Foreign Policy: Middle-East and Central Asia

In Second Chance former Carter NSA, Zbignew Brzezinski mentioned the importance of the region he called, “the global Balkans,” an area spanning from the Suez to the border of China. A lot of recent news has been occuring in that area, something that will, right next to the economy, be a high priority for the next president. This is a thread to discuss the foreign policy in this region.

Just watched the the Frontline program: “War Briefing” (about Afghan war; 10/31/2008). The most significant thing I take away from the program is the problem of the tribal areas (between Afghanistan and Pakistan). For one thing, this is extremely rugged and difficult terrain for U.S. or other foreign forces to occupy. The British and Russian campaigns in Afghanistan failed largely because they could not control this region–a region that proved a safe haven for insurgents, which not only provides safety, but a place to train, plan and thus provide a stream of insurgents in the battle of Afghanistan. Pakistan has also failed in controlling this region–which left me with the impression that gaining control in this area is impossible. Does an effective strategy exist?

But something else is happening now. The Taliban insurgents from this area (largely made up of Pashtuns, who don’t feel they belong to Afghanistan and Pakistan, nor do they recognize the formal borders)–called Pakistan Taliban–are directing their insurgency against the government of Pakistan. Add to this situation, a fragile new Pakistani government–so much so that some commentators are using descriptions like “potential failed state,” and you’ve got a scary situation.

Where is al Qaeda in all of this? According to the program al Qaeda is becoming more intertwined with the Taliban, but the program gives the distinct impression that the Pakistan Taliban is a bigger problem.

Strategy for the Tribal Areas
At the Frontline site there is a page comprised of interviews with several experts, journalists, etc. about ideas of dealing with this area. Read Strategy for the Tribal Areas.

A recent article in Foreign Affairs, “From Great Game to Grand Bargain has a more detailed strategy that addresses the regional concerns involving Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, among other countries.

Resources
A list of links and reading from the Frontline site.

31 Responses to “Foreign Policy: Middle-East and Central Asia”


  1. Reid

    Today’s Fresh Air interview with Sarah Chayes, a former NPR reporter in Afghanistan (now running a co-op there) and Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, about conditions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Here are the things I took away from the interviews:

    Separately both interviewees stressed the importance of a change in counter-insurgency strategy—namely protecting the people first, than going after the bad guys. Rashid called this “people-centric” and also included bringing in agencies to help with economic, social development. Chayes also mentioned that more troops are needed as that would, ironically, do less damage to the country. She explained that less troops means slower responses and greater reliance on bombs that do unnecessary damage.

    They also said that people are reacting optimistically to Obama. Chayes feels Afghans are hopeful, but that window is narrow because US failed to deliver in the past. Rashid said many of the Muslim public is optimistic, but Muslim leaders around the world are nervous because they don’t know what to expect. (He mentioned that Bush didn’t expect much from Karzai, the Afghan leader or the Pakistani leadership, but that Obama probably will expect a lot more.)

    Both were asked if we should negotiate with the Taliban. Chayse emphasized the need for improving governance (reducing corruption and getting the government to respond to people). My impression was that Chayes felt that negotiating with the Taliban would be irrelevant if the Afghan government continued to abuse and neglect the people. Rashid felt that negotiating with the more moderate elements of the Taliban–not the extreme ideologues bent on US destruction–was critical, as he said that all insurgencies have ended in negotiations, not just killing one side.

    On Afghanistan:

    • How would you advise the Obama administration?
      Chayes said the biggest problem is corruption of Afghanistan’s government. Chayes described the country as enraged at the government and Hamid Karzai. She relayed one story about a friend’s (who is a former police officer) brother who was stopped several times by officials that required bribes. When he got into town, the police stopped him and required a much higher bribe. He was fed up, refused to pay and they hit him. Chayes said that the next time he sees the Taliban atttacking the police, he won’t lift a finger. This has driven Afghans to the Taliban. At the same time, Taliban has been terrorizing Afghans—threatening to kill them, etc. What I take from this is the critical importance to stop the corruption and get the government to start taking care of its citizens.
    • The people voted for Karzai so why should we help them?
      Chayes: we placed warloads into political positions, over Karzai initial picks. The Afghans need help dealing with these people we placed before they can take care of their government.
    • What needs to happen?
      Pressure Karzai to get rid of corrupt officials on behalf of the Afghan people; create regional commissions (made up of Afghans and international officials) to collect and vet grievances and put pressure on gov’t;

