Archive for the ‘Syria’ Tag

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FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: But first here’s my take. Watching the gruesome ISIS execution videos I felt some of the same emotions I did after 9/11. Barbarism after all is designed to provoke anger, and it’s succeeded. But in September 2001 it also made me ask a question, why do they hate us?

I tried to answer it in an almost 7,000-word essay for “Newsweek” that struck a chord with the readers. I reread the essay this week to see how it might need updating in the 13 years since I wrote it. I began the piece by noting that Islamic terror is not the isolated behavior of a handful of nihilists. There is a broader culture that has been complicit in it or at least unwilling to combat it.

Now things have changed on this front but not nearly enough. I also pointed out that we face not an Islam problem but an Arab problem. For example, in 2001 and 2002 Indonesia was on the top of people’s worries because of a series of terror attacks there soon after 9/11, but over the last decade jihad and even Islamic fundamentalism has not done well in Indonesia, which is the largest Muslim country in the world, larger than Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya and all the Gulf states put together.

Well, look at India which is right next door to Ayman Zawahiri’s headquarters and yet very few of India’s more than 150 million Muslims are known members of al Qaeda. Zawahiri has announced a bold effort to recruit Indian Muslims, but I suspect it will not do too well. The central point of the essay was that the reason the Arab world produces fanaticism and jihad is that it is a place of complete political stagnation. By 2001 when I was writing almost every part of the world had seen significant political progress. Eastern Europe was freed, Asia, Latin America and even Africa had held many free and fair elections but the Arab world remained a desert. In 2001 most Arabs had fewer freedoms, political, economic, social than they did in 1951.

The one aspect of life that Arab dictators could not ban, however, was religion. So Islam had become the language of political opposition to these secular regimes. The Arab world was then left with secular dictatorships on the one hand and deeply illiberal religious groups on the other. Hosni Mubarak and al Qaeda. The more extreme the regime the more violent was the opposition.

This cancer was deeper and more destructive than I realized. Despite the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and despite the Arab spring, the dynamic between dictators and jihadists has not broken. Look at Syria where until recently Bashar al-Assad was actually helping ISIS. How? By buying oil and gas from it and by shelling its opponents, the Free Syrian Army, when the two were in battle against each other.

You see, Assad was playing the old Arab dictator’s game, giving his people a stark choice. It’s either me or ISIS, he was saying, and many Syrians, the Christian minority, for example, have chosen him.

The greatest setback has been in Egypt where a nonviolent Islamist movement took power and then squandered its chance by overreaching. But not content to let the Muslim Brotherhood fare the polls, the military then displaced it by force, has moved back into power and Egypt is now a more brutal police state than it was under Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned, its members killed and jailed, the rest driven underground.

Let’s just hope that 10 years from now we do not find ourselves discussing the causes of the rise of an ISIS in Egypt.


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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square. Welcome to all of you in the United States and around the world. I’m Fareed Zakaria….

But, first, here’s my take: Here’s a startling statistic: more than 8,000 Iraqis were killed in violent attacks in 2013. That makes it the second most violent country in the world, after its neighbor Syria.

As violence has spread and militants have gained ground in several Middle Eastern countries, people have been wondering how much this has to do with America, the Obama administration and its lack of an active intervention in the region.

The Wall Street Journal and a Commentary magazine, for example, have both argued this past week that the Obama administration’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq to zero is directly responsible for the renewed violence in that country.

They and others have also argued that because the Obama administration stayed out of Syria, things there have spiraled downward.

Let me suggest that the single greatest burden for the violence and tensions across the Arab world right now lies with a president, though not President Obama, and it lies with an American foreign policy that was not too passive but rather too active and interventionist in the Middle East.

The invasion and occupation of Iraq triggered what has become a regional religious war in the Middle East. Let me explain how, specifically.

From March through June of 2003, in the first months of the occupation of Iraq, the Bush administration made a series of catastrophic decisions.

It authorized the disbanding of the Iraqi army and signed onto a policy of deBaathification, which meant that anyone in Iraq who had been a member of the top four levels of the Baath Party, the ruling party under Saddam Hussein, would be barred from holding any government job.

This meant that tens of thousands of bureaucrats, school teachers, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, almost all of whom were Sunni, were thrown out of work, angry, dispossessed, and many of them armed.

This in turn meant the collapse of the Iraqi state and of political order, but it also meant the rise of a sectarian struggle that persists to this day.

The Bush administration went to war in Iraq to spread democracy. But in fact it spread sectarianism, displacing the Sunni elite who had long ruled the country and replacing it with hardline Shia religious parties that used their new found power to repress the Sunnis just as they had been repressed.

Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq has been utterly unwilling to share power with the Sunnis, who comprise about 20 percent of Iraq, and that has driven them into opposition, extremism, and terrorism. During the surge, he made several promises to change his ways, but over the last few years has reneged on every one of them.

