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Posts Tagged ‘ Iraq ’

All Guns Blazing – The Fickle Nature Of Lethal Force

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Recent cases of hostage stand-offs in Australia and France have been ended by force, bringing this tactic into the limelight once again. Unfortunately this means of ending a hostage siege is unavoidably dangerous even amongst the most highly trained of police or military units, and their use should be limited to cases where all other avenues have been exhausted. In particular, negotiated surrender risks falling by the wayside as a viable option. Because society tends to value the hero who dramatically takes lives rather than the hero who quietly saves them, we risk a selection-bias in examining the optimal means to end hostage scenarios.

As a credit to the police units involved, yesterday’s stand-offs in France seem to have been a ‘home-run’. The Kouachi brothers were both killed while the single hostage escaped unharmed, although it appears that they exited without him, determined to die fighting. While four hostages died in the kosher supermarket, earliest reports suggest that they were murdered before the police raid took place. This success is commendable but should not set a precedent to the exclusion of other alternatives. In contrast, the Sydney siege saw the death of two hostages during the rescue and the injury of three others in still unclear circumstances. These cases demonstrate the fickle nature of such raids. Continue reading

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Crisis Year: International Relations 2014

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In a morose way, 2014 has been a fascinating year for those with an interest in International Relations. Resurgent Russia and Islamic State have presented two prominent challenges to western liberal world order. The optimistic ‘end of history’ liberalism of the 1990’s now feels like a golden bygone era of stability and prosperity. In its place is a world where the hegemonic power of the United States is limited by insurgencies and despotic powers. In the field of international relations, realist scholars have had a long awaited ‘we told you so moment’. John Mearsheimer has ruffled many feathers with his article in Foreign Affairs ‘Why the Crisis in Ukraine is the West’s Fault’. Regardless of how palatable it is, Mearsheimer’s argument is frustratingly robust, and he presents credible counters to his critics. EU and NATO expansion has encroached into a region that Russia considers critical to its own security, and the latter has firmly drawn a line in the sand, violating international treaties and norms in a display of pure power politics. Although Russia is paying a price, it has asserted itself outside of its own borders in a way that the west cannot prevent. It seems that at long last, balancing is occurring, and the ‘rest’ are pushing back against the ‘west’ after a decade of diminishing US legitimacy and soft power. Continue reading

The Evolution Of ISIS

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With $2 billion on hand the Islamic State is an extremely well-funded terrorist group that poses a major international crisis for the U.S. and the world.

They have come to prominence in recent months by carrying out large scale murders on Iraqi and Syrian soil while also using propaganda videos to show the beheadings of numerous western hostages and threatenin others in th process.

Last week Britain agreed to join a U.S led coalition backed heavily by countries from the Middle East as they attempt to destory ISIS once and for all. There is a long road ahead and with no British troops on the ground who knows if this mission will be successful.

This exclusive infographic from infographicworld.com depicts the rise to power of Islamic State and the effect they have had on society thus far.

Some Fights Are Right: Obama’s IS Strategy

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Barack Obama has received criticism for his recent expansion of strikes against IS to include Syria. On the far left are those who object outright to liberal intervention, while on the right of the spectrum Senator Rand Paul labelled him a ‘neo-con’. However despite his perceived hesitancy, Obama’s strategy looks set to hit a sweet spot between reckless and cautious that is grounded in sound principles and is the best reasonable response to the current threat posed by IS.

IS are the closest the 21st century has to the Nazi’s- fundamentally motivated, exceptionally violent and on a quest that is their downfall before it has even begun. Their so called caliphate has no precedent in history. Killing Shia as easily as they behead innocent westerners or massacre Yazidi Iraqis, the group’s strategy is founded on brutality, with no room for any form of tolerance or compromise, to the point where they have drawn condemnation from Al-Qaeda. Mass murder of civilians and trafficking of women for as sex slaves are par for the course with IS . This incarnation of radical Islam is now the richest terrorist organization in history.  It has also shown itself to be a master of cinematic and striking (and ironically western style) media campaigns in a way that Al-Qaeda never was, making it the most hot brand of radical Islam. The stunning videos are a draw for young radicals of fighting age as well as rich benefactors who may be sympathetic to their cause, and is possibly the greatest threat posed by IS. However despite capturing swathes of Iraqi and Syrian cities (and open desert), the groups has united even larger swathes of the world against it through its actions. General consensus already exists. This includes almost every parliament and head of state in the world, as well as mainstream Muslim groups in western countries (see the “Not in my name” campaign if you feel like blaming regular Muslims). Continue reading

Obama’s Dilemma And World Hesitation

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Over a year ago I contributed a piece to this website which mentioned the use of torture by Syrian government forces in an organised fashion. It should be no surprise to us that the Assad regime has gone ahead and used gas on its own people. The Assad regime is without a doubt an evil regime hell-bent on maintaining power in any way possible. It is disheartening and tragic that this can continue in the twenty first century. We are essentially sitting watching another Rwanda happen, albeit over a longer period of time.

