as their air force in a big way, and backing them as they inch into territory still in dispute with Baghdad as an expedient response to the new “caliphate.”  This only means that, in the future, Washington will have to face the problem of how to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle if the Islamic State is ever pushed back or broken.

Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and now under the control of the Islamic State, is the most obvious example. Given the woeful state of the Iraqi army, the Kurds may someday take it. That will not go down well in Baghdad and the result could be massive sectarian violence long after IS is gone. We were given a small-scale preview of what might happen in the town of Hassan Sham. The Kurds took it back last month. In the process, some Shia residents reportedly sided with their enemies, the Sunni militants of IS, rather than support the advancing Peshmerga.

Worst-case scenario: A powerful Kurdistan emerges from the present mess of American policy, fueling another major sectarian war in Iraq that will have the potential to spill across borders. Whether or not Kurdistan is recognized as a country with a U.N. seat, or simply becomes a Taiwan-like state (real in all but name), it will change the power dynamic in the region in ways that could put present problems in the shade. Changing a long-held balance of power always has unintended consequences, especially in the Middle East. Ask George W. Bush about his 2003 invasion of Iraq, which kicked off most of the present mess.

2. Turkey

You can’t, of course, talk about the Kurds without discussing Turkey, a country caught in a vise. Its forces have battled for years against a Kurdish separatist movement, personified by the PKK, a group Turkey, NATO, the European Union, and the United States all classify as a terrorist organization. Strife between the Turks and the PKK took 37,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s before being reduced from a boil to a simmer thanks to European Union diplomacy. The “problem” in Turkey is no small thing — its Kurdish minority, some 15 million people, makes up nearly 20% of the population.

When it comes to taking action in Syria, the Turks exist in a conflicted realm because Washington has anointed the Kurds its boots on the ground. Whatever it may think it’s doing, the U.S. is helping empower the Kurdish minority in Syria, including PKK elements arrayed along the Turkish border, with new weapons and training.

The Turkish ruling party has no particular love for those who run the Islamic State, but its loathing for Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad is such that its leaders have long been willing to assist IS largely by looking the other way. For some time, Turkey has been the obvious point of entry for “foreign fighters” en route to Syria to join IS ranks. Turkey has also served as the exit point for much of the black-market oil — $1.2 to $2 million a day — that IS has used to fund itself. Perhaps in return, the Islamic State released 49 Turkish hostages it was holding, including diplomats without the usual inflammatory beheading videos. In response to U.S. requests to “do something,” Turkey is now issuing fines to oil smugglers, though these have totaled only $5.7 million over the past 15 months, which shows the nature of Turkey’s commitment to the coalition.

The situation in the IS-besieged town of Kobani illustrates the problem. The Turks have so far refused to intervene to aid the Syrian Kurds. Turkish tanks sit idle on hills overlooking the hand-to-hand combat less than a mile away. Turkish riot police have prevented Turkish Kurds from reaching the town to help. Turkish jets have bombed PKK rebels inside Turkey, near the Iraqi border.

Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes do little more than make clear the limits of air power and provide material for future historians to write about. American bombs can slow IS, but can’t recapture parts of a city. Short of destroying Kobani by air to save it, U.S. power is limited without Turkish ground forces. Under the present circumstances, the fighters of the Islamic State will either take the city or it will slowly burn as they slug it out with the Kurds.

The Turkish price for intervention, publicly proclaimed, is the creation of a U.S.-enforced buffer zone along the border. The Turks would need to occupy this zone on the ground, effectively ceding Syrian territory to Turkey (as a buffer zone occupied by Kurds would not do). This would involve a further commitment from Washington, potentially placing American warplanes in direct conflict with Syria’s air defenses, which would have to be bombed, widening the war further. A buffer zone would also do away with whatever secret agreements may exist between the U.S. and Assad. This zone would represent another open-ended commitment, requiring additional U.S. resources in a conflict that is already costing American taxpayers at least $10 million a day.

On the other hand, Washington’s present policy essentially requires Turkey to put aside its national goals to help us achieve ours. We’ve seen how such a scenario has worked out in the past. (Google “Pakistan and the Taliban.”) But with Kobani in the news, the U.S. may yet succeed in pressuring the Turks into limited gestures, such as allowing American warplanes to use Turkish airbases or letting the U.S. train some Syrian rebels on its territory. That will not change the reality that Turkey will ultimately focus on its own goals independent of the many more Kobanis to come.

Worst-case scenario: Chaos in Eastern Turkey’s future, while the sun shines on Assad and the Kurds. An influx of refugees are already taxing the Turks. Present sectarian rumblings inside Turkey could turn white hot, with the Turks finding themselves in open conflict with Kurdish forces as the U.S. sits dumbly on the sidelines watching one ally fight another, an unintended consequence of its Middle Eastern meddling. If the buffer zone comes to pass, throw in the possibility of direct fighting between the U.S. and Assad, with Russian President Vladimir Putin potentially finding an opening to reengage in the area.

3. Syria

Think of Syria as the American war that never should have happened. Despite years of calls for U.S. intervention and some training flirtations with Syrian rebel groups, the Obama administration had managed (just barely) to stay clear of this particular quagmire. In September 2013, President Obama walked right up to the edge of sending bombers and cruise missiles against Assad’s military over the purported use of chemical weapons. He then used an uncooperative Congress and a clever Putin-gambit as an excuse to back down.

This year’s model — ignore Assad, attack IS — evolved over just a few weeks as a limited humanitarian action morphed into a fight to the finish against IS in Iraq and then into bombing Syria itself. As with any magician’s trick, we all watched it happen but still can’t quite figure out quite how the sleight of hand was done.

Syria today is a country in ruins. But somewhere loose in that land are unicorns — creatures often spoken of but never seen — the Obama administration’s much publicized “moderate Syrian rebels.” Who are they? The working definition seems to be something like: people who oppose Assad, won’t fight him for now, but may in the meantime fight the Islamic State, and aren’t too “fundamentalist.” The U.S. plans to throw arms and training at them as soon as it can find some of them, vet them, and transport them to Saudi Arabia. If you are buying stock in the Syrian market, look for anyone labeled “moderate warlord.”

While the U.S. and its coalition attacks IS, some states (or at least wealthy individuals) in that same band of brothers continue to funnel money to the new caliphate to support its self-appointed role as a protector of Sunnis and handy proxy against Shia empowerment in Iraq. Vice President Joe Biden recently called out some of America’s partners on this in what was billed as another of his famous gaffes, requiring apologies all around. If you want to see the best-case scenario for Syria’s future, have a look at Libya, a post-U.S. intervention country in chaos, carved up by militias.

Worst-case scenario: Syria as an ungoverned space, a new haven for terrorists and warring groups fueled by outsiders. (The Pakistani Taliban has already vowed to send fighters to help IS.) Throw in the potential for some group to grab any leftover chemical weapons or SCUD-like surface-to-surface missiles from Assad’s closet, and the potential for death and destruction is unending. It might even spread to Israel.

4. Israel

Israel’s border with Syria, marked by the Golan Heights, has been its quietest frontier since the 1967 war, but that’s now changing. Syrian insurgents of some flavor recently seized border villages and a crossing point in those heights. United Nations peacekeepers, who once patrolled the area, have mostly been evacuated for their own safety. Last month, Israel shot down a Syrian plane that entered its airspace, no doubt a warning to Assad to mind his own business rather than a matter of military necessity.

Assumedly, the Obama administration has been in behind-the-scenes efforts, reminiscent of the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi SCUDS began raining down on Israeli cities, to keep that country out of the larger fight. It is not 1991, however. Relations between the U.S. and Israel are far more volatile and much testier. Israel is better armed and U.S. constraints on Israeli desires have proven significantly weaker of late.

