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“The Wars Not Fought”: The Doors Into Hell Are Many, The Exits However Are Fewer

We owe Mother Jones, the magazine, a public service nod for a graphic tour last year of all the countries that John McCain has wanted to attack. Spanning the globe, the fist-first senator has called for violent regime change in more than half a dozen nations, ranging from all-out ground invasions to airstrikes to arming sides in endless sectarian conflicts.

The map of McCain’s wars is worth considering as a what-if had the would-be vice president Sarah Palin and her running mate in 2008 prevailed. McCain continues to play quick-draw commander in chief to this day. He said he’d send troops into Nigeria “in a New York minute,” to rescue the girls kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, even without permission of the sovereign country. And just after President Obama’s speech Wednesday at West Point, McCain lamented that America’s young men and women were not still in the Iraqi city of Falluja.

Yes, Falluja — where tribal militias loyal to one warped religious tenet or another continue to slaughter each other with abandon. It’s a hard truth for a country as prideful as the United States to accept, but most Americans have now concluded that the Iraq War was a catastrophic mistake. Obama, at least, has tried to learn something from it.

Al Qaeda was never in Falluja before the American invasion. They have a stronghold in Falluja now, for which McCain blames the withdrawal of United States troops. Think about that: it’s not our fault because we opened the doors to the factions of hell; it’s our fault because we withdrew from hell.

As Obama tries to pivot from foreign policy by bumper sticker, McCain and an intellectually bankrupt clutch of neocons are trying to present themselves as the alternative. Dick Cheney, the warrior with five draft deferments, is in this diminishing camp, calling Obama “certainly the weakest” president in his lifetime. But both McCain and Cheney are outliers, blustery relics with little backing in either party. Only seven percent of Americans expressed support for even considering a military option after Russia forced Crimea into its fold. That’s a sea change in sentiment from 2001, or even 2008.

The nation’s future military leaders embody this shift. The biggest response from the cadets at West Point came when Obama said, “you are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.” They cheered.

But all of that is not to let Obama off the hook. His big foreign policy speech was flat and passionless, with no central vision. The fault may lie with this particular moment in world history. The Cold War was easy to frame. The War on Terror was as well, at least at first. Now, things are more muddled. How do we help the newly elected government of Ukraine? If we aggressively arm one side in Syria, what happens if they turn out to be religious extremists who want to put women back in the 9th century?

Obama didn’t specifically say so, but the guiding principle for this era of nuance and shadows may be no more complex than this: Stay out of wars of unintended consequence.

“Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint,” said Obama, “but from our willingness to rush into military adventure — without thinking through the consequences; without building international support and legitimacy for our action, or leveling with the American people about the sacrifice required. Tough talk draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans.”

Is that weakness, or wisdom? Well, neither. But it’s a realistic reaction to the hard fact that the last 50 years have produced the three longest wars in American history. And it’s a pitch-perfect reflection of where most Americans are today.

Afghanistan was supposed to be a swift move to crush a regime that allowed terrorists to flourish — not 13 years, and counting, of nation-building. Vietnam was billed as a blow for freedom against global communism — not a 10-year military muddle in a civil war posing no threat to the United States. Iraq was going to be clean and quick — we’ll be greeted as liberators! — not eight years in one of the most ghastly places on earth, at a cost of more than $2 trillion and a loss of at least 190,000 lives on all sides.

Obama’s foreign policy is a lot like his economic policy. Give him credit for preventing something awful from happening. The financial collapse could have been truly catastrophic, save for the action the president and the Federal Reserve took in the first year following the meltdown. For that, history will be kind. The wars not fought by Obama are the alternative to John McCain’s map. For that, the verdict of the ages is less certain. After 50 years, what a war-weary nation does know is this: the doors into hell are many; the exits, fewer.

 

By: Timothy Egan, Contributing Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, May 29, 2014

May 30, 2014 Posted by | Afghanistan, Foreign Policy, Iraq War | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Conservative Exceptionalism”: Even Boko Haram’s Brutality Can Be Politicized

The world is still coming to grips with the recent actions of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group responsible for kidnapping more than 200 schoolgirls. The radical cult’s violence has been “too much” for fellow militants and jihadists, with even al Qaeda keeping its distance from the group.

This week, the scope of Boko Haram’s brutality came into even sharper focus.

Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria’s northeast this week, the area’s senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported on Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing.

The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting “Allahu akbar,” firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna.

The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Mr. Hassan, a cement salesman.

The scale of the violence and bloodshed is gut-wrenching, and by all appearances, intensifying.

And yet, as the world watches these events with horror, some American conservatives have decided to use this as an opportunity – to condemn Hillary Clinton.

I’ll confess that I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to exploit Boko Haram as a domestic partisan tool, but here we are.

Following the kidnapping of Nigerian school girls by terrorist group Boko Haram, right-wing media are rushing to smear former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not designating the group a foreign terrorist organization (FTO), insinuating that the kidnappings might have been prevented had the State Department issued the designation earlier. The baseless attack ignores the facts around FTO designations and foreign affairs.

The cast of “Fox & Friends” told viewers this morning that were it not for Hillary Clinton’s actions, we “could have saved these girls earlier.” National Review went with the tried and true “appeasing Islamists” line of criticism. In an apparent attempt at self-parody, Newt Gingrich today demanded congressional hearings to determine why Clinton’s State Department “refused to tell truth about radical Islamist Boko Haram.”