    On Pakistan

    • Update on conditions in Pakistan
      Most significant development is Afghan-Pakistani Taliban taking over Swat(sp?) Valley—and the rumor that al Qaeda leadership is now there. Valley strategically crucial: has access to resources; close to key areas; politically difficult to send drone planes. Pakistani army has launched offensive to retake valley, but Rashid says that if they employ previous counter-insurgency strategy (really terrible) hard to see them succeeding.
      Rashid also expressed despair (saying he’s never been more depressed) by the terrible military and civilian leadership, who are squabbling over minor issues and not dealing with most critical issues: potential conflict with India; extremist elements; economy.
    • What do you think about Special Envoy Richard Holbooke?
      Competent, more forthright, direct; shift in strategy to state department from military, which is really crucial; he will create team of experts and representatives from key agencies so all on the same page.
    • Pakistani army won’t deal with extremism because they see India as a bigger threat, part of that threat revolves around resolving dispute over Kashmir. If Kashmir question can be resolved, Pakistani army will deal with extremism. This is why US must work with India to deal with Afghanistan
  2. Reid

    Pakistan Deal with Taliban Draws Criticism. That’s the title of a recent NPR story. I think the Rashid, the Pakistani journalist I cited in the previous post, would probably not like this deal, too. I recall him saying that previous truces have failed, so this new truce doesn’t seem likely to be different.

    The NPR article mentions that the truce signals the weakness and inefficacy of the Pakistani military. As Rashid mentioned this is a strategically critical area, so the Taliban maintaining control of it is not a good thing.

  3. Reid

    Andrew Sullivan expresses his concern with Obama’s increased commitment in Afghanistan in a recent blog entry.

    He raises legitimate concerns that should be taken seriously. For me the big question is how crucial those safe havens in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan are for terrorist activity? I want to hear the reasons for the necessity of preventing these areas from being safe-havens or reasons for allowing them.

    If we decide that al Qaeda and the Taliban must not control these areas, then we have to commit more resources to Afghanistan. However, I think the way we achieve this doesn’t have to mean winning a war in a conventional sense (military force vanquishing an enemy). We need the help of Pakistan–which seems to require some stable and even peaceful relations with India–something that will be very difficult. And from what I gather, we need to create a relatively fair and stable government in Afghanistan–not necessarily a model democracy. If that can be achieved–no easy task for sure–the support for the Taliban and al Qada will most likely weaken.

    But these conditions are going to be a huge challenge and we need to also discuss the likelihood that they can be achieved.

  4. Reid

    This BBC article, “Pentagon Chief in Taleban Warning”, is troubling. Basically, the Taliban have begun advancing closer to Islamabad. My impression is that the concessions made to the Taliban by the Pakistani government have been interpreted as a sign of weakness and have emboldened them. Could they take over the government–and then get a hold of nuclear weapons? There lies the concern.

  5. Reid

    Admiral Mike Mullen wrote a good critique of the over-emphasis on strategic communication over policy and its execution. Mullen sums up his view well:

    we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate.

    I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end — or should be after — are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can’t get that in a talking point.

    (As a tangent, the position Mullen argues in thir article is the reason why I didn’t think Obama’s PR strengths in the Muslim world were that much more significant that McCain’s–if one could assume that McCain would be better putting forth the right policy and executing it. Then again, that’s a significant qualification.)

  6. Reid

    Pakistan moving closer to Civil War? I think that statement may be too strong, but the Atlantic gathered recent pieces that discuss the increased attacks and military activity in Pakistan. Read the breakdown here.

  7. Reid

    A new set of Israeli-Palestianian peace talks begins today. “Can Obama Deliver Israeli-Palestinian Peace” is a collection of articles from Atlantic Wire. I also like NPR’s Past President’s Lessons’ Key in New Mideast Talks”

    Obviously, I don’t know the details of the WH activity on this, but my sense is that this President–and the teams he has selected, notably George Mitchell–is doing a really good job of handling this. We’ll see in a year.