Worst-case scenario: An Israeli move, either to ensure that the war stays far from its Golan Heights frontier or of a more offensive nature aimed at securing some Syrian territory, could blow the region apart. “It’s like a huge bottle with gas surrounded by candles. You just need to push one candle and everything can blow up in a minute,” said one retired Israeli general. Still, if you think Israel worries about Syria, that’s nothing compared to how its leadership must be fuming over the emergence of Iran as an ever-stronger regional power.

5. Iran

What can go wrong for Iran in the current conflict? While in the Middle East something unexpected can always arise, at present that country looks like the potential big winner in the IS sweepstakes. Will a pro-Iranian Shia government remain in power in Baghdad? You bet. Has Iran been given carte blanche to move ground forces into Iraq? Check. Will the American air force fly bombing runs for Iranian ground troops engaged in combat with IS (in a purely unofficial capacity, of course)? Not a doubt. Might Washington try to edge back a bit from its nuclear tough-guy negotiations? A likelihood. Might the door be left ajar when it comes to an off-the-books easing of economic sanctions if the Americans need something more from Iran in Iraq? Why not?

Worst-case scenario: Someday, there’ll be a statue of Barack Obama in central Tehran, not in Iraq.

6. Iraq

Iraq is America’s official “graveyard of empire.” Washington’s “new” plan for that country hinges on the success of a handful of initiatives that already failed when tried between 2003-2011, a time when there were infinitely more resources available to American “nation builders” and so much less in the way of regional chaos, bad as it then was.

The first step in the latest American master plan is the creation of an “inclusive” government in Baghdad, which the U.S. dreams will drive a wedge between a rebellious and dissatisfied Sunni population and the Islamic state. After that has happened, a (re)trained Iraqi army will head back into the field to drive the forces of the new caliphate from the northern parts of the country and retake Mosul.

All of this is unrealistic, if not simply unreal. After all, Washington has already sunk $25 billion dollars into training and equipping that same army, and several billion more on the paramilitary police. The result: little more than IS seizing arsenals of top-notch Americans weaponry once the Iraqi forces fled the country’s northern cities in June.

Now, about that inclusive government. The United States seems to think creating an Iraqi government is like picking players for a fantasy football team. You know, win some, lose some, make a few trades, and if none of that works out, you still have a shot at a new roster and a winning record next year. Since Haider al-Abadi, the latest prime minister and great inclusivist hope, is a Shia and a former colleague of the once-anointed, now disappointed Nouri al-Maliki, as well as a member of the same political party, nothing much has really changed at the top. So hopes for “inclusiveness” now fall to the choices to lead the key ministries of defense and the interior. Both have been tools of repression against the country’s Sunnis for years. For the moment, Abadi remains acting minister for both, as was Maliki before him. Really, what could possibly go wrong?

As for the Sunnis, American strategy rests on the assumption that they can be bribed and coerced into breaking with IS, no matter the shape of things in Baghdad. That’s hard to imagine, unless they lack all memory. As with al-Qaeda in Iraq during the American occupation years, the Islamic State is Sunni muscle against a Shia government that, left to its own devices, would continue to marginalize, if not simply slaughter, them. Starting in 2007, U.S. officials did indeed bribe and coerce some Sunni tribal leaders into accepting arms and payments in return for fighting insurgent outfits, including al-Qaeda. That deal, then called the Anbar Awakening, came with assurances that the United States would always stand by them. (General John Allen, now coordinating America’s newest war in Iraq, was a key figure in brokering that “awakening.”) America didn’t stand. Instead, it turned the program over to the Shia government and headed for the door marked “exit.” The Shias promptly reneged on the deal.

Once bitten, twice shy, so why, only a few years later, would the Sunnis go for what seems to be essentially the same bad deal? In addition, this one appears to have a particularly counterproductive wrinkle from the American point of view. According to present plans, the U.S. is to form Sunni “national guard units” — up-armored Sunni militias with a more marketable name — to fight IS by paying and arming them to do so. These militias are to fight only on Sunni territory under Sunni leadership. They will have no more connection to the Baghdad government than you do. How will that help make Iraq an inclusive, unitary state? What will happen, in the long run, once even more sectarian armed militias are let loose? What could possibly go wrong?

Despite its unambiguous history of failure, the “success” of the Anbar Awakening remains a persistent myth among American conservative thinkers. So don’t be fooled in the short term by media-trumpeted local examples of Sunni-Shia cooperation against IS. Consider them temporary alliances of convenience on a tribe-by-tribe basis that might not outlast the next attack. That is nowhere near a strategy for national victory. Wasn’t then, isn’t now.

Worst-case scenario: Sunni-Shia violence reaches a new level, one which draws in outside third parties, perhaps the Sunni Gulf states, seeking to prevent a massacre. Would the Shia Iranians, with forces already in-country, stand idle? Who can predict how much blood will be spilled, all caused by another foolish American war in Iraq?

7. The United States

If Iran could be the big geopolitical winner in this multi-state conflict, then the U.S. will be the big loser. President Obama (or his successor) will, in the end, undoubtedly have to choose between war to the horizon and committing U.S. ground forces to the conflict. Neither approach is likely to bring the results desired, but those “boots on the ground” will scale up the nature of the ensuing tragedy.

Washington’s post-9/11 fantasy has always been that military power — whether at the level of full-scale invasions or “surgical” drone strikes — can change the geopolitical landscape in predictable ways. In fact, the only certainty is more death. Everything else, as the last 13 years have made clear, is up for grabs, and in ways Washington is guaranteed not to expect.

Among the likely scenarios: IS forces are currently only miles from Baghdad International Airport, itself only nine miles from the Green Zone in the heart of the capital. (Note that the M198 howitzers IS captured from the retreating Iraqis have a range of 14 miles.) The airport is a critical portal for the evacuation of embassy personnel in the face of a future potential mega-Benghazi and for flying in more personnel like the Marine Quick Reaction Force recently moved into nearby Kuwait. The airport is already protected by 300-500 American troops, backed by Apache attack helicopters and drones. The Apache helicopters recently sent into combat in nearby Anbar province probably flew out of there. If IS militants were to assault the airport, the U.S. would essentially have to defend it, which means combat between the two forces. If so, IS will lose on the ground, but will win by drawing America deeper into the quagmire.

In the bigger picture, the current anti-Islamic State coalition of “more than 60 countries” that the U.S. patched together cannot last. It’s fated to collapse in a heap of conflicting long-term goals. Sooner or later, the U.S. is likely to once again find itself alone, as it eventually did in the last Iraq war.

The most likely outcome of all this killing, whatever the fate of the Islamic State, is worsening chaos across Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region, including possibly Turkey. As Andrew Bacevich observed, “Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.” The loss of control over the real costs of this war will beg the question: Was the U.S. ever in control?

In September, Syria became the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded, occupied, or bombed since 1980. During these many years of American war-making, goals have shifted endlessly, while the situation in the Greater Middle East only worsened. Democracy building? You’re not going to hear that much any more. Oil? The U.S. is set to become a net exporter. Defeating terrorism? That’s today’s go-to explanation, but the evidence is already in that picking fights in the region only fosters terror and terrorism. At home, the soundtrack of fear-mongering grows louder, leading to an amplified national security state and ever-expanding justifications for the monitoring of our society.

Worst-case scenario: America’s pan-Middle Eastern war marches into its third decade with no end in sight, a vortex that sucks in lives, national treasure, and Washington’s mental breathing room, even as other important issues are ignored. And what could possibly go wrong with that?

Peter Van Buren blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during the Iraqi reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. A TomDispatch regular, he writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. His latest book is Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 Peter Van Buren

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

The Guardian: “Fighting Isis in Kobani: Kurds on the Frontlines”

Ebola & Immigrants and Muslims, Oh My! Operating the Fear Machine

Fri, 17 Oct 2014 - 2:06am

by Rebecca Gordon

Like many people around the world, four-star Marine General John Kelley is really worried about Ebola.

But he’s not worried about the more than 4,000 people who have died of the disease in western Africa. And he’s only tangentially worried about people dying in this country. What is the real threat Ebola presents to the United States, according to Kelly? Increased immigration.