This sectarian power struggle is the origins of the civil war that has been ongoing in Iraq for 11 years. It is the cancer that has spread beyond Iraq into other countries from Syria to Lebanon.

The Bush administration seemed to have made this massive strategic error almost unthinkingly. There is a report that a few months before the invasion, President Bush met with three Iraqi exiles and appeared unaware that Iraq contained within it Sunnis and Shias.

An Arab leader confirmed to me that in his meetings with the president, it was clear that Bush did not even understand that there was a difference between the two sects.

Others in the administration, better informed, were convinced that the Shia would be pluralists and democrats. Those of us who warned of these dangers at the time were dismissed as pessimists. So if we’re trying to understand why we see a Sunni-Shia battle unfolding across the Middle East, keep in mind that the primary cause is not that the Obama administration did not intervene in Syria. It’s because the Bush administration did in Iraq.

Posted January 13, 2014 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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FAREED ZAKARIA (CNN) : President Clinton, you’ve seen the agreement that the United States and Russia have reached on Syria, you’ve heard some of the criticisms. What do you think of it?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, I think if it is implemented, a big IF, it is a good thing. And I agree with the president and Secretary Kerry and everybody else who has been involved in this that the United States needs to stand strong against chemical weapons, against the proliferation and use of them.

We ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention when I was president. It passed 74 to 26 in the Senate, had big bipartisan support. The effects of chemical weapons are horrid as we have documented in these pictures.

The United Nations issued a very strong report and the Secretary General says there’s no question that sarin gas was used on people in the larger Damascus area and elsewhere. So, I think it’s a good thing to do.

Now, there are some who say well, you know, this gives the initiative to Putin. And who cares how it came up? John Kerry got asked, “Well, what can we do to stop you from bombing?” And he said “make the problem go away.”

So Putin says “OK, I’ll do that.: And so they say well, this puts Russia in a position of leverage and it guarantees that Assad is going to be in power for a while longer.

That’s a separate issue. But there is inherent and enduring benefit in taking a step that has the potential to rid the world of these chemical weapons because it’s going to be difficult for anybody else to use them if this happens.

Now, we’re a long way between where we are today and whether this happens, but it’s worth doing.




Posted September 24, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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Jon Stewart “Let’s turn to overseas.  A week ago, just one week, seven days, it seemed the only way these United States might avoid war with Syria, was through our usual semantic shenanigans.  We would bomb them but we’d call it a freedom play date.  You know what I’m talking about. But, over the weekend, the winds of war shifted dramatically.”

Don Lemon (CNN) 9-14-13 “After days of negotiations, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s top diplomat have reached an agreement that could end Syria’s chemical weapons program.  They sealed the deal in Geneva, one that could leave Syria with no chemical weapons by the middle of next year.”

Stewart “I can’t believe it, we pulled, we managed not to have a war with somebody.  I don’t, you don’t get a war, and you don’t get a war, and you don’t get a war. Everybody doesn’t get a war…..So, we get to take Assad’s chemical weapons.  We don’t have to kill anyone, and we did it all just by the talky talk.  There’s only one way to describe that.”

Sen Lindsey Graham 9-14-13 “It means nothing, so this is a debacle.”

Stewart “Graham, why can’t you take no war for an answer?”

Graham “The reason I wanted to strike Assad is to punish him.”


Stewart “Lindsey Graham isn’t alone in feeling that this successful use of diplomacy to achieve our goal, is the worst defeat in American history.”

Pundit on CNN 9-15-13 “I just don’t see how this is a good outcome for anybody.”

Sen John McCain (R-AZ) 9-15-13 “I think it’s a loser.”

Fox host 9-15-13 “It ends up being a hand off to Vladimir Putin.”

Fox pundit 9-14-13 “I have never seen a fiasco like this from a US President.”

Stewart “What am I missing?  We might contain a dictators chemical weapons stockpile without having to kill innocent civilians in the process, or invading a country and creating more, there’s only two explanations, for how this fellow there (last Fox pundit), the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot, has never seen a fiasco like this from a US President.  A.) he’s only six months old, he’s one of them Benjamin Button type dudes, …, and he worked for Regan, never seen a fiasco like this, Iran Contra, or B.) Paul Gigot doesn’t understand what the word fiasco means.  What?  A threesome with hot girls now, but I’m supposed to go collect my lottery winnings.  What a fiasco…..The only thing that they like less than that we’re not bombing now, is that we might not bomb.”

Fox host 9-15-13 “It appears that the threat of force has been taken off the table.”

Pundit on Face the Nation 9-15-13 “I think that it does take the use of American force, pretty much off the table.”

Pundit 9-13-13 “I think that the armed response really is off the table.”