Living in the large shadow of the Gulf War II it is to be expected that western powers are going to be hesitant to intervene in another Middle East conflict. Assad’s regime is reportedly preparing for a U.S. strike, with reports coming through of troops, ordinance and sensitive documents being moved to civilian buildings and discreet locations. Obama’s decision to delay any possible action seems to be allowing time for Assad to prepare for this possibility. However the decision is hugely complex and Obama will have a number of motivations for his decision.

Following on Britain’s example, Obama is seeking Congressional approval for his action. One can easily see the allure of having a strong consensus built behind military action, given the disaster that was Iraq. Domestic factors may be present in the president’s mind. Intervening without Congressional approval (as in Libya) would leave Obama and the Democrats open to criticism from Rand Paul et al, hailing the UK as an example of how a democracy should decide on entering into a war. This would be an easy card to play to an American public which may balk at the prospect of another drawn out war. They have seen enough American boys come home in body bags.

Syria is also stocked full of new Russian anti-aircraft technology, and the supply chain will not halt any time soon. The UN is also unlikely to reach a strong consensus due to Russia and China’s position on the Security Council. This is an issue which needs to be changed as the current setup of the security council prevents it functioning to its full and proper potential.

There are numerous other complications so boggling that nobody can say with any certainty what will happen. The Islamic fundamentalist elements among the Syrian rebels are a mysterious threat. During this week, Iran threatened retaliation against Israel if Syria were struck. The war has already spilled over into Lebanon. Egypt, once reliable as a bastion of stability, is now more chaotic than any other point in recent years. One cannot blame America for being apprehensive about beginning to bomb a region that could inflame the whole region.

The great tragedy of these complications is that the carnage continues. This was the second gas attack by Syrian government forces, twice crossing Obama’s ‘Red Line’. The UK’s rash decision to avoid war, and America’s hesitation will send out the wrong message worldwide. This message is clear when we hear reports of the Syrian government taunting America’s aversion to war and loss of superpower status. To prevent mass war crimes against whole peoples in the future, perpetrators must understand they will be brought to justice. John Kerry has a reputation as a dull operator, but he has been an ardent supporter of intervention. He is one of a few prominent politicians with the conviction to call the Syrian government for what it is.

The firm line taken by France is hardly surprising given their willingness to become involved in former colonies like Chad and Mali.

Obama had missed the opportunity to be decisive and take a firm line on Syria. The UK has essentially forfeited its chance to help. The memories of Iraq, and the continuing deadlock of the U.N. Security Council means we are facing into more misery and more dead civilians with no end in sight.

Re-Elected Obama Has No Time To Ponder Victory

The objective of a first term president is to get re-elected – Barack Obama has achieved that.  On November 7th 2012 Obama was given a mandate to lead his country for a second term comprehensively defeating Republican Mitt Romney.  However, the incumbent president has no time to savour his victory – unfortunately for him that was the easy part.  Unlike the euphoria of four years ago, the overriding emotion was one of relief for himself and his supporters.  Now he faces the objective of a second term president which is to create a legacy.  The next four years will determine how the first black president to occupy the White House is judged by history.  Not much has changed as a result of this election.  The power structure has remained the same:  Obama occupies the Oval office with a Democratic majority in the Senate and the Republicans still hold sway in Congress.  The checks on his legislative powers in his first term remain.  Obama will be buoyed by victory but he leaves behind the campaign trail with its echoes of lofty oratory and his loyal base in Chicago returning to WashingtonDC and the gritty reality of politics in a divided capital.

There was a palpable fear in the Obama camp about voter turnout.  Hope was the operative word on the campaign trail in 2008 but four years on they couldn’t rely solely on that to bring voters to the polling stations.  The reality of the situation dictated that his team launch a monumental groundswell operation in order to galvanise a similar turnout and they succeeded.   Dubbed the hash-tag election due to the prominent role played by social media, Obama has the largest Twitter following of any world leader.  His team relentlessly contacted supporters and the undecided, imploring them to vote for their man.