On October 9, 2014, reported that for Kelly, who is the chief of the U.S. Southern Command, Ebola’s real danger is the “mass migration into the United States” of people running away from it in Mexico and Central America. If Ebola comes to Latin America, says Kelly, it’ll be “Katie, bar the door!” to keep the terrified masses out.

The general has proof that they’re already coming – all the way from Africa. In fact, he says, a U.S. embassy employee in Costa Rica told him about a group of migrants he’d met on the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. And where were these migrants coming from, Kelly asked? The embassy worker told him, “Liberia.” Liberians traveling to the United States through Central America. Who knew?


As it turns out, these folks may well have been from “Liberia,” but they probably weren’t Africans. Chances are they came from Liberia, Costa Rica, the state capital of Guanacaste province there. This from the man in charge of all U.S. military operations in Latin America.

Dark Foreigners

There’s an important – though little mentioned – connection between the fear of Ebola and the hyperbolic fear of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. In popular U.S. imagination, both of these represent foreign dangers, in the persons of outsiders who are not white.


The fighters of ISIS are foreigners, most of them Arabs, along with some Africans and Central Europeans. But part of the ISIS threat is supposed to be the possibility that jihadis originating in this country might return from fighting in Iraq or Syria to attack the homeland. Those people aren’t foreigners; they come from the United States. Is it fair to say that mainstream media has represented them as a “foreign” threat?


I think it is. They are Muslims, and as I’ve said elsewhere, “Muslim” is a racialized category in this country. In the imaginations of many Americans, Muslims are by definition Arabs, Africans, or other dark-skinned people. Regardless of their actual citizenship status, they are often perceived as outsiders. They’re “not from around here,” and they don’t look like “us.”


Ebola also looks like a “foreign” threat. It originated in Africa, and to date the vast majority of its victims have been Africans. It’s a frightening disease, because of the painful way it kills.


But it’s a little odd that people in this country are more afraid of a disease from Africa that has killed exactly one person in this country than of enterovirus 68, which at this writing has already sent almost 700 U.S. children in the hospital and contributed to the deaths of at least five. Not to mention the ordinary flu, which, as Frank Bruni observes in the NY Times, kills as many as 50,000 in a bad year.

ISIS and Ebola share another connection: they much more dangerous to people located where they actually are than to people in the United States. ISIS has murdered American and British nationals in hideous, well-publicized ways, but they have killed many more Iraqis and Syrians. Ebola has taken the lives of European healthcare workers, but it has killed thousands of Africans in Africa.

General Kelly’s confusion about Costa Rican geography may be funny, but it also demonstrates just how frightened many people in this country have become of dangers from the outside. For the last 13 years we’ve been fed a steady diet of terror, stuffed full of fear of those dark foreigners who threaten our way of life, even our very lives.


While General Kelly warns us about the “Liberians” threatening to overwhelm the U.S.-Mexico border with Ebola, the Republican National Committee is equally concerned about ISIS terrorists streaming across the same frontier. Their 30-second spot runs repeatedly on prime time television in Arizona. (H/T to Happening-Here.)

In the fight against the Islamic State, "I think we’re looking at kind of a 30-year war,” President Obama’s former CIA director and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told us while promoting his new memoir. Here he’s echoing his Republican predecessor Donald Rumsfeld’s view that the “war on terror” would be the “work of a generation” involving battlefields in more than 60 countries. In recent weeks, mainstream media and members of congress from both parties have also been ramping up the fear machine, the one that turns the wheels of endless war. Thirteen years after September 11, it’s still all-war, all the time.

Most of my work over the last decade has to do with U.S. involvement in the practice of torture. It’s become clear to me that in the context of endless war, people in this country have been offered a false bargain: “Allow us to torture anyone who deserves it; allow us to use drones to assassinate foreign nationals and even Americans; allow us to peruse your most intimate email and phone conversations (or at least collect your metadata). In return we promise that you will always be secure.” This deal is as much a cheat as an immortality potion, because the government can never keep its part of the bargain.

There is no such thing as complete security. No matter how many people we torture, no matter how many we kill with missiles, no matter how much surveillance we allow, there is no guarantee that a disaffected college student won’t blow up the finish line at the Boston Marathon. There is no guarantee that another Timothy McVeigh won’t attack another building with a fertilizer bomb.

Rebecca Gordon teaches in the Philosophy department at the University of San Francisco. She’s the author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States


SouthCom’s Stark Ebola Warning: “Katie Bar the Door”

Will Ireland Recognize Palestine?

Thu, 16 Oct 2014 - 11:03pm

By Juan Cole

After Sweden recognized Palestine, the Irish government began considering doing so. On Thursday, the Irish parliament asked Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, questions regarding this plan.

Gilmore affirmed that the Irish government is planning at some point in the near future to move ahead with recognition.

A few European Union member states had recognized Palestine before joining the EU, such as Poland. Only Sweden has done so after joining the EU, with Iceland also recognizing Israel and being part of the Schwengen agreement. The action of Sweden’s leftwing government in this regard may set off an avalanche of similar recognition. The British parliament recently passed a non-binding resolution urging recognition of Palestine. Only 12 MPs voted against it, because even staunch supporters of Israel are exasperated by the boldness of the Likud Party in stealing land, blighting Palestinian lives, and flouting international law.

Ireland is a bellwether for European sentiment. The central narrative of Irish nationalism has been British colonialism and its atrocities in Ireland. After the Holocaust, many Irish intellectuals sympathized with Zionism, seeing it as similar to Irish nationalism.

But with the clearly colonial actions of Israel in the Palestinian West Bank and the brutality of Israeli Occupation of Gaza, Israel looks more and more to the Irish like the British colonialists who sold off Irish-grown food abroad in the midst of the potato famine.

This week the Irish Times urged the government to take the step of recognizing Palestine

Diplomatic recognition matters because it affects public opinion, including that of judges. Israeli firms on the Palestinian West Bank are increasingly in legal jeopardy in European courts.

Related video

Senator David Norris

Surprising Map of Which Countries Recognize Palestine

Thu, 16 Oct 2014 - 3:10am


“Sweden became the first European Union country to recognize the State of Palestine on Oct. 3, and the United Kingdom parliament voted 274-12 in favor of recognizing the State of Palestine. More than 134 countries have recognized Palestine’s bid for statehood since 1988. Here’s a look at the spread of support around the world.”

AJ+ “Who Recognizes the State of Palestine?”

Humanitarian Crisis: Health Care and Jordan’s 600,000 Syrian Refugees

Thu, 16 Oct 2014 - 3:01am

By Katy Montoya

I was scrambling to take notes when the First Lieutenant of the Jordanian Security Forces joined my conversation with security personnel in one of the small offices of Ruba’a al-Sarhan. “No other country would do this for Syria’s civilians,” he declared. Located close to the Syrian border in the al-Mafraq governate, Ruba’a al-Sarhan is the Joint Registration Center run by the UNHCR and Jordanian Security. It is also the only official registration center for Syrians entering Jordan, though several informal reception posts (precarious tin constructions) dot the hilly border and make the journey for Syrians a bit shorter. It is the one place all Syrians must visit, where officials decide who gets to stay (onto al-Za’tari or al-Azraq camps) and who gets sent back.

The lieutenant wasn’t excited at the sight of an American student who was sharing soft drinks with the center’s personnel, prying into national security matters for her college thesis. Nonetheless, the lieutenant used this opportunity to detail the high costs that the Jordanian military incurs in being a good neighbor. Since the beginning of the failed revolution, Jordanian border guards have facilitated border crossings for refugees and provided food, water, and ambulances to the victims of the violence starting just kilometers away. His implicit message, of course, was a plea for greater financial assistance from the U.S.