Stewart “It’s not off the table.  The armed response is never off the table.  Who believes the armed response is off the table.  This is America, have you seen the table? (shows a picture with the top of an aircraft carrier as a table)–where-s-my-war-

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Fareed Zakaria (CNN) “But, first, here’s my take, whatever the twisted path, whether by design or accident, the Obama administration has ended up in a better place on Syria than looked possible even days ago.

The agreement forged by John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is just the first step of course. The Syrian government has to cooperate, but it will face pressure from Moscow to do so.

On hearing of the agreement, some have reacted with dismay. This agreement does not remove Bashar al-Assad from power, it does nothing to stop his regime and its brutal suppression, it does nothing to end the humanitarian tragedy in that country.

It’s true that the agreement is not designed to stop the warfare and the suffering in Syria, but what exactly would do that? Do we know that a U.S. strategy, a military intervention to topple the dictator and change the regime would actually end human suffering in Syria?

Let’s recall a recent example when America ousted a dictator, changed the regime and believed that peace and liberty and prosperity would flourish. It was, of course, in Iraq and what happened was very different. The deposed regime and its supporters fought back fiercely. The sectarian lines of Iraqi society turned into battle lines. Islamic militants, including al-Qaeda, poured into the country often funded by neighboring countries.

The result was a 10-year civil war with, at minimum, 130,000 dead and potentially more than 250,000 dead, Iraqi civilians, and at least 1.5 million refugees, most of whom have not come back to Iraq.

From a humanitarian point of view, American intervention and regime change substantially worsened the humanitarian nightmare of Iraq. Now, I don’t believe that the example of Iraq should color all American foreign policy.

But surely when people suggest that Washington should militarily intervene and perhaps depose a dictator in an Arab country that is literally next door to Iraq, which, as in Iraq, is also composed of a minority regime with an opposition to that regime that also has within it several Islamic militant groups, it’s fair to look at the Iraqi example and ask what happened.

Do we have any clear reason to believe that the struggle for power in Syria would be any different than that in Iraq, that American military intervention in this case would just stop all the fighting and produce peace?

Don’t we have to think through the likely consequences of American intervention before we self-confidently propose action?

President Obama has mobilized world attention about chemical weapons. There is a chance, still small, that a process begins that monitors and even destroys all Syria’s chemical arsenal.

Almost certainly, such weapons won’t be used again by the Assad regime. That’s more than could have been achieved through airstrikes, which are unlikely to have destroyed such weapons. Bombing chemical weapons facilities almost always releases toxins into the atmosphere. That’s why they are not targeted.

This agreement doesn’t end the human suffering, it doesn’t rid the world of an evil dictator, but it is a step forward in a terrible crisis.”

Posted September 16, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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Bill Mahr “What we have here is a situation where the last couple of weeks have been very tough for Republicans, because they, of course, always have to call for the opposite of whatever Obama is saying or doing.  And, this has been hard when Obama himself has been changing his mind, pretty much on a daily basis.  First he was against the bombing, of course they were for it.  Then he was for the bombing, now they’re against it.  Now, there’s a peace plan on the table and the same Republicans who were saying that he was, I think, too rash to call for strikes on Syria, are now calling him a wimp for going with the diplomacy.  They say, in the end, look, whether he chooses war or peace, the hard truth is either way he is still unarguably hopelessly black.”


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Jay Leno “Secretary of State John Kerry said that Arab countries have offered to pay the entire cost of unseating Syria’s president, if we take the lead militarily. They will pay for the whole thing. See, this is how global politics works. We invade Syria, to get money from Saudi Arabia, that they got from us, from putting their oil in our Japanese cars, so we can pay back China all the money we owe them.”


Sandra Day O’Connor “The more I read and the more I listen, the more apparent it is that our society suffers from an alarming degree of public ignorance….Less than 1/3 of eighth graders can identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and it’s right there in the name.”

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But, first, here’s my take: Last March, President Barack Obama spoke off-the-cuff about how Syria’s use of chemical weapons would be a “game-changer.” It has turned out to be, except not quite in the sense that he meant.

It has been an event that has confused and confounded the Obama administration. Whatever your views on the larger issues, it’s hard not to conclude that the administration’s handling of Syria over the last year has been a case study in how not to conduct foreign policy.

The president started out with an understanding that the Syrian conflict is a messy sectarian struggle that cannot be influenced easily by American military intervention. He was disciplined in resisting calls to jump into a cauldron.

But from the start, he confused and undermined this policy with loose rhetoric, perhaps egged on by some of his advisors and critics to “do something.” So, he announced just over two years ago that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria had to go.

Now, a pundit can engage in grandiose rhetoric. The president of the United States should make declarations like that only if he has some strategy to actually achieve it. He did not.