This race was deemed too close to call.  But after the ballots were cast and the pundits began deciphering the early exit polls it became clear that the 44th president had managed to win the crucial swing states that often decide these elections.  The margins were tight but President Obama carried Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin.  This meant that he easily won the race to 270 electoral college votes out of the 538 available.  Currently he stands on 303 to Romney’s 206 with Florida’s 29 still to be allocated.  Obama managed to defeat Romney in Michigan, where the challenger was born, and in Massachusetts, where he was governor from 2003 to 2007.  From the 2008 election results the Democrats only lost two states: Indiana and North Carolina.  In the end Obama won the popular vote by 50% to Romney’s 48% which shows that incumbent clearly won the popular vote.  The president’s mandate is reduced from the last election but it is still a clear mandate.

For the Republicans this defeat illustrates major deficiencies in the Grand Old Party (GOP) as they were unable to capitalise on high unemployment and a stuttering economy since the financial meltdown of 2008.  One must go back to 1936 and Roosevelt during the Great Depression to find a president who, in the face of such high unemployment figures, managed to get re-elected.  The unemployment rate in America is roughly the same as when Obama took office but instead of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month the country is now gaining them.

This was an election that a united Republican party would have won.  However, the party is split and they managed to alienate large cohorts of the electorate with their divisive politics throughout the campaign.  It is clear that the party is torn.  Over the next two years they must decide if they are the fractious and severely conservative right-wing party that we saw in the primary or the more moderate one that Romney unveiled at the first presidential debate.  Romney was hamstrung by his own party in this race – for instance the party signed a pact that said they would not raise taxes on anybody and that included the super wealthy – Romney wanted to extended the Bush tax cuts that are due to expire in January thereby avoiding the so called ‘fiscal cliff’.  An exit poll indicated that 60% of voters believed that taxes should be increased on at least the very wealthy.

Romney lost the presidency in a centre right nation because he lost the centre.  He had to secure the extreme elements of his party early in the campaign and by the time he changed tack in search of the middle ground he was too late.  His voter base was too narrow:  He had a greater proportional share of the vote amongst whites, men, the wealthy, older people, Catholics and Evangelicals.  This campaign shows that the GOP needs some serious introspection and to broaden their appeal.  They will not be able to compete over the coming years if they do not moderate certain policies that alienated them from large portions of the electorate.  George Bush won 40% of the Latino vote whereas Romney only picked up 29%.  Hispanics voted en masse for Obama.  Romney and the Republican party have ostracised this large demographic through their extreme immigration policies.   Pat Cadell, a public opinion pollster who worked on Jimmy Carter’s campaign team, spoke on Fox News of the party’s problems, “There is no future for a party that consistently gets wiped out at the polls by Latinos and Women and which constantly appears negative.”  The first presidential debate in Detroit was the highlight of the Romney campaign as he shape-shifted toward the centre.  Voters did not really know who Romney was – they were still uncertain of his true identity. What they feared was the Republican party of the last four years and that his potential administration would have reflected the GOP’s extreme agenda. American politics desperately needs a united Republican party.  They need to decide their identity and emerge as the party of fiscal responsibility and moderately conservative social policies or they will find themselves left behind by the future generations of American voters.

One can only get elected once on a ‘change’ platform.  The American public had a four year record on which to judge Obama so either his policies were seen as acceptable by the electorate or the opposition was not seen as offering a viable alternative – a bit of both seems to be the answer.  Economically Obama inherited ‘The Great Recession’, as it was dubbed, from his predecessor and his policies have prevented a depression.  The recovery is slow but there are green shoots.  Voters are beginning to see improvements in the economy and perhaps the electorate was wary that a new administration could derail this progress.  A Republican Congress has stymied much of Obama’s stimulus plan however the bailout of the auto-industry saved many jobs.  In Ohio for example this bailout directly translated into a victory for him in this vital swing state.  Exit polls suggested that nobody voted solely on foreign policy.  The Republicans touted Obama as weak but he has managed to repair America’s reputation in foreign eyes without pandering or endangering American national security as was feared by his opposition.  Military hawks waited for the incumbent to slip up in his first term but he has been almost flawless in foreign theatres. Al Qaeda is a shadow of its former self.  He tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden.  He ended the unpopular war in Iraq.  His sanctions on Iran have been tough and he intervened responsibly in the Arab Spring.  He increased troop levels in Afghanistan but intends to pull out of that quagmire by 2014.  The only real blot on his record was the loss of four American lives in Benghazi in Libya and Romney tried to make political capital from this event during the campaign and as a result he lost popularity.  If there is something the American people can be bi-partisan about it is in events where they lose their own men.

Obama’s win was an endorsement for his policies and an acknowledgment that the government has an important role to play in an American recovery.  He will look to implement legislation that he was unable to get passed in his first term now that he is equipped with a new mandate from the public.  His lasting legislative success came early in his first term with his sweeping health reform known as Obamacare.  With his re-election he hopes to fully implement these plans by 2014.  His second term priorities will be the deficit, changing the tax code, immigration and climate change.  His first major obstacle will be the ‘fiscal cliff’ the metaphor for what will happen in January when George Bush’s tax schemes lapse. If a compromise is not reached between the President and Congress on fiscal policy then taxes will increase and there will be spending cuts.  The speeches of both candidates after the results indicated that the need for cooperation on this issue will test their commitment to bi-partisanship.