The Jordanian military does, after all, fulfill a tall order — primarily a U.S order. They have largely succeeded in containing the fighting between Jabhat a-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and al-Assad forces to the Dera’a-side of the border (minus the occasional shells that fall on Ramtha and other border villages. All the while, the military’s intelligence networks and border guards keep tight watch of the 375-kilometer border and repel Da’ash’s [ISIL's] attempted incursions. Indeed, so much border drama tension has led Jordanian Security to repeatedly close border crossings, leaving hundreds of Syrian families stuck and impeding Free Syrian Army (FSA) South Front leaders from moving back and forth between countries.

Border and registration procedures become more complicated when dealing with Syrians who didn’t deliberately leave their homes for Jordan, but rather were rushed to the borders, both from civilian neighborhoods and the sites of skirmishes.
For every regime tank that fires on civilian apartment buildings and Palestinian refugee camps, or barrel bomb that devastates neighborhoods of southern Syria, in Dera’a, Quneitra, and the Damascus countryside, a new wave of Syrians arrive at Jordan’s border. The same goes for various members of the armed opposition whose battle injuries largely exceed the capacities of south Syria’s field hospitals.

Jordanian Security and intelligence are present at each point on the route that Syrian trauma patients take while receiving medical care in Jordan. Members of Jordan’s Civilian Defense escort each injured Syrian to their first stop at Ramtha Government Hospital using the ambulances that are stationed at the border. If and only if these patients have or collect the funds, a police officer escorts and supervises each patient, lady officers for injured females, during their next stop at private, specialized hospitals, mainly in Amman. And after they have received the most urgent surgeries, or their hospital bed is needed, the fates of these patients are decided at the Ruba’a al-Sarhan. Almost everyone needs further treatment, but only some are sent to Za’tari (to be escorted by police to their appointments at a later date). The rest are sent back to the dangerous zones in Syria from which they came.

There are several reasons why Jordanian Security has taken such an involved role in controlling the movement of Syrian trauma patients in Jordan. Health professionals at the private hospitals that receive Syrians proudly state that they don’t inquire into their patients’ backgrounds or affiliations. “Even if Bashar’s son came here, I would treat him,” as a doctor at Bayader Hospital put it. Yes, Jordan is opening these spaces to civilians and non-civilians alike, but its intelligence and security apparatus are making up for the neutral humanitarianism. While suspicions of Jordan providing indirect support to non-moderate groups in Syria keep circulating, spaces like hospitals continue to be very sensitive.

Most of these private hospitals began receiving Syrian patients from the borders less than a year ago, when Syrian doctors in Jordan organized to request entire floors of private hospitals in Amman. Loose networks brought these doctors together and their informal groups operate just outside the scope of recognition of the Jordanian state. That’s because under Health Ministry regulations, Syrian doctors are prohibited from practicing medicine in Jordan. They may only manage the logistics of patients’ transfers, while Jordanian doctors are expected to perform all surgeries and treat patients. Yet the Jordanian government turns something of an acquiescent blind eye to the Syrian doctors who clearly run these wards. Jordanian doctors help give the guise of compliance by briefly visiting the Syrian floors each day to sign off on official paperwork and register for the surgeries of Syrian patients.

Yet most Syrian doctors provide their crucial service to Syrian trauma patients in fear. Dr. “Al Ghouta” described the protocol for hiding in the hospital’s basement and Dr. “Dariya” showed me the fake patient ID he uses to disguise himself during the Health Ministry’s monthly visits.

The recent history of these doctors further exemplifies their steadfast dedication to serving the victims of violence in Syria. Their positions in Jordan are precarious, but let’s not forget that most of them also managed to escape the regime’s targeting of doctors in Syria and the continuous threat of fire on field hospitals where many worked. These doctors use their connections to provide synchronized responses to daily events in south Syria and to personally monitor trauma victims as they make their way to ICU’s in Amman.

Three and a half years later, spillover of Syria’s violence is the norm, to the extent that formal policies in Jordan are in place to manage it. Three and a half years later, about half of Syrian doctors have left the country, on to the next phase of helping their compatriots in more feasible ways ( For those who don’t have the luxury of just turning off the news, accommodating for this violence is business as usual.

Katy Montoya is a senior at Swarthmore College, majoring in Political Science and minoring in Arabic Language. Her fieldwork in Jordan over the past two summers is the basis of her research on state-supported and informal civil networks for Syrians inside Jordan. This research was made possible by the support of the European Research Council’s WAFAW project ( and by the J. Roland Pennock Fellowship in Pubic Affairs.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

UNHCR: Syrian Refugee Registration Challenge

The New McCarthyism on Israel: Naming and Shaming . . . Hillel

Wed, 15 Oct 2014 - 11:30pm

By Alice Rothchild

Jewish communal and religious organizations have become increasingly donor driven and sclerotic when it comes to discourse on Israel/Palestine. This is clearly in evidence when it comes to the dogmatic guidelines espoused by Hillel International, the umbrella organization for local Hillel chapters on American campuses. Despite spouting pluralism and tolerance, the organization lists the following redlines for discourse or co-sponsorship: any person or group that

• Denies the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders;

• Delegitimizes, demonizes, or applies a double standard to Israel;

• Supports boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel;

• Exhibits a pattern of disruptive behavior towards campus events or guest speakers or fosters an atmosphere of incivility

The guidelines grew out of work by the Anti-defamation League which in 1974 defined the “new anti-Semitism” as criticism of Israel and reinforced that concept with a publication in 1982. Ironically the conflation of all Jews with Israel is in itself a dangerous anti-Semitic trope. Israeli thinkers joined the fray in 2011 when the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv think tank, issued a position paper that laid out a strategy of “naming and shaming” those on the left who support the boycott, divestment, and sanction movement against Israel, a one state solution, or the right of return for Palestinians. The document developed a detailed strategy to engage Jewish institutions and individuals in identifying and marginalizing leftist groups, separating them from liberals less critical to Israeli policy, creating a positive “Israeli brand”, and honing the definition of those who “delegitimize” Israel.

There are so many problems with this kind of thinking: Do countries have a “right to exist” or do they exist due to a complex coalescence of military might, aspirations, mythology, and historical movements. What does it mean to be a Jewish state? Can a Jewish state ever be democratic if by definition Jewish exceptionalism is the foundation of the country? How does a country derive legitimacy? Does the Israeli occupation or the five hundred dead children in Gaza threaten Israel’s “legitimacy”? If one is critical of Israel which receives a massive amount of US military aid and political cover, does one have to list all the other countries that commit human rights violations to be credible? If Palestinians are condemned when they commit violent resistance and condemned when they call for nonviolent resistance, how are they supposed to resist the occupation and daily violations to basic human rights and dignity?

These policies have led to the political and cultural world in which we find ourselves where the mood on US campuses has become increasingly McCarthyesque. Academics are monitored and attacked, student groups sympathetic to Palestinians are confronted with specious lies (see the youtube Hamas on Campus) or actively thrown out, critics are emotionally blackmailed with the epithet of “anti-Semite”, and liberal Jewish social justice organizations are afraid to support a boycott of fossil fuels lest it lend credibility to the boycott of Israel. Articles on the death of liberal Zionism are proliferating in the fourth estate. The latest assault on Gaza where large synagogues embraced by local politicians organized nationalistic and often racist Stand with Israel rallies, refused to acknowledge the Palestinian dead, and 90-97% of Israelis stood behind Netanyahu’s war mongering, was for some the final straw. As Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace relates, she received an email from a rabbi, “Enough. Sign me up.”

This weekend’s If Not Now, When? An Open Hillel Conference was another crack in the armor of the Jewish establishment. The good news for the anxious Jewish Federations of the world, is that there are many thousands of young Jews and allies who are deeply committed to Judaism as a religion and as a community and they take their “Jewish values” very seriously. One of those values is Judith Butler’s Talmudic “intelligent bickering” and the other is a deep commitment to social justice and equality for all. Students heard from religious Jews debating Torah midrash on the metaphor of opening the eyes of the Jewish people, to Palestinian activists like Sa’ed Atshan, explaining, “My human rights shouldn’t be trumped by your feelings…Rights are non-negotiable so they are not open to dialogue.”

