Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Grin and bear it

How should you react to a police officer violating your rights? Sunil Dutta explains for the Washington Post:  
But if you believe (or know) that the cop stopping you is violating your rights or is acting like a bully, I guarantee that the situation will not become easier if you show your anger and resentment. Worse, initiating a physical confrontation is a sure recipe for getting hurt. Police are legally permitted to use deadly force when they assess a serious threat to their or someone else’s life. Save your anger for later, and channel it appropriately. Do what the officer tells you to and it will end safely for both of you. We have a justice system in which you are presumed innocent; if a cop can do his or her job unmolested, that system can run its course. Later, you can ask for a supervisor, lodge a complaint or contact civil rights organizations if you believe your rights were violated. Feel free to sue the police! Just don’t challenge a cop during a stop.
Of course, the system is highly effective at identifying examples of police officers abusing their power. 

H/T djw 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Is the PKK a backdoor to Assad?

The Syrian branch of the PKK has come to the assistance of the Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga in its battle with ISIS , most recently helping the peshmerga relive the siege of the Yazdi community. The PKK which is a designated terrorist organisation may soon become an ally, directly or indirectly, in the war against ISIS. 

The irony is not simply that the US and its allies may find themselves supporting one terrorist group against another , but that the PKK and specifically its Syrian branch, has a long history of cooperation with the Assad regime. While it is an exaggeration to say that any gains made by the Syrian PKK are a direct gain for the Assad regime, it is fair to say that the regime would regard the PKK as a group with which it can achieve a modus vivendi and therefore support its progress. 

Turkey is likely to be the major obstacle to any direct support for the PKK and given the PKK's difficult relationship with Iraqi Kurds it's not certain they will be willing to share any military aid they're provided. Nevertheless as policymakers reconsider their priorities in light of ISIS's successes the continued survival of the Assad regime may gain attractiveness. Stories of aid being provided to the PKK would support the hypothesis that policymakers have decided that the Assad regime is the lesser evil. 

Monday, 11 August 2014

Obama doesn't get process

Hilary Clinton, has claimed that the Obama administration's failure to arm the Syrian rebels has contributed to the rise of ISIS. (Marc Lynch explains here why she's wrong). Perhaps what Ms. Clinton really means is that an administration should not commit itself to an overthrow of a government and then not actually try to overthrow that government. Matching means to ends, words to deeds. 

Normally we would expect that the United States would scold the Syrian government; express outrage at human rights violations; demand an end to violence and a fair hearing of the oppositions grievances. Nothing of the above would preclude the U.S. from providing military assistance, including lethal aid - directly or indirectly - to the rebels. The point is not to publicly commit to an outcome that may later not prove feasible or even desirable. 

Now for the record. Obama has made two key public statements about the Syrian civil war : a) "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside" (August, 11/2011); and b) "a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized..... That would change my calculus. That would change my equation" (Aug. 20, 2012). 

Statement A is clear: the goal of U.S policy is to overthrow the Syrian government. Statement B, notwithstanding Obama's clumsiness in conversational English, was interpreted to mean that the U.S. would take aggressive (read military) action against any party using chemical weapons. Since the "red line" comment was made almost one year after Obama stated that the policy of the U.S. was to remove Assad and his closest associates from power, believing that  the Assad regime's chemical weapons use would lead to American military action was logical. 

We now know what happened. The administration, while demanding the resignation of the Syrian president and radical political reform, refused to take practical steps to make that happen i.e. helping achieve a rebel military victory. In a similar fashion, after threatening military action - then deciding to ask congress for permission - a diplomatic breakthrough led to Syria's peaceful disarmament and accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention; an outcome that was widely seen as helping the regime perpetuate its hold on power by making it useful to America. 

The latest news is that Obama has announced - and the U.S military has since undertaken - air strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq. Given that the prospect of the mass killing of religious minorities - though maybe it was oil - motivated American intervention, what will U.S. policy be if ISIS threatens minorities such as the Kurds in Syria? Will the administration take action even if it means effectively assisting the Assad regime? 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Endgame in Ukraine

As the Ukrainian government's forces surround Donetsk the probability of a Russian invasion is increasing.  Unless I've misunderstood Russia's objectives in destabilizing Ukraine - preventing Ukraine from moving toward greater Euro-Atlantic integration - then preserving a rebel presence in the east to undermine Kiev's sovereignty over the country - not counting Crimea of course - is essential. 

While there has been considerable criticism of Obama's handling of this issue - especially when compared with the moral clarity of Stephen Harper: the world's most principled statesman - that events have come to this point is likely the result of Obama's policy design.