    Let me just add another thing because I feel like some of you may be wondering why a peace between the two countries is such a big deal–especially in relation to US interests. If peace occurs between these two groups of people, several things will likely happen:

    1. The trope that the US favors Israel and opposes the Palestianians (Arabs and Muslims) will be less compelling–particularly if the lives of average Palestinians begins to improve dramatically. If that happens, Islamists will have one less talking point in their attempt to win sympathy from other Arabs and Muslims;
    2. Middle Eastern countries that have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to distract their citizens from internal problems won’t be able to do that any longer–i.e. they have to start dealing with problems in their own country. This could lead to political reforms that could make the countries more democratic.

    So how do these two things benefit the US? In a nutshell, the first one benefits the US because it severely weakens the Islamists’ narrative–(i.e. the US hates Arabs and Muslims and favors Jews)–and, imo, one of the most crucial battles involves competing narratives. The Islamists want to paint the US as an Imperial power bent on controlling Arabs/Muslim states and converting or destroying Muslims to Christianity. Peace between Israel and Palestine–one that benefits both–would weaken that narrative.

    The second point could help improve the polictcal situation in the region by moving countries towards democracy. If more Middle-Eastern countries become stable democracies with a modern economy, not only will more people in the region benefit from this, but it will stabilize the countries and make extreme views more difficult to gain a footing.

    If extremist views really have little support in the Middle East, people who hold these views will be less of a threat to the US. A peace agreement is a huge step in eroding the influence of these extreme groups, imo. (Obviously, there is a lot of other great things that will result from an agreement, but those might not be so compelling to a US citizen.)

  8. Reid

    I like NPR’s Clashing Priorities at Mideast Peace Talks for the way it brings up the possible ways of dealing with the sticking points in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

  9. Reid

    Back to the Afghan War.

    A bad sign: “The Afghan War is Becoming the Pakistan War” from Max Fisher of the Atlantic. Tensions seem to be rising fast between the US and Pakistan, and the articles gives the impression something (either US invasion of Pakistan because they’re cutting off key supply routes in the Afghan War) may be around the corner–so much so that the US is hurry peace talks between Karzai and the Taliban, so that we can leave. This is not promising.

  10. Reid

    Major offensive on Kandahar (the city). This Atlantic feature explains the reason this battle is crucial.

  11. Mitchell

    I have a suggestion for the President. If what we really care about are peace and security, why not simply change our position on Israel? The nation of Israel was created in the wake of the monstrosities of the Holocaust, a noble and sympathetic move on the part of the UN. But let’s face it: most of our international problems and most of our concerns about security at home exist because of our dogged support for a tiny nation that so far has done very little to help us help it.

    While I think support of Israel is RIGHT, I also think it is foolish and reckless. Would the World Trade Center attack have happened if not for our association with Israel? I don’t think so. Would we be as worried about Iraq or Iran if not for our association with Israel? I don’t think so. Withdrawing our support for Israel pretty much opens the door for an all-out war in the Middle East, but once that’s over (and it should be over quickly), what have we to worry about? The destruction of Israel seems like a small price to pay for our own security.

  12. Reid

    Mitchell,

    Dang, that’s harsh. You don’t have many Jewish fiends, huh? 🙂

    I think discussing US support for Israel is something we should do, but before we do that, there’s a statement of yours I wanted to address. You said,

    “Withdrawing our support for Israel pretty much opens the door for an all-out war in the Middle East, but once that’s over (and it should be over quickly), what have we to worry about?

    This sounds appallingly callous. Over quickly? Don’t forget that Israel has nuclear weapons, so it might not be as quick and “clean” as you suggest. We’re talking about millions of people dying horrific deaths. And this is the strategy for peace and security? I know you don’t mean it this way, but, man, that’s what it sounds like.

    But there are other problems with this approach. First of all, I don’t think our support for Israel is the primary reason Muslim extremists are waging war against us. According to Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA unit on al-Qaeda, al Qaeda is attacking us because of specific US policies:

    • US support for Israel that keeps Palestinians in their thrall;
    • US and other Western troops on the Arabian Pennisula;
    • US occupation of Iraq and Afganistan;
    • US support for Russia, China and India against their Muslim militants;
    • US pressure on Arab energy producers to keep oil prices low;
    • U.S. support for apostate, corrupt and tyrannical Muslim governments.