What became clear to me is that the students and their allies are actively reframing the discourse:

separating Judaism the religion from Zionism the national political movement; delineating the racist ideology of anti-Semitism from thoughtful moral criticism of the country, Israel. The treatment of and solidarity with Palestinians has now become the civil rights issue of the day for modern Jews, especially younger Jews who will be here long after the older post-Holocaust generation has moved on and no longer shapes the boundaries of intelligent discourse and definitions of normalcy. After centuries of powerless, how we as a community handle our new position of power and privilege is critical to the survival of an ethical Jewish tradition as well as a just resolution to a more than century old struggle in historic Palestine that is being fought in our name. Challenges to the mainstream political Zionist narrative and the equivalence of Jew and starry eyed lover-of-Israel are also challenges to our identity and our personal and communal values. That conversation is the genie that cannot be put back into the box.

Alice Rothchild is author of: On the Brink: Israel and Palestine on the Eve of the 2014 Gaza Invasion, Just World Books, Sept 2014

Turkey bargaining with base for US, wants no-fly zone in Syria

Wed, 15 Oct 2014 - 11:05pm

By Juan Cole

Earlier this week Turkish officials met American ones on the issue of combating ISIL. The US wants to use Incirlik Air Force Base for the purpose, but Turkey has been cagey about whether that permission will be forthcoming, at least through Wednesday evening. The no fly zone idea is coupled with the notion of a humanitarian corridor and a buffer zone in Syria but along the Turkish border.

My guess is that President Tayyip Erdogan fears blowback on Turkey from ISIL reprisals if he gets too involved, Turkey earns a lot of money from the tourist sector, which is vulnerable to terrorist attacks. He therefore wants a buffer zone.

The humanitarian corridor has been proposed by human rights organizations before. It is now being endorsed by Sen. Carl Levin, a senior Democrat.

Russia, a major patron of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, opposes humanitarian corridors in Syria.

Syria is denouncing the idea of an international imposition on its sovereign territory


related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks from Monday: “ISIS Pushes Right Up To Turkish Border”

Real Estate Agents to the Terrorists: ISIL Steals Mosul Refugee Property to Raise Money

Wed, 15 Oct 2014 - 4:27am

By Nawzat Shamdeen via

The Sunni Muslim extremist group that has taken over the northern city of Mosul has a new source of income: real estate. The Islamic State group has confiscated the properties of all those who fled or taken them off those they consider enemies. Locals say the plan is to auction the real estate off and make more money.

After taking control of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in early June, the Sunni Muslim extremist group known as the Islamic State have been busy “coming into some property”. They have “inherited” houses, industrial real estate and agricultural land around the areas they control in the province of Ninawa, mostly due to the fact that the rightful owners have fled or been forced out by the IS group.

All of this real estate is considered to be under the control of the Islamic State, or IS, group’s so-called treasury system, or Bayt al-Mal. Historically this was a kind of public fund, that was supposed to help pay for social development in Muslim kingdoms.

On the ground in Mosul, the IS group has been collecting rents and taxes for their own version of the historical treasury, acting just like the Mosul municipal authorities used to do, with a lot of rent coming from the two big commercial areas on either side of the city. It’s estimated that there are more than 5,000 businesses in these areas. The IS group is also collecting rent from other parts of town – including industrial projects elsewhere and even tourist facilities in Mosul’s greener areas.

Most of the property belongs to locals who have fled and had their property confiscated by the IS group as a result or those who have been forced out. This includes houses of Christian locals in the neighbourhoods of Al Arab, Shurta, Nour, Muhandiseen, Majmouah, Thaqafiyah, Faisaliah and Zohour on one side of the city and houses in the neighbourhoods of Dawas, Jawsaq and Dandan on the other side of the city. Shops and other commercial or industrial properties owned by Christians have also been seized by the IS group.

Property belonging to Shiite Muslims and Shabaks, some of whom are Sunni Muslims, has also been confiscated by the group. This real estate is mainly in the Atshanah, Karamah, Quds, Nour, Bab Shams and Nour neighbourhoods.

Property owned by individuals that the IS group considered their enemies – such as Iraqi army and police, government officials, politicians, judges and public prosecutors – has also been seized. And recently the group decided they should also own the property belonging to specialists in certain fields, such as doctors.

It is also well known that the IS group has seized any revenue coming to the Sunni Muslim endowment in Ninawa. This is the body tasked with running local Sunni Muslim mosques and shrines and any property belonging to them. The local endowment is thought to own hundreds of individual homes and buildings as well as commercial property in different parts of the city and on its outskirts.

The result of all this property: another huge source of funding for the extremist group, possibly amounting to more than the money it makes from selling oil and oil derivatives on the black market here.

Sources, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, inside the city say that the IS group is now planning to auction off some of the real estate. In fact, those same sources inside the city told NIQASH that members of the IS group have already inventoried all the properties and matched them against official records.

A lot of people have been talking about these auctions, one local realtor, who wished only to be known as Abu Harun, says. However, he said, many of his colleagues in the business are not going to take part in these public auctions because the properties were taken using force. Their religious beliefs tell them that to participate in the sale of stolen property would not be the right thing to do.

Other locals say they won’t be going to the auctions for legal reasons. They say that although the IS group is the authority in Mosul right now, this may not last. And sooner or later the real owners of the properties will return and claim them. There could be legal wrangling, prosecutions and more than likely, tribal feuding, because of that, the locals say.

“When the IS group entered Mosul, they already knew a lot of detailed information about the city’s real estate,” says Mohammed Alla, a lawyer and former resident of Mosul who is now living in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan; the IS group abolished the local legal system when they took Mosul over and established their own, based on their own belief system. “Even in the earliest hours of their occupation of the city, they had already marked out properties belonging to Christians and Shabaks and confiscated the properties belonging to public officials and security staff,” Alla explained. “They also notified Muslims living in houses belonging to Christians that they would have to pay their rent to the IS group now. Either that or leave the house.”

Part of the reason for this is the fact that the IS group, and their agents and allies, have been present in Mosul for a long time, well before June 2014.

In fact the office supervising property registration in Ninawa, which was located in the parts of Mosul where extremist groups had more influence, was closed by the local authorities because the extremists were assassinating the administrators and their employees, as well as threatening all who worked there.

The former administrator of the office was assassinated in front of his house in Mosul in 2006 and after several other murders, employees in the department grew more and more fearful – they no longer wanted to do their jobs properly and preferred to do mundane, daily tasks rather than registering property properly. Eventually the department was closed and it was also announced that many cases of fraud had been found after records there were examined.

Even before the group managed to take over the rest of Mosul in early June, they had been extorting money from local business owners in the part of the city where they had the most influence, including charging extra fees on Christian-owned properties. In May, extremists banned the sale of Christian properties in that area, saying that the real estate no longer belonged to the Christians and they began chasing any agents out of the neighbourhoods, threatening them with death.

Alla says that the IS group already had agents inside the local authority’s real estate registration offices. Local security forces knew about this, and before they left Mosul in June, made regular announcements about arresting members of extremist groups who had in their possession property records and other official items from the registration office.

Even before they occupied Mosul fully, the IS group and their allies were trying to control local property registers, a former employee at the office, whose identity could not be revealed because of security concerns, told NIQASH. The employee, who is still in Mosul, confirmed to NIQASH that the extremists are going to rent out, sell or lease the real estate they are now in control of.

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

WCC visit to Iraq: testimonies of displaced people from Mosul

Reza Aslan, religion Ph.D. vs. Sam Harris

Wed, 15 Oct 2014 - 3:00am

The Young Turks:

Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks and Professor Reza Aslan discuss Sam Harris. Cenk asks Reza how he feels about Harris’ comments about him and islam. Reza explains why he thinks Sam Harris gives Atheism a bad name.