This election does not indicate a united nation; real polarisation still exists in the States but what this vote does show is a majority electorate that saw Obama as working for them.  They aren’t saying he’s succeeding but he is trying and that is more than can be said of an opposition that has been unwilling to compromise.  Republican House speaker John Boehner, in a speech after the results, was clear that his Congress would remain the check on the president’s power as they have been since the mid-term elections in 2010.  President Obama’s dealings with Congress over the next four years will be the key to his legacy.  He urged reconciliation between the two parties in his emotive speech, “We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states.  We are and forever will be the United States of America.”  Let the partisan battles begin.

A Difference of Opinion, Unresolved

Two prolific writers have left us in as many days this week. On Monday Maeve Binchy passed away from a short illness and many have written of her delightful character and steady literary output, culminating in some 15 novels. I have been assured of her prodigious ability in the fiction genre and quality of her narrative but, alas, I feel somewhat ashamed at my ignorance of her work. She was native to my own Ireland; you could not enter a bookshop without noticing Binchy alongside Banville on the fiction shelf.

The other was an American and he passed away on Tuesday at the ripe age of 86. Gore Vidal was at first an author of novels but he could turn his hand to any production literary. His prolific career spanned over 60 years and he chalked up tens of novels, numerous plays, screenplays and a phenomenal number of essays. His first major novel that earned attention in the literary world was The City and the Pillar, a ‘coming out, coming of age’ novel, dedicated to Vidal’s first love interest Jimmy Trimble. Trimble died while serving for his country in World War 2 and it is widely known that Vidal was deeply affected by this and indeed said himself that he never could feel what he felt for Trimble for anybody else ever again. This early loss in Vidal’s life hardened him and from then on was not a man sentimentalism, but one of cynicism.

His literary output was enormous and is only overshadowed by his peer of the left, Noam Chomsky, but his most brilliant skill was that of the orator. He was a quick-witted, sharp-tongued and eloquent master of speech. His grandiloquence was rivalled only by the Anglo-American Christopher Hitchens. Indeed, a comparison that is not without its merit is the one proffered upon Vidal by some, who speak of him in the same breath of Oscar Wilde. It is true that he was very open about his sexuality, he was extremely witty and humorous and was a contrarian in every sense of the word.

As a contrarian it is only natural to have some who are hostile and some that are just downright resentful of you in the worst ways. Gore Vidal had very public disputes with a number of individuals like Norman Mailer, for instance. Following a number of taunts from Vidal, Mailer threw a glass of whiskey in his face and headbutted him. William Buckley threatened to ‘sock’ him on live television. He had a number of disputes but, later on in life, his main one was with the United States.

He was increasingly scathing about some aspects of the US. His main critique of the US was that the US was a modern-day Imperialist power; he called it a ‘militarized Republic’ and not a democracy. He was also critical of the education system stating on live American television that “We have the worst educated population of any first world country… your lack of education is the joke of the world”.

Many were bewildered by Vidal’s conspiratorial tendency later on in life. In an interview on War and Iraq he stated that the American people had more to fear from the Bush Administration than from Militant Islam. None were more bewildered than Christopher Hitchens. The pair met in the 70’s when Hitchens was working for the New Statesman. The two contrarians took to each other quite well, which is surprising because usually when two charismatic contrarians with fantastic ego’s collide, the result is almost always ugly.

They remained friendly and some years later Vidal phoned Hitchens and asked if he would be his heir when he passed away. Hitchens was duly flattered and gladly accepted. They’re saddening divorce, as it were, came following the September 11th attacks on the US, and the consequent decision of the US to invade Iraq. Gore Vidal was staunchly against such an invasion while Hitchens was vocally for it. He lost many friends over his support, Vidal being undoubtedly the most notable. Vidal then, publicly, insinuated his retraction of his proposal as Hitchens as his heir. Hitchens agreed.

Hitchens wrote an article entitled ‘Vidal Loco’ which suggested that Vidal’s old age, coupled with his incessant anti-US rhetoric and conspiratorial tendency had overshadowed the career of a great novelist, essayist and general all-round literary giant. Speaking positively of Vidal pre-21st century he said that he ‘had the rare gift of being amusing about serious things as well as serious about amusing ones’. The world seems a little less colorful since the parting of these two great contrarians, and it is even more bitter knowing they both passed away without resolving their only disagreement in life, the one that will separate them forever.

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