      (Scheuer, p.241)

    To be sure, there is resentment towards the US because of our support of Israel, but if we abandoned Israel that resentment would not end–as the list suggests above. Indeed, al-Qaeda would claim victory for leaving Israel behind, and this would not make us safer.

    Our presence in the Middle East is based on our need to secure the flow of (cheap) oil to our nation, just as much, if not more than our loyalty to Israel. Even if we didn’t care about Israel’s fate, I don’t think we could leave for that reason alone.

    But again, based on the guy who lead the CIA unit that studied al-Qaeda, our support for Israel is not the only reason extreme Islamic groups are attacking us.

  13. Mitchell

    This sounds appallingly callous. Over quickly? Don’t forget that Israel has nuclear weapons, so it might not be as quick and “clean” as you suggest. We’re talking about millions of people dying horrific deaths. And this is the strategy for peace and security? I know you don’t mean it this way, but, man, that’s what it sounds like.

    Yes, I guess it is callous. But if our government’s primary concern is its own safety, wouldn’t it be justified?

    As for cheap oil, once we align ourselves with oil-rich Muslim nations, shouldn’t that cease to be an issue? Who cares where the cheap oil is coming from?

    And if we were aligned against Israel in the first place, the WTC bombings wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t be in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I have at least as many Jewish friends as I have black friends. What I’m saying is that the first step toward peace might be repairing our relationships with those who wish to do us harm.

  14. Reid

    Yes, I guess it is callous. But if our government’s primary concern is its own safety, wouldn’t it be justified?

    Wow, you should more like me than yourself. But even I’m not that extreme. Yes, security is the one of the highest priorities for a government, but not the only one. And I don’t think that our alliance with Israel is the primary reason Islamist groups are targeting us. Why do you think that is the main reason?

    As for cheap oil, once we align ourselves with oil-rich Muslim nations, shouldn’t that cease to be an issue?

    There’s a communication breakdown somewhere. We are already aligned with such a nation, Saudi Arabia (Qatar and Kuwait are two others.) This alliance is part of the reason that Scheuer cites as al-Qaeda’s motives for attacking. Remember Scheuer is the guy that studied al-Qaeda in the CIA. (Check out his book Imperial Hubris.)

    Saudi Arabia doesn’t have the most democratic government. It’s one of the reason Al-Qaeda is attacking us. If the US wasn’t supporting some of the Arab regimes (that are often oppressive), then revolutionaries like al-Qaeda might have a chance of toppling these regimes. Therefore, they target the US. This makes total sense to me.

    What I’m saying is that the first step toward peace might be repairing our relationships with those who wish to do us harm.

    I’m with you here: repairing our relationship with Arabs or at least beginning to negotiate and treat them with respect. I believe President Obama has been trying to do this. Also, there’s a better way to do this than just abandoning Israel, namely helping the Palestinians and Israelis come to the two-state solution. If the US can do this in a way that demonstrably benefits the Palestinians, this will go a long well to mending relationships or at least lessening anti-US perceptions in the Arab/Muslim world.

    Another way would be to help both Afghanistan and Iraq become stable and prosperous countries (I’ve all but abandoned the hope for Afghanistan). If we leave–and leave them better off–this will be a huge step in repairing relations. There is a perception and fear that the US is an imperial power bent on controlling, if not colonizing the region, much in the same way European nations did in the early 20th Century. If we leave the region and let them run their own countries, this will do a lot to lessen hatred towards the US and repair relations.

    You get the added benefit of not killing millions of people and wiping the nation of Israel off the map, too.

  15. Mitchell

    Here’s another one, ‘though it doesn’t have anything to do with the Middle East or Central Asia: With all the heat in Korea right now, what if we just told South Korea that we were no longer going to protect it, and that we were going to pursue diplomatic ties to North Korea? Would we all (South Korea included) be safer?

  16. Reid

    Just for clarity, are you advocating this position or simply exploring the possibility of such an action?