The Young Turks
Professor Reza Aslan On Sam Harris

Is the Center for Jewish Life stifling free speech at Princeton University?

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 - 11:39pm

By Max Weiss via The Princetonian

I have never met Slav Leibin.

Nonetheless, it recently came to my attention that he vetoed, with the approval of the Center for Jewish Life, my right to participate in a proposed panel on the recent hostilities in Gaza. Apparently this preemptive act of exclusion was carried out on entirely political grounds. This strikes me as an attempt to stifle the exchange of views on an important, if contentious, issue of concern to many in the Princeton University community — an egregious violation of our community’s values.

Slav Leibin is the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at the Center for Jewish Life, which is home to Hillel at Princeton. Founded in 1923, Hillel is the world’s largest Jewish student organization, with branches at more than 550 colleges and universities, guided by the mission of helping students “to explore, experience, and create vibrant Jewish lives.”

Beginning in 2003, Hillel International has partnered with the Jewish Agency for Israel in order to place some 60 such Israel Fellows on almost 70 North American campuses, including Princeton. Prior to its creation in 1929, the JA was known as the “Palestine Zionist Executive,” and during the pre-1948 period it was responsible for Jewish settlement, immigration, and defense in Palestine. Since 1948, the JA has been the leading international Jewish nonprofit organization, funded by the Jewish Federations of North America as well as private donors in Israel and abroad, “providing meaningful Israel engagement and facilitating Aliyah” — literally, going up — that is, immigration of Jews to Israel and their naturalization as citizens there.

Although technically autonomous, the JA effectively operates as an advocate for the government of Israel. For someone representing the JA to bar a member of the Princeton faculty from sharing his or her expertise and perspectives is no more acceptable than it would be for an envoy of the Chinese, Canadian or any other government to do the same.

As a tenured member of the Princeton faculty with a joint appointment in the Departments of History and Near Eastern Studies, and as a scholar of the modern Middle East with considerable expertise in the history of Israel/Palestine, I am deeply troubled to discover that our campus life is not only being patrolled but even policed by non-academic figures here with a political mandate.

In the wake of Operation Protective Edge, Princeton students attempted to organize a public event that would address the context and consequences of the Israeli assault on Gaza in July that left over 2,100 Palestinians and nearly 70 Israelis dead. Students then reached out to the Center for Jewish Life for co-sponsorship, presumably for an event to which I was going to be invited (I did not know of these plans at the time). In response, Mr. Leibin wrote in an email on Sept. 8, “I would like to bring to your attention that Max Weiss has recently signed a public statement supporting boycott of Israel. This issue complicates the program for us, as it is Highly [sic] sensitive for a CJL ASG to sponsor a program with a speaker who made a statement like this, which is one of the red lines in our Israel policy.”

This point about “red lines in our Israel policy” needs to be understood in a larger context. Hillel International has a policy barring local chapters from sponsoring talks by, or symposia including, people whom Hillel deems overly critical of Israel. This policy has prompted a revolt by many students in Hillel chapters around the country, who insist they have a right to hear all perspectives, and a national Open Hillel movement, which held its first national conference this past weekend at Harvard.

On October 10, president and chief executive officer of Hillel International Eric Fingerhut affirmed in the Israeli newspaper Ha`aretz that Hillel is committed to promoting “an environment that is “intellectually rigorous, respectful of difference and committed to honest conversation.” What Hillel International will not do, Fingerhut wrote, is “partner with organizations that espouse anti-Semitism, apply a double standard to Israel, spout racism or promote Islamophobia.” Recently Fingerhut met with Open Hillel activists, however, and told them, “every student is welcome at Hillel regardless of his or her personal views on Israel or any other topic in Jewish life.”

Apparently, at Princeton, the same does not hold for faculty.

I therefore ask the CJL to explain whether it believes that Mr. Leibin’s decision to bar a faculty member from sharing his expertise and perspective on an issue of concern to many members of our community is acceptable behavior and serves our students by promoting the free and full exchange of ideas and opinions. According to its own mission statement, the CJL “acts as a liaison with Princeton University on matters related to Israel.” How does the CJL understand the role of such a liaison? Is the CJL committed to sponsoring open debate and the free exchange of ideas with respect to “Israel or any other topic in Jewish life?” Or, does the CJL favor excluding some viewpoints and certain members of the Princeton community based on political criteria?

Princeton must remain a place where open debate and academic exchange is encouraged and allowed to flourish, even on the most controversial issues. Now is a particularly urgent moment for the Princeton community — faculty and students alike — to sit up and take notice of the struggle to protect free speech and academic freedom in this country. After all, it’s happening in our own backyard.

Max Weiss is an Associate Professor of History and Near Eastern Studies and an Elias Boudinot Bicentennial Preceptor. He can be reached at

Republished by author’s permission from The Daily Princetonian

America’s Colonial Armies: Absentee Soldiers, Corrupt Officers and Collapse

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 - 11:32pm

By William J. Astore via

In June, tens of thousands of Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh province north of Baghdad collapsed in the face of attacks from the militants of the Islamic State (IS or ISIS), abandoning four major cities to that extremist movement. The collapse drew much notice in our media, but not much in the way of sustained analysis of the American role in it. To put it bluntly, when confronting IS and its band of lightly armed irregulars, a reputedly professional military, American-trained and -armed, discarded its weapons and equipment, cast its uniforms aside, and melted back into the populace. What this behavior couldn’t have made clearer was that U.S. efforts to create a new Iraqi army, much-touted and funded to the tune of $25 billion over the 10 years of the American occupation ($60 billion if you include other reconstruction costs), had failed miserably. 

Though reasonable analyses of the factors behind that collapse exist, an investigation of why U.S. efforts to create a viable Iraqi army (and, by extension, viable security forces in Afghanistan) cratered so badly are lacking.  To understand what really happened, a little history lesson is in order.  You’d need to start in May 2003 with the decision of L. Paul Bremer III, America’s proconsul in occupied Iraq and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), to disband the battle-hardened Iraqi military.  The Bush administration considered it far too tainted by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party to be a trustworthy force. 

Instead, Bremer and his team vowed to create a new Iraqi military from scratch.  According to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco, that force was initially conceived as a small constabulary of 30,000-40,000 men (with no air force at all, or rather with the U.S. Air Force for backing in a country U.S. officials expected to garrison for decades).  Its main job would be to secure the country’s borders without posing a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or, it should be added, to U.S. interests.

Bremer’s decision essentially threw 400,000 Iraqis with military training, including a full officer corps, out onto the streets of its cities, jobless.  It was a formula for creating an insurgency.  Humiliated and embittered, some of those men would later join various resistance groups operating against the American military.  More than a few of them later found their way into the ranks of ISIS, including at the highest levels of leadership.  (The most notorious of these is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former general in Saddam’s army who was featured as the King of Clubs in the Bush administration’s deck of cards of Iraq’s most wanted figures.  Al-Douri is now reportedly helping to coordinate IS attacks.)

IS has fought with considerable effectiveness, quickly turning captured American and Syrian weaponry, including artillery pieces, Humvees, and even a helicopter, on their enemies.  Despite years of work by U.S. military advisers and all those billions of dollars invested in training and equipment, the Iraqi army has not fought well, or often at all.  Nor, it seems, will it be ready to do so in the immediate future. Retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen, who played a key role in organizing, arming, and paying off Sunni tribal groups in Iraq the last time around during the “Anbar Awakening,” and who has been charged by President Obama with “coordinating” the latest American-led coalition to save Iraq, has already gone on record on the subject.  By his calculations, even with extensive U.S. air support and fresh infusions of American advisers and equipment, it will take up to a year before that army is capable of launching a campaign to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

What went wrong?  The U.S. Army believes in putting the “bottom line up front,” so much so that they have even turned the phrase into an acronym: BLUF.  The bottom line here is that, when it comes to military effectiveness, what ultimately matters is whether an army — any army — possesses spirit.  Call it fire in the belly, a willingness to take the fight to the enemy.  The Islamic State’s militants, at least for the moment, clearly have that will; Iraqi security forces, painstakingly trained and lavishly underwritten by the U.S. government, do not.