In truth, Obama and many others miscalculated. They believed that Assad’s regime was near the end, misreading both its strength and brutality, but also the level of support it has from several segments of Syrian society.

Then, just about a year ago, came the off-the-cuff remarks about a red line on chemical weapons, insufficiently thought through but now publicly stated and definitive.

Since then, American foreign policy in Syria has largely been concerned about ensuring that Obama’s threat does not seem empty. After all, what American national interest is being followed?

The administration says it is upholding international law. Except, as Fred Kaplan points out in Slate, the institutions that embody international law and consensus, the United Nations and other international organizations, do not support this action.

The United States plus France and Turkey cannot be considered the embodiment of international law and global public opinion.

The nature of the strike, we are told, will be short and symbolic, a shot across the bow, in the midst of a civil war in which both sides are in a high-stakes struggle for survival.

Does anyone think that this will make any difference? And then, the strangest twist, an unplanned, last minute appeal to Congress, paving the way for further delay, weakening momentum, erasing what little surprise existed, and setting the stage for a potential defeat at home.

I don’t think that this strike, should it eventually take place, will be as damaging as its critics fear. The Assad regime will likely hunker down, take it, and move on.

It will make little difference one way or the other. But the manner in which the Obama administration has first created and then mismanaged this crisis will, alas, cast a long shadow on America’s role in the world.

Posted September 2, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: This is GPS, the Global Public Square.

“But, first, here’s my take. In the debate over U.S. intervention in Syria, there is a striking mismatch between ends and means. Proponents of intervention want to defeat a ruthless and powerful regime, rescue a country from civil war and usher in a new democratic political order.

But these people say, at the same time, that they want to achieve all this with the most limited methods. “The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria,” says Senator John McCain.

We’re often told that the goal of this intervention is to stop the killing, but sending more arms into the mix will actually increase the violence. That’s fine, say the interventionists, because the real goal is to oust Assad.

But as we learned in Iraq, ousting the dictator is only the beginning of the task. The actually goal here is the creation of a democratic Syria in which all sects can live in peace.

Now, the United States tried that in Iraq with an almost decade-long invasion and occupation spending over a trillion dollars and it hasn’t quite worked. But, now, we’re going to achieve a better outcome in Syria and just with a no-fly zone? In the mid-1980s, the scholar Samuel Huntington pondered why the United States, the world’s dominant power, which had won two world wars, deterred the Soviet Union, maintained global peace, was so bad at smaller military interventions.

Since World War II, he noted, the U.S. had engaged militarily in a series of conflicts around the world, but, in almost every case, the outcome had been inconclusive, muddled or worse.

Huntington’s answer was we rarely entered conflicts actually trying to win. Instead, he reasoned, U.S. military intervention had usually been sparked by a crisis, which then put pressure on Washington to do something, but Americans rarely saw the problem as one that justified getting fully committed.

So, we would join the fight but in incremental ways and hope that these incremental moves would change the outcome. It rarely does. Instances where we have succeeded, 1990 Persian Gulf War, Grenada and Panama, were all ones where we did fight to win, used massive force and achieved a quick, early knockout.

In Syria, the interventionists have lofty ends but no one wants to use the means necessary to achieve them. So we are now giving arms to the opposition and hoping it will bring the regime to the negotiating table.

But, as Huntington observed, “military forces are not primarily instruments of communication to convey signals to an enemy; they are instead instruments of coercion to compel him to alter his behavior.”

This reminds one of the strategy of the Johnson administration in Vietnam, use force to pressure the enemy to negotiate. But the enemy is fighting to win not to play a negotiating game.

The chance that our current efforts in Syria will do enough to achieve even our objectives is small. Eventually, the contradictions in U.S. policy will emerge and the Obama administration will face calls from people like John McCain for further escalation.

They should resist them and it’s possible that they will. The scholar Daniel Drezner argues in his blog on that the new move “is simply the next iteration of the unspoken, brutally realpolitik Obama policy towards Syria that’s been going on for the past two years.”

“The goal of that policy is to ensnare Iran and Hezbollah into a protracted, resource-draining civil war, with as minimal costs as possible. This is exactly what the last two years have accomplished, he writes, “at an appalling toll in lives lost.”

If this interpretation of the Obama administration’s behavior is correct, then the White House might well be playing a clever game, but it is Machiavellian rather than humanitarian games.”

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Bill Mahr “I know what you’re up in arms about.  We have now decided, Obama decided, we’re going to arm the rebels in Syria.  Yes!  This is why I voted for Obama in the first place, to carry out McCain’s bad ideas.  We’re getting involved in another war in the Mid-East.  I know your immediate reaction is, that’s a stupid idea.  It didn’t work in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Lebanon, or Somolia, or Libya, but I tell you, this time they’re going to love us.”



Posted June 18, 2013 by tmusicfan in Politics, Quote of the Day

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