    Here are some thoughts about abadoning South Korea off the top of my head:

    • Leaving S. Korea wouldn’t be a confidence builder for other allies, especially allies in the region such as Japan. Why would other countries want to be our allies if we would just pick up and abadoned them when the going got tough?
    • What kind of diplomatic ties with N. Korea would make the US, the world or S. Korea a better and safer place? I can’t imagine what those would be. Are you assuming that the conflict with N. Korea stems from the US alliance with S. Korea? My sense is that N. Korea wants to build nuclear weapons and the reason for doing so is not because of our alliance with S. Korea. (I could be wrong about this, though.)
    • Would we want to make diplomatic ties with a totalitarian regime–particularly one that is so unpredictable and unreliable (as, at least, the last twenty years demonstrate)?
  17. Reid

    Atlantic’s “‘By Whatever Means Necessary’: Arab Leaders Want Iran Stopped” covers the wikileak’s revelation that Arab leaders (like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia) urged the US to invade Iran to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons. This is significant because the impression prior to these leaks was that Israel, by themselves, advocated this position.

  18. Reid

    Shoot, I wish I wrote more about the Iran nuclear deal.

    Anyway, I wanted to post a link for Atlantic’s article, Obama Doctrine by Jeffery Goldberg.

    The article seems to be getting a lot of responses. Here’s one (The Middle East is Unraveling and Obama Offers Words) that I wanted to comment on. The writer seems appalled, bitter and even angry at the president. On one hand, I think the writer is justified, but I also think the president’s comments aren’t wrong (at least that’s my sense). Here’s what the writer says:

    Obama’s retrenchment from the Middle East reflects deep disillusionment with the region.

    But it also reflects disdain for an Arab world that should be avoided. Obama ignores those states seeking tepidly to implement reforms and fight terrorism. He coldly and correctly diagnoses the ills of the majority of Arab states: predatory autocratic regimes, violent Islamist groups, diminishing civic traditions, rampant sectarianism and tribalism. But he does not see any ray of hope or promise in this bleak scene. It is as if the Arab world is inhabited only by angry Arab youths “thinking about how to kill Americans,” and totally bereft of decent Arab men and women, like those millions who marched and struggled against tyranny and called for freedom, empowerment, dignity, and modernity. He laments that if the U.S is not talking to the young people of Asia, Africa, and Latin America “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.” It is as if the president of the United States is declaring a whole generation of Arabs as the devil’s rejects; it is as if he wants to have large swaths of the Middle East quarantined indefinitely.

    (emphasis added)

    That quote from Obama is the type of blunt, undiplomatic words that I found pretty surprising. The more I think about this, the more I think the president was wrong to speak so bluntly. What he’s saying may be true, but how could this not offend those in the Middle East that want better governments and better lives? It is actually surprisingly callous. Maybe there’s a breakdown in communication somewhere, but it’s hard not to come away feeling as if Obama is callously abandoning this region–especially the decent individuals who deserve better.

    Having said that, ultimately, I feel like his analysis may be correct. That is, there is very little the U.S.–or any other external state–could do to make things significantly better. Not only would the costs be high for the U.S., but the efforts may not matter at all, and could possibly make matters worse. Why do I say this?

    I say this based on a passage from David Fromkin’s book, A Peace to End All Peace, which talked about the way the European powers divided up the Middle East in the early 20th century. Fromkin mentions that if Middle Eastern people continued to challenge the European’s partitioning of the region (the 1922 settlement) now (He wrote the book in 1988,)….

    …than the twentieth-century Middle East will eventually be seen to be in a situation similar to Europe’s in the fifth century AD, when the collapse of the Roman Empire’s authority in the West threw its subjects into a crisis of civilization that obliged them to work out the new political system of their own. The European experience suggests what the dimensions of such a radical crisis of political civilization might be.

    It took Europe a millennium and a half to resolve its post-Roman crisis of social and political identity: nearly a thousand years to settle on the nation-state form of political organization, and nearly five hundred years more to determine which nations were entitled to be states. Whether civilization would survive the raids and conflicts of rival warrior bands; whether church or state, pope or emperor, would rule; whether Catholic or Protestant would prevail in Christendom; whether dynastic empire, national state, or city-state would command fealty; and whether, for example, a townsman of Dijon belonged to the Burgundian or to the French nation, were issues painfully worked out through ages of searching and strife, during which the losers–the Albigensians of southern France, for example–were often annihilated. It was only at the end of the nineteenth century, with the creation of Germany and Italy, that an accepted map of western Europe finally emerged, some 1,500 years after the old Roman map started to become obsolete.