This represents a failure of the first order.  So here’s the $60 billion question: Why did such sustained U.S. efforts bear such bitter fruit?  The simple answer: for a foreign occupying force to create a unified and effective army from a disunified and disaffected populace was (and remains) a fool’s errand.  In reality, U.S. intervention, now as then, will serve only to aggravate that disunity, no matter what new Anbar Awakenings are attempted.

Upon Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 and the predictable power vacuum that followed, score-settling ethno-religious factions clashed in what, in the end, was little short of civil war. In the meantime, both Sunni and Shia insurgencies arose to fight the American occupiers. Misguided decisions by Bremer’s CPA only made matters worse. Deep political divisions in Iraq fed those insurgencies, which targeted American troops as a foreign presence. In response, the U.S. military sought to pacify the insurgents, while simultaneously expanding the Iraqi constabulary. In military parlance, it began to “stand up” what would become massive security forces. These were expected to restore a semblance of calm, even as they provided cover for U.S. troops to withdraw ever so gradually from combat roles.

It all sounded so reasonable and achievable that the near-impossibility of the task eluded the Americans involved. To understand why the situation was so hopeless, try this thought experiment. Imagine that it is March 1861 in the United States. Elected by a minority of Americans, Abraham Lincoln is deeply distrusted by Southern secessionists who seek a separatist set of confederated states to protect their interests. Imagine at that moment that a foreign empire intervened, replacing Lincoln with a more tractable leader while disbanding the federal army along with state militias due to their supposed untrustworthiness and standing up its own forces, ones intended to pacify a people headed toward violent civil war. Imagine the odds of “success”; imagine the unending chaos that would have followed. 

If this scenario seems farfetched, so, too, was the American military mission in Iraq.  Not surprisingly, in such a speculative and risky enterprise, the resulting security forces came to be the equivalent of so many junk bonds. And when the margin call came, the only thing left was hollow legions.

A Kleptocratic State Produces a Kleptocratic Military

In the military, it’s called an “after action report” or a “hotwash” — a review, that is, of what went wrong and what can be learned, so the same mistakes are not repeated. When it comes to America’s Iraq training mission, four lessons should top any “hotwash” list:

1. Military training, no matter how intensive, and weaponry, no matter how sophisticated and powerful, is no substitute for belief in a cause.  Such belief nurtures cohesion and feeds fighting spirit.  ISIS has fought with conviction.  The expensively trained and equipped Iraqi army hasn’t.  The latter lacks a compelling cause held in common.  This is not to suggest that ISIS has a cause that’s pure or just. Indeed, it appears to be a complex mélange of religious fundamentalism, sectarian revenge, political ambition, and old-fashioned opportunism (including loot, plain and simple). But so far the combination has proven compelling to its fighters, while Iraq’s security forces appear centered on little more than self-preservation. 

2. Military training alone cannot produce loyalty to a dysfunctional and disunified government incapable of running the country effectively, which is a reasonable description of Iraq’s sectarian Shia government.  So it should be no surprise that, as Andrew Bacevich has noted, its security forces won’t obey orders.  Unlike Tennyson’s six hundred, the Iraqi army is unready to ride into any valley of death on orders from Baghdad. Of course, this problem might be solved through the formation of an Iraqi government that fairly represented all major parties in Iraqi society, not just the Shia majority. But that seems an unlikely possibility at this point.  In the meantime, one solution the situation doesn’t call for is more U.S. airpower, weapons, advisers, and training.  That’s already been tried — and it failed. 

3. A corrupt and kleptocratic government produces a corrupt and kleptocratic army.  On Transparency International’s 2013 corruption perceptions index, Iraq came in 171 among the 177 countries surveyed. And that rot can’t be overcome by American “can-do” military training, then or now. In fact, Iraqi security forces mirror the kleptocracy they serve, often existing largely on paper.  For example, prior to the June ISIS offensive, as Patrick Cockburn has noted, the security forces in and around Mosul had a paper strength of 60,000, but only an estimated 20,000 of them were actually available for battle. As Cockburn writes, “A common source of additional income for officers is for soldiers to kickback half their salaries to their officers in return for staying at home or doing another job.”

When he asked a recently retired general why the country’s military pancaked in June, Cockburn got this answer:

“‘Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!’ [the general] replied: pervasive corruption had turned the [Iraqi] army into a racket and an investment opportunity in which every officer had to pay for his post. He said the opportunity to make big money in the Iraqi army goes back to the U.S. advisers who set it up ten years ago. The Americans insisted that food and other supplies should be outsourced to private businesses: this meant immense opportunities for graft. A battalion might have a nominal strength of six hundred men and its commanding officer would receive money from the budget to pay for their food, but in fact there were only two hundred men in the barracks so he could pocket the difference. In some cases there were ‘ghost battalions’ that didn’t exist at all but were being paid for just the same.”

Only in fantasies like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings do ghost battalions make a difference on the battlefield. Systemic graft and rampant corruption can be papered over in parliament, but not when bullets fly and blood flows, as events in June proved.

Such corruption is hardly new (or news). Back in 2005, in his article “Why Iraq Has No Army,” James Fallows noted that Iraqi weapons contracts valued at $1.3 billion shed $500 million for “payoffs, kickbacks, and fraud.” In the same year, Eliot Weinberger, writing in the London Review of Books, cited Sabah Hadum, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, as admitting, “We are paying about 135,000 [troop salaries], but that does not necessarily mean that 135,000 are actually working.” Already Weinberger saw evidence of up to 50,000 “ghost soldiers” or “invented names whose pay is collected by [Iraqi] officers or bureaucrats.”  U.S. government hype to the contrary, little changed between initial training efforts in 2005 and the present day, as Kelley Vlahos noted recently in her article “The Iraqi Army Never Was.”    

4. American ignorance of Iraqi culture and a widespread contempt for Iraqis compromised training results.  Such ignorance was reflected in the commonplace use by U.S. troops of the term “hajji,” an honorific reserved for those who have made the journey (or hajj) to Mecca, for any Iraqi male; contempt in the use of terms such as “raghead,” in indiscriminate firing and overly aggressive behavior, and most notoriously in the events at Abu Ghraib prison.  As Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, noted in December 2004, American generals and politicians “did not think through the consequences of compelling American soldiers with no knowledge of Arabic or Arab culture to implement intrusive measures inside an Islamic society.  We arrested people in front of their families, dragging them away in handcuffs with bags over their heads, and then provided no information to the families of those we incarcerated.  In the end, our soldiers killed, maimed, and incarcerated thousands of Arabs, 90 percent of whom were not the enemy.  But they are now.”

Sharing that contempt was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who chose a metaphor of parent and child, teacher and neophyte, to describe the “progress” of the occupation.  He spoke condescendingly of the need to take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike of state and let Iraqis pedal for themselves.  A decade later, General Allen exhibited a similarly paternalistic attitude in an article he wrote calling for the destruction of the Islamic State.  For him, the people of Iraq are “poor benighted” souls, who can nonetheless serve American power adequately as “boots on the ground.”  In translation that means they can soak up bullets and become casualties, while the U.S. provides advice and air support.  In the general’s vision — which had déjà vu all over again scrawled across it — U.S. advisers were to “orchestrate” future attacks on IS, while Iraq’s security forces learned how to obediently follow their American conductors. 

The commonplace mixture of smugness and paternalism Allen revealed hardly bodes well for future operations against the Islamic State.   

What Next?

The grim wisdom of Private Hudson in the movie Aliens comes to mind: “Let’s just bug out and call it ‘even,’ OK? What are we talking about this for?”