Many appear to have forgotten how the Ukrainian government's offensive began: defections and failure. The increasing fighting competence of Ukrainian forces is unlikely to have been solely the result of a morale boost that came from a presidential election.There are two likely explanations: First is the creation of militias that exist outside the normal chain of command. Historically we see this happen in civil conflicts where paramilitary units are recruited from  among those who are ideologically sympathetic to the government or have some connection to its key members . Second, rather than choose the unwise option of directly arming Ukraine, it is likely that the U.S. and its allies have provided advice/training, intelligence and equipment to increase the performance of Ukrainian forces. My guess here is that the emphasis is on tactical advice while providing Ukrainian forces the ability to exploit the intelligence that is being shared so as to achieve a battlefield advantage. 

The goal of this policy has been to force the Russians to make a stark decision: invade or see their proxies defeated and with them Russia's chances of moving Ukraine into its sphere of influence. While everyone, save for those who get their news from Russian television, understands that the uprising in the east is instigated and influenced by Moscow, an outright invasion has a shock value that inspires a reaction of displeasure among neutrals. 

On the diplomatic track, the Obama administration has gradually increased the costs imposed on Moscow, hoping that a diplomatic formula could be found to resolve the conflict. Clearly the administration believes that Russia's policy is self defeating even in the short term. A rump Ukraine will still move ahead with Euro-Atlantic integration and it will be more welcome now than it otherwise would have been. At least rhetorically and with modest material support. Other states in Russia's near abroad may look to diversify their options. 

We are nearing the end of this phase geopolitical competition between Russia, Ukrainian nationalists, the U.S. and the EU/Nato states that care: control over east Ukraine. The most recent phase was a contest over control of Crimea and the next phase will be over the direction in which Ukraine orients its international policy. It will likely occur in an environment in which the Ukrainian government makes its decision not only without control over Crimea but cities in the east as well.  To be sure , the Kiev government could choose of its own accord to put a pause on its westward track and reengage with Moscow. That is doubtful in the short run but you never know what comes later. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

'Anything moving in the zone, even a three-year-old, needs to be killed'

It went something like this:
Watchtower'It's a little girl. She's running defensively eastward'Operations room'Are we talking about a girl under the age of 10?'Watchtower'A girl of about 10, she's behind the embankment, scared to death'Captain R (after killing the girl) 'Anything moving in the zone, even a three-year-old, needs to be killed'
According to the Guardian:
 A subsequent investigation by the officer responsible for the Gaza strip, Major General Dan Harel, concluded that the captain had "not acted unethically".
 However, the military police launched an investigation, which resulted in charges against the unit commander.
The officer has not been charged with murder at this time. The events were disclosed to the public by Israelis soldiers who believed that the IDF was suppressing the the truth. 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Misguided mediation: John Kerry in the Middle East

The Israelis are upset . John Kerry has misunderstood how Americans mediate Arab-Israeli conflicts. The role of an American  mediator is to file down the rough edges on Israel's proposals and to gently assemble an agreement by suggesting to the Israelis alternatives which are less costly to them - and hopefully the Palestinians as well - yet satisfy Israel's objectives. 

As Aaron David Miller notes here, the U.S. is not an honest broker but an effective broker; in other words it gets things done for Israel. Kerry's major error is trying to pursue a ceasefire that would effectively reward Hamas - easing the blockade would be considered a victory for Hamas - instead of trying to disarm Hamas and establish the rule of the Palestinian Authority over Gaza. See David Ignatius on this point (here.)  and wonder how on earth this might actually be accomplished.

There then is the challenge facing Mr. Kerry. Has Israel set objectives that are feasible through a negotiated process? If the answer is no, then Mr. Kerry would be better off withdrawing entirely from the process until the Israelis approach him with a more pragmatic set of objectives. America's credibility is based on the Arabs having faith that the Americans alone can move Israel off entrenched positions. There is nothing to be gained by failure.  

Recent polling suggests that the Israeli government retains strong support for the war and, if anything, risks being seen as too cautious. Meanwhile the Israelis have escalated the war by targeting the civilian infrastructure of Gaza. This points to the likelihood that the Israelis have determined that the cost to Hamas (read: destruction of Gaza) must be so high that any relief to the blockade of the territory comes as little consolation; or that the credible threat of their personal destruction leads Hamas to demand a ceasefire. 

Friday, 25 July 2014

Posh only

Socioeconomic segregation is being practiced in new residential developments in London. From the Guardian:
A Guardian investigation has discovered a growing trend in the capital's upmarket apartment blocks – which are required to include affordable homes in order to win planning permission – for the poorer residents to be forced to use alternative access, a phenomenon being dubbed "poor doors". Even bicycle storage spaces, rubbish disposal facilities and postal deliveries are being separated.