Judged & Convicted
Since the release of sensitive information about NSA surveillance operations that collects metadata of American citizens by Edward Snowden a couple of weeks ago, many pundits and politicians have mused about whether he is a hero or a traitor. His own father went on FOX News to plead for his son not to release anymore information that might put him further and further into the "traitor" category. Everyone from Dick Cheney to President Obama himself is leaning to the traitor declaration. But what about those on the inside? Almost immediately after the identity of the NSA leaker became known to the public, people inside the business -- at least the ones who sit around me in my office -- were calling him just about every name you could think of. But this is not a matter of Mr. Snowden taking information that has been "authorized" by all three branches of government and divulging it for personal gain. The underlying message here is this: By collecting and storing this information the federal government is telling you that they believe you to be a threat, you just have not acted in a way as to give them the impetus to act against you...yet.
Statues & Statecraft
David Corbin & Matthew Parks
At the time Mr. Obama issued his criticism of President Bush, worldwide approval of US leadership was just 34%, according to Gallup polling. A year later, with Mr. Obama in the White House, it was 51%–and the President was fitting himself for a Nobel Peace Prize. But today it is down to 41%, a troubling development–at least within the confines of the President's foreign policy vision. "Soft power," a term coined by Harvard Professor Joseph Nye, is a measure of a nation's ability "to get what [it wants] through attraction rather than through coercion." Five years of good will tours, relationship "resets," apologies, and "leading from behind" make it clear that President Obama seeks to gain "soft power" influence with other nations by presenting to the world, in word and deed, a teddy-bear America: cute, cuddly, and non-threatening–if perhaps a few sizes too large to fit comfortably in a baby's crib. The American founders also understood that physical force is not the only useful tool in international relations. But, as we see in Federalist 4, they had a very different notion of what it means to cultivate foreign friendships.
Obama Doctrine: Backing Middle East Radicals
There is a long history of Western powers believing that they could manipulate or work with radical Arabic-speaking states or movements to redo the regional order. All have ended badly. During the 1880s and 1890s, Germany became convinced that it could turn the forces of jihad against British, French, and Russian rivals. The Kaiser presented himself as the Muslim world's friend and German propaganda even hinted that their ruler had converted to Islam. In World War One, the Germans launched a jihad, complete with the Ottoman caliph's proclamation. Wiser heads warned that the Ottoman ruler didn't have real authority to do so or that the raising of the jihad spirit could cause massacres of Christians in the empire. They were ignored. As a result, few responded to this jihad; Armenians were massacred at times with the at least passive complicity of the German government. Nevertheless, Adolf Hitler, whose close comrades included many veterans of the earlier jihad strategy, tried the same approach in World War Two. This time, the Jews in the Middle East were to be the massacred scapegoats. Yet despite close collaboration by the leader of the Palestine Arabs, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others, the defeat of the German armies along with other factors (incompetence, unkept Arab promises, and German priorities) prevented this alliance from succeeding.
A Pragmatic Mullah
"There's a sucker born every minute" is one of those great American phrases, fondly and frequently repeated by Americans, who tend to forget that it was said mainly about Americans. In the election of Hassan Rohani as Iran's president, we are watching the point being demonstrated again by someone who has demonstrated it before. Who is Mr. Rohani? If all you did over the weekend was read headlines, you would have gleaned that he is a "moderate" (Financial Times), a "pragmatic victor" (New York Times) and a "reformist" (Bloomberg). Reading a little further, you would also learn that his election is being welcomed by the White House as a "potentially hopeful sign" that Iran is ready to strike a nuclear bargain. All this for a man who, as my colleague Sohrab Ahmari noted in these pages Monday, called on the regime's basij militia to suppress the student protests of July 1999 "mercilessly and monumentally." More than a dozen students were killed in those protests, more than 1,000 were arrested, hundreds were tortured, and 70 simply "disappeared." In 2004 Mr. Rohani defended Iran's human-rights record, insisting there was "not one person in prison in Iran except when there is a judgment by a judge following a trial."
The Loss of Trust
Amid all the heated cross-currents of debate about the National Security Agency's massive surveillance program, there is a growing distrust of the Obama administration that makes weighing the costs and benefits of the NSA program itself hard to assess. The belated recognition of this administration's contempt for the truth, for the American people and for the Constitution of the United States, has been long overdue. But what if the NSA program has in fact thwarted terrorists and saved many American lives in ways that cannot be revealed publicly? Nothing is easier than saying that you still don't want your telephone records collected by the government. But the first time you have to collect the remains of your loved ones, after they have been killed by terrorists, telephone records can suddenly seem like a small price to pay to prevent such things. The millions of records of phone calls collected every day virtually guarantee that nobody has the time to listen to them all, even if NSA could get a judge to authorize listening to what is said in all these calls, instead of just keeping a record of who called whom.
