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Back to the Future: The Unanswered Questions from the Debates

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The nuances of foreign policy do not feature heavily in the ongoing presidential campaign. Every candidate intends to “destroy” the Islamic State; each has concerns about Russian President Vladimir Putin, North Korea, and China; every one of them will defend Israel; and no one wants to talk much about anything else — except, in the case of the Republicans, who rattle their sabers against Iran.

In that light, here’s a little trip down memory lane: in October 2012, I considered five critical foreign policy questions — they form the section headings below — that were not being discussed by then-candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Romney today is a sideshow actfor the current Republican circus, and Obama has started packing up his tent at the White House and producing his own foreign policy obituary.

And sadly, those five questions of 2012 remain as pertinent and unraised today as they were four years ago. Unlike then, however, answers may be at hand, and believe me, that’s not good news.  Now, let’s consider them four years later, one by one.
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Ukraine is Turning into Liberia

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Earlier this month while delivering a public lecture in Kiev, “The Challenges of an Ever-Changing World,” former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an inspiring remark for anyone who might have been thinking that life in Ukraine was bad:

“You should go to Liberia where the standard of living is much lower, and then you will be thankful.”

Ironically, Forbes Ukraine reacted to this with a slightly perplexed analysis that nonetheless led to a conclusion of flawless logic: “Although Liberia has one of the weakest economies in the world, it lags only slightly behind Ukraine with respect to a number of macroeconomic parameters,” and the magazine supported its argument with some anemic statistics (failing however to mention that Liberia’s 85 percent unemployment rate is far worse than Ukraine’s, even today).

The rapid deterioration of the Ukrainian economy over the past two post-Maidan years is no longer a taboo topic in the international press (the prominent US academic and former diplomat Nicolai Petro’s recent article in the Guardian made that crystal clear). But to make a long story short, the full picture looks even more depressing...
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Should Europeans Sacrifice Liberty For Promises Of Security?

No sooner had the smoke cleared in Brussels than the security "experts" began telling the Europeans they must sacrifice more of their liberty for the promise that their governments would keep them safe. Never mind that the big lesson from Brussels is that their governments have not kept them safe, the answer is always to do more of what clearly is not working. Those are the "experts" and the Europeans will probably listen to them. But what if there is another way? What if something could be done differently that would not promise a perfect world, but might deliver a better one? We discuss that possibility in today's Liberty Report...
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How Narratives Killed the Syrian People

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On March 23, 2011, at the very start of what we now call the ‘Syrian conflict,’ two young men - Sa’er Yahya Merhej and Habeel Anis Dayoub - were gunned down in the southern Syrian city of Daraa.

Merhej and Dayoub were neither civilians, nor were they in opposition to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They were two regular soldiers in the ranks of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

Shot by unknown gunmen, Merhej and Dayoub were the first of eighty-eight soldiers killed throughout Syria in the first month of this conflict– in Daraa, Latakia, Douma, Banyas, Homs, Moadamiyah, Idlib, Harasta, Suweida, Talkalakh and the suburbs of Damascus.

According to the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the combined death toll for Syrian government forces was 2,569 by March 2012, the first year of the conflict. At that time, the UN’s total casualty count for all victims of political violence in Syria was 5,000.

These numbers paint an entirely different picture of events in Syria. This was decidedly not the conflict we were reading about in our headlines – if anything, the ‘parity’ in deaths on both sides even suggests that the government used ‘proportionate’ force in thwarting the violence.
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A Better Approach To Terrorism

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People of goodwill naturally attempt to make sense of terrible events like yesterday's bombings in Brussels, to help themselves address the psychological discomfort that occurs when seemingly incomprehensible violence occurs. We have a hard time processing a world where random bombs go off and kill peaceful travelers in airports or subway stations, because it threatens our equilibrium and sense of personal well-being. This discomfort has intensified in our era of 24 hour global news, whereas just a few generations ago our ancestors simply didn’t know about all the trouble in the greater world. The world seems more dangerous today,regardless of whether it actually is more dangerous

Just as politicians and media attempt to create a narrative that explains and influences events, individuals reflexively apply their personal narrative to the world around them. It’s human nature to want reality to comport with our personal worldview or ideology.