There’s something inherently troubling about a group of Americans who see a violent tragedy unfolding in Nigeria and, almost on instinct, begin looking for ways to use the developments for political advantage.

As for the substance, it’s true that the State Department declined to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization a few years ago, but as Hayes Brown explained very well, the reasoning matters.

“Designation is an important tool, it’s not the only tool,” a former State Department official told the Beast. “There are a lot of other things you can do in counterterrorism that doesn’t require a designation.” This includes boosting development aid to undercut the causes of unrest and deploying the FBI to assist in tracking down Boko Haram, both of which the U.S. actually did.

In addition, Clinton didn’t act in a vacuum to determine not to designate Boko Haram back in 2011. Scholars on Twitter who focus on the region, terrorism broadly, and Islamist groups in particular were quick to point out that not only were there few benefits and many possible costs to designation, many of them had argued against listing Boko Haram several years ago. In a letter to the State Department dated May 2012, twenty prominent African studies scholars wrote Clinton to implore her to hold off on placing Boko Haram on the FTO list. Acknowledging the violence Boko Haram had perpetrated, the academics argued that “an FTO designation would internationalize Boko Haram, legitimize abuses by Nigeria’s security services, limit the State Department’s latitude in shaping a long term strategy, and undermine the U.S. Government’s ability to receive effective independent analysis from the region.”

For the record, in 2013, the State Department reached the conclusion that the designation could no longer be delayed and Boko Haram was added to the list of entities considered by the United States to be a foreign terrorist organization.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 8, 2014

May 12, 2014 Posted by | Boko Haram, Conservatives, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Brokenhearted On Mother’s Day”: This Isn’t A Nice World For Some Children — Or Their Mothers

Eight-year-old Martin “Marty” Cobb of Virginia won’t be with his mother on Mother’s Day.

On May Day, Marty was playing with his 12-year-old sister near their home in South Richmond when a 16-year-old boy appeared. According to media accounts, the teenager attempted to assault Marty’s big sister. When Marty tried to protect her, the teenager allegedly hit the little boy in the head with a rock, killing him. Marty, said to be small for his age, is being praised by his relatives and neighbors for standing up to the older boy. “He’s a hero,” his mother said.

An ocean separates Marty’s family from 300 girls at the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeastern Nigeria. As with Marty and his sister, though, the girls were where they belonged when unrestrained horror entered their lives.

The girls were preparing to take final exams three weeks ago when armed men in uniforms burst into their dormitory.

A local official had received a warning that 20 pickup trucks and more than 30 motorcycles carrying men with weapons were headed to town, and he alerted the 15 soldiers guarding the school. But the soldiers, like Marty, were outmatched. They ran out of ammunition and couldn’t fend off the assault.

About 250 girls were abducted, driven away into the woods. Forty or 50 more reportedly escaped.

You have to think of the mothers.

All of those empty arms. All of those broken hearts. The misery, the sorrow, the desolation.

Who was it that separated Marty from his mom?

The 16-year-old charged in Marty’s death also was charged in an attack on a 3-year-old boy in 2010, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

According to court documents obtained by the newspaper from the victim’s family, the teen, who was 12 at the time, hit the 3-year-old in the head with the back side of a hammer. The little boy had been lured into a home with the promise of a hot dog, a family member told the newspaper, and then was choked and struck. The boy underwent an emergency operation in which a metal plate was placed in his skull, reported the Times-Dispatch. A law enforcement source, the newspaper said, confirmed the details.

The older child was scheduled to receive mental health treatment in connection with that incident.

One of Marty’s neighbors told the newspaper that the teenager’s mother had tried to get help for her troubled son but had a hard time doing so. The neighbor said the teenager’s mother has apologized to Marty’s family.

A juvenile-court judge has ordered the 16-year-old to remain in custody and set another hearing for May 20.

And so it goes on the streets of South Richmond this Mother’s Day.

It goes even worse in northern Nigeria.

The kidnappers operate under the name Boko Haram, which means, roughly, “Western education is sinful.” Given that belief, it follows that the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School is a sinful place and that the students studying inside are sinners. So simple, so sinister, so stupid.

So Boko Haram took the girls captive and set fire to their school dorm. Boko Haram’s leader, Abubaker Shekau, called the girls “slaves” and threatened to sell them in a marriage market.

As we celebrate Mother’s Day on these shores, think of the parents of the kidnapped girls who pooled their money, bought fuel for their vehicles and launched a search of their own for their daughters.

Put yourself in their place as they learn from villagers that some of the kidnapped girls have been forced into “marriage” with their kidnappers or have been sold for a bride price of $12.

“She is my first-born, the best,” one anguished mother told the Associated Press. “What am I to do as a mother?”

This isn’t a nice world for some children — or their mothers. And most, like the mom in South Richmond and mothers of the missing Nigerian girls, don’t have the luxury of falling to pieces. They can’t just drop back, go out like a light. They have other children to raise; they have to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. For them it’s all in, waging everything.

Oh, how we honor motherhood.

 

By: Colbert I. King, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 9, 2014

May 11, 2014 Posted by | Mothers Day | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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