The Real Scandal
One of the more bizarre aspects of the current deluge of Washington scandals is that their very numbers permit President Barack Obama to finesse and continue to play a role as No. 1 Observer and chief political fundraiser. The almost weekly additions to news of the Administration's dereliction of duty and corruption diffuse public concern and deflect the critics including the Republicans (with what appears poor staff work). There is no zeroing in on one of the particular substantial targets to maximize the political effect. It would take, indeed, a Solomon to distinguish which one scandal is of more serious concern for the wellbeing and adequate functioning of The Republic. All threaten the trust and confidence in a limited government once inherent in the traditional and unique American constitutional system. Would it be the incompetence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco – the name no more anachronistic than its operations apparently – which so bungled an effort to track Mexican drug cartel weaponry that it ended up supplying guns for the murderer of American agents? Or would it be a State Department security apparatus so politicized by the (maybe) 2016 candidate for president that it neglected to prepare in chaotic Libya for an attack on the anniversary of 9/11?
Coming to America
How does one define a nation? That is truly the fundamental question of amnesty. The libertarian argument in favor of amnesty comes down to the question of whether nations even necessary at all. If the only characteristic that matters is freedom then borders and the other vestiges of nationhood only interfere with the flow of the free market. America then becomes a set of ideas and its only usefulness is as a space for harboring those ideas. This ideological definition of a nation demands that it sacrifice its survival to its ideas. This notion is found most strongly among liberals for whom the actual physical survival of the country ranks a distant second to its duty to live up to its ideals. That is why liberals can argue that torture is wrong even in a ticking nuclear bomb scenario. In the real world countries don't do well as vehicles for ideology. A country is a practical entity that encompasses the real life needs and challenges of people, while an ideology tends toward rigid self-righteous fantasies. Countries need ideologies to define them, but becoming prisoners to rigid ideological ideals can destroy them.
The Winning Iran-Syria’s Nexus: What to Do?
A new, important development has taken place in the Syrian civil war: Western panic that the rebels are losing has replaced optimism. This has spurred a desire to do something about the war. But how can the West do enough to prevent the feared rebel defeat? It isn't going to intervene directly, nor with a big enough effort to save off a defeat. Anyway, is a defeat imminent? This has been a war in which every week somebody different is proclaimed the victor. I don't believe that the Syrian regime is poised for a victory but a lot of people in Washington and other world capitals do. What this round has done, however, is to raise alarms, both in the West and in the Sunni Muslim world, that the Shia Muslim side is winning, that is Iran is emerging triumphant over the United States. What are the implications? Remember some important points. Iran is not going to take over the Middle East nor is it about to win a lot of Sunni followers. Iran's limit of influence is mainly in Lebanon and Syria (where its ally only controls half the country) and to a lesser extent Iraq. Tehran can fool around in Yemen, Bahrain, and southwest Afghanistan a bit, too. But that's about it. There are real limits.
US & Syria: Strategic Choices
Dr. Walid Phares
Two years and three months after the start of the Syrian revolution and its subsequent transformation into a full-fledged civil war, the United States stands at a historic crossroads; intervening with the goal of crumbling the Assad regime and assisting in erecting an alternative power in Damascus or backing the opposition to a point where the regime has no other choice than to negotiate at Geneva. The latter scenario would predicate Assad's gradual exit that would surrender the country to a combination of political forces but satisfy all regional and international players on the Syrian scene. This week, the Obama administration stated it would begin the process of arming the trusted opposition and may consider many more measures, including possibly, but not yet, a limited no-fly zone over the beleaguered country. But even at this point, the US end game in Syria remains unclear as long as the administration has yet to explain its regional strategic plans regarding Iran and Hezbollah on the one hand and the Salafist Jihadist militias fighting the prior on the other hand.
Trading Liberty for Security Revisited
Robert E. Meyer
I think many civil libertarians and conservatives would argue that the government should never have been given the powers vested in the Patriot Act, because giving such power invites corruption and abuse. It was hard to argue against that point then and it's even more difficult to argue against it right now. Limited government necessarily means limiting the powers of the federal government to the point were it has just enough authority to accomplish it's constitutional duties. But we don't forbid all things merely because they have potential for abuse. You wouldn't want your daughter to date Charles Manson, but you wouldn't, or shouldn't prevent your daughter from dating altogether, just because you know there are creeps out there. Likewise there is potential for abuse among the citizenry. When John Adams stated "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people, and is wholly inadequate for the government of any other," he was describing the conditions under which limited government would prevail, not denying people the right of self-government because it was risky.