Unfortunately, no one in the Obama administration is entertaining such sentiments at the moment, despite the fact that ISIS does not actually represent a clear and present danger to the “homeland.” The bugging-out option has, in fact, been tested and proven in Vietnam.  After 1973, the U.S. finally walked away from its disastrous war there and, in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the enemy.  It was messy and represented a genuine defeat — but no less so than if the U.S. military had intervened yet again in 1975 to “save” its South Vietnamese allies with more weaponry, money, troops, and carpet bombing.  Since then, the Vietnamese have somehow managed to chart their own course without any of the above and almost 40 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam find themselves informally allied against China.

To many Americans, IS appears to be the latest Islamic version of the old communist threat — a bad crew who must be hunted down and destroyed.  This, of course, is something the U.S. tried in the region first against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and again in 2003, then against various Sunni and Shiite insurgencies, and now against the Islamic State.  Given the paradigm — a threat to our way of life — pulling out is never an option, even though it would remove the “American Satan” card from the IS propaganda deck.  To pull out means to leave behind much bloodshed and many grim acts.  Harsh, I know, but is it any harsher than incessant American-led bombing, the commitment of more American “advisers” and money and weapons, and yet more American generals posturing as the conductors of Iraqi affairs?  With, of course, the usual results.

One thing is clear: the foreign armies that the U.S. invests so much money, time, and effort in training and equipping don’t act as if America’s enemies are their enemies.  Contrary to the behavior predicted by Donald Rumsfeld, when the U.S. removes those “training wheels” from its client militaries, they pedal furiously (when they pedal at all) in directions wholly unexpected by, and often undesirable to, their American paymasters. 

And if that’s not a clear sign of the failure of U.S. foreign policy, I don’t know what is. 

A retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and history professor, William Astore is a TomDispatch regular. He edits the blog The Contrary Perspective.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me.

Copyright 2014 William J. Astore

Mirrored from


Related video added by Juan Cole

Iraq: On the frontline with Islamic State – BBC News

Is Baghdad next? ISIL takes Hit Base in Iraq, loots it for Weapons

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 - 11:02pm

By Juan Cole

According to Aljazeera sources, ISIL has completed the taking of Hit district in the al-Anbar Province of Iraq. At a time when, supposedly, a range of coalition partners is taking on ISIL and attempting to push it back from the territory it has taken in Syria and Iraq, in fact the organization goes on expanding. It has added to its holdings in Iraq’s western al-Anbar province in recent weeks, including Hit district.

Along with the district, ISIL has been able to invade al-Anbar’s 3rd largest military base, home of the 7th Army, and to loot it for medium and heavy weaponry, including tanks and armored vehicles.

ISIL hit the base with suicide car-bombers at the outer walls and chased the Iraqi army away. The organization uses human suicide bombers for tactical infantry operations, sort of the way most armies would toss in hand grenades or fire mortar shells or supporting artillery.

ISIL is now estimated by some Iraqi army officers to be in control of 80% of al-Anbar Province.

Apparently ISIL strategy is to next completely take Ramadi, the capital of al-Anbar, and to use it as a base for taking Baghdad.

Related video

CBS Evening News: ISIS continues march through Anbar province

Iraqi Kurds to Turkey: Let Volunteers Through To Defend Failing Kobani

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 - 4:37am

By Charles Recknagel via RFE/RL

A top official of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region is calling on Turkey to let volunteer fighters through to the besieged Syrian city of Kobani, where Syrian Kurds are waging a desperate battle against Islamic State (IS) militants.

Speaking on a visit to RFE/RL in Prague on October 13, Falah Mustafa, the foreign minister of the Kurdish regional government (KRG), said Ankara should heed calls from the international community to help the city, which has been under siege for almost four weeks.

“It’s a moral responsibility for all of us to move in order to help the besieged [city of] Kobani,” Mustafa said. “We hope that there would be an understanding by Turkey to the calls from the international community and to the needs of these people who have proven to be bravely fighting the terrorists throughout this period, from the day they have been besieged.”

He said Ankara should establish a corridor between its border checkpoint of Mursitpinar and Kobani, whose northern edge is less than a kilometer from the Turkish frontier.

“We are not asking for the impossible,” Mustafa said. “For a corridor to be opened for those who are ready to go and join [the fighters in Kobani], because they need weapons, they need ammunition, they need medical assistance, and they need foodstuffs.

Ankara ruled out a call on October 10 by the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Stefan de Mistura, to open the border to volunteers. De Mistura said Kurdish residents in Kobani “will be most likely massacred” by advancing Islamic State forces if the city falls. He said there were up to 700 mainly elderly civilians still inside the city center and another 10,000 to 13,000 people gathered nearby, all of whom are at risk.

But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusogly rejected the UN envoy’s appeal. He told France 24 on October 11 that “sending civilians to the war is a crime.”

Specter Of The PKK

Cavusogly also expressed fears that any weapons reaching the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia defending Kobani, could ultimately find their way back to Kurdish separatist militants in Turkey. The YPG is allied to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which fought Ankara for Kurdish autonomy for over 30 years. Both Turkey and its Western allies consider the PKK a terrorist group.

Turkey has been rocked by protests by Turkish Kurds demanding the border be opened to volunteer fighters, many presumed to be veterans of the PKK. The death toll from the protests has risen to 31 following the death of a man injured in demonstrations in Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakir on October 10.
A refugee camp for Syrian Kurds fleeing the violence in Kobani in Turkey’s Suruc district
A refugee camp for Syrian Kurds fleeing the violence in Kobani in Turkey’s Suruc district

The Iraqi Kurdish foreign minister told RFE/RL that Turkey was wrong to put its domestic concerns about the PKK ahead of defending Kobani, the largest Syrian Kurdish city. He said IS presented a threat not just to Syria and Iraq but to all neighboring states of the region and that Ankara must help those groups that are capable of fighting the militants.

“We have to be realistic,” Mustafa said. “The only forces on the ground that have proven to be a reliable partner to the international coalition are the Kurds, the Kurds in Iraq and in Syria. We have seen it now in Kurdistan, where the Peshmerga forces are fighting IS and have proven to be successful, and in Syria we are seeing it in Kobani and other areas.”

Ankara, as a member of the international coalition against IS, says it will not take part in ground action but will make its bases available to the coalition for training Syrian rebel forces and for conducting air strikes.

But Turkish government officials have told Western media privately that Turkey would accept only 4,000 opposition fighters and that they would be screened by Turkish intelligence. The screening would likely rule out fighters from the YPG, despite the fact the group has proven to be the best organized and effective Syrian Kurdish force against Islamic State forces.

Syrian Kurdish fighters aided by U.S.-led air strikes continued on October 13 to defend Kobani, where IS has taken control of about a third of the town in recent days. Neither side appeared to be gaining ground as fighting raged on the city’s eastern and southeastern edges.

Mustafa said that Turkey must open its border to Kurdish volunteers from Turkey because the other most obvious source of help, the Iraqi Kurds, cannot reach the city.

One reason is that Kobani is hundreds of kilometers from Iraq’s Kurdish region, across IS-held parts of Iraq and Syria. The other is that the Iraqi Kurd forces, known as Peshmerga, are tied down fighting the IS along their own front line.

“We are ready to do whatever we can to support Kobani but we have to be mindful of the fact that we have got a front line with IS which is 1,035 kilometers long,” Mustafa said. “We have been fighting them since June, when they came and took control [of] over one-third of Iraq’s territory, the western part, and since August we have been engaged in fighting on a daily basis with them.”

Mirrored from RFE/ RL

Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.


Related video added by Juan Cole

AP: “Raw: Attacks Create Huge Smoke Cloud Over Kobani ”

French Planes bomb Damascus to put Down Syrian Revolt, 1925 (Video: This Day in History)

Tue, 14 Oct 2014 - 4:29am

“Title reads: “Defence of Damascus. French troops – barricades – and armed posts – now circle the town of view of threatened attack by Rebels”.

Having invaded and occupied Syria, French troops who brutally suppress an uprising against them in 1925 were described in British newsreels as “defending” Damascus against “rebels.”

british Pathe: Damascus Revolt

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