Needless to say, the news channels today are full of ideological perspectives regarding what should be done. Western conservatives generally advocate a more rigorous prosecution of the “war on terror” as the solution to Muslim terrorism, accompanied by the dilution of civil liberties as needed to assist that in prosecution. Western progressives generally advocate humanitarian aid, open borders, and greater assimilation of Muslims by making countries more tolerant and multicultural (i.e., the same welfare/education/housing arguments they make to address homegrown criminality). Both of these approaches reflect certain inherent biases which are fundamentally incorrect, to put it mildly.
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Trump vs. Clinton on Foreign Policy

Between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, whose foreign policy would most likely lead to war? Which one has a better track record in foreign policy? Are either of them any good? RPI Director Daniel McAdams finds himself in the middle between a Donald Trump supporter and a Hillary Clinton supporter in this edition of RT's Crosstalk...
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Reporting (or Not) the Ties Between US-Armed Syrian Rebels and Al Qaeda’s Affiliate

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A crucial problem in news media coverage of the Syrian civil war has been how to characterize the relationship between the so-called “moderate” opposition forces armed by the CIA, on one hand, and the Al Qaeda franchise Al Nusra Front (and its close ally Ahrar al Sham), on the other. But it is a politically sensitive issue for US policy, which seeks to overthrow Syria’s government without seeming to make common cause with the movement responsible for 9/11, and the system of news production has worked effectively to prevent the news media from reporting it fully and accurately.

The Obama administration has long portrayed the opposition groups it has been arming with anti-tank weapons as independent of Nusra Front.  In reality, the administration has been relying on the close cooperation of these “moderate” groups with Nusra Front  to put pressure on the Syrian government. The United States and its allies–especially Saudi Arabia and Turkey–want the civil war to end with the dissolution of the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by US rivals like Russia and Iran.

Reflecting the fact that Nusra Front was created by Al Qaeda and has confirmed its loyalty to it, the administration designated Nusra as a terrorist organization in 2013.  But the US has carried out very few airstrikes against it since then, in contrast to the other offspring of Al Qaeda, the Islamic State or ISIS (Daesh), which has been the subject of intense air attacks from the US and its European allies.  The US has remained silent about Nusra Front’s leading role in the military effort against Assad, concealing the fact that Nusra’s success in northwest Syria has been a key element in Secretary of State John Kerry’s diplomatic strategy for Syria.
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My Too-Intimate Relations With The TSA

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Airport security or Gitmo? Transportation security requires competence not sexual assault.

The Transportation Security Administration finally obeyed a 2011 federal court order March 3 and issued a 157 page Federal Register notice justifying its controversial full-body scanners and other checkpoint procedures. TSA’s notice ignored the fact that the “nudie” scanners are utterly unreliable; TSA failed to detect 95% of weapons and mock bombs that Inspector General testers smuggled past them last year while the agency continues to mislead the public about its heavy-handed treatment of travelers.

The Federal Register notice is full of soothing pablum about how travelers have no reason to fear the TSA, declaring that “passengers can obtain information before they leave for the airport on what items are prohibited.” But it neglects to mention that TSA can invoke ludicrous pretexts to treat innocent travelers as suspicious terrorist suspects.

Flying home from Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving morning, I had a too-close encounter with TSA agents that spurred me to file a Freedom of Information Act request. On March 5, I finally received a bevy of TSA documents and video footage with a grope-by-grope timeline.
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Brussels Attack, Back To Iraq - What Would Reagan Do?

What does today's bombing in Brussels have to do with ISIS in Iraq? Both feed the usual calls for military escalation in response to a problem created by military escalation in the first place. If ISIS is in Iraq as a result of the ill-fated 2003 US military action in Iraq, how can more military action in Iraq solve the problem? Likewise, if Europe's slavish adherence to the Washington-led interventionist foreign policy has resulted in blowback attacks, how does signing on to more of what the Beltway neocons have to offer going to remedy the problem? Perhaps, strangely enough, we can learn from what President Reagan did in a similar situation...
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Obama in Cuba - Too Soon Or Too Late?

President Obama's trip to Cuba is making history: it has been nearly a century since an American president set foot on Cuban soil. But if the trip is to lead to a real normalization in relations, both governments need to back off and let people-to-people diplomacy take over. Today's Liberty Report on the good news and bad news of Obama's Cuban visit...
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