    If Fromkin is right–if the Middle East is in a similar situation to Post-Roman Europe, than my feeling is outsiders can do very little to help the situation. Think about something like questions involving the role of religion in government and the degree to which the people will accept or reject modernity. These are difficult questions to answer, but imagine if questions about the political mechanisms to answer these questions are also not in place. I just feel like working through all of this will take quite a lot of time, and there’s no way to significantly speed up the process. In the meantime, people will suffer and that’s not a trivial matter, but if outside government try to intervene, I’m skeptical they can really make a significant difference–that is, they won’t remove the struggle and pain. Now there may be opportunities to mitigate the suffering and struggle, or expedite the process–and where countries like the U.S. can help, they should. But I think this will be of a limited nature. To me, a big part of this involves a realistic understanding of the situation as well as limitations of countries like the U.S. Sometimes I feel like interventionists underestimate limitations of the U.S. and the challenges of the Middle East.

    Having said that, I don’t think Obama should have been so blunt. It seems unnecessarily harsh and probably will do more harm than good.

  19. Reid

    The Council on Foreign Relations has an explanation on Sunni and Shia Muslims.

  20. Reid

    If you’re interested in better understanding Muslim terrorists, and you don’t want to put in a lot of time reading and researching the subject, I’d recommend last week’s episode of Fareed Zakaria’s Global GPS–“Why They Hate Us.” Unfortunately, it’s not up at the CNN site, but it is available on itunes. It’s a 50 minute show, and if you’re only going to listen to one thing about this topic, you can’t go too wrong choosing this episode.

    One of the questions Zakaria addresses involves whether Islam, as a religion, is inherently violent and incompatible with liberal democracy. Passage from the Koran are cited to support this, but the program also mentions (rightly so, in my view) Biblical passages that one could read as supporting violent acts that would be incompatible with a liberal democratic society.

    At the end of the program, Zakaria suggests that the cultural, economic and political conditions of many Muslim countries contribute significantly to terrorist acts by some Muslims. To me, this sounds right to me. While religious tenets can drive and dictate the way people behave, I actually think that for the vast majority of religious believers, it’s the economic, political and cultural factors that have a greater influence in the way most religious believers think and act. There are a few radical believers where this is not the case, but these–the saints, Desert Fathers, the Mother Theresa’s make a small minority.

    I don’t count religious terrorists in this group–although they may cite religion as a primary motive, because, as I mentioned, I believe political, economic and cultural factors drive their actions more than their religious beliefs. In a way, I feel like their religious beliefs are overlay the real factors, being used as rationale or window dressing. I guess I feel this way because I think those that are truly religious wouldn’t commit terrorist acts.

  21. Reid

    Is Sharia Compatible with Western Democracies?

    Jeffery Golberg recently had some interesting things to say about this in an article where he criticized Newt Gingrich’s recommendation for “testing” U.S. Muslims if they supported Sharia. Here’s some interesting details:

    1. The nation of Israel actually supports Sharia courts (paying for the judges) for Muslims in Israel who seek “religious recourse for personal dilemmas. These courts have been in existence since the founding of Israel.
    2. There are several schools of Sharia law, ranging from liberal to more conservative. I interpret this to mean that, like Christianity, interpretations about the Sharia and the appropriate way to apply them can vary quite a bit. This suggests that a more fundamentalist take on Sharia, which prescribes harsh punishment for violations, is edit NOT one and only way to interpret and apply Sharia.
  22. Mitchell

    What is the “this” in the last sentence? Gingrich’s recommendation?

  23. Reid

    Made the correction above.

    (By the way, is the bullet point function not working properly? I really dislike those faded lines that appear in the middle versus the conventional bullet points.)

  24. Mitchell

    I can fix that, and it probably wouldn’t take long. It means popping the hood on this thing and rolling my sleeves up. Maybe sometime this weekend. I haven’t gotten any grease on my hands since the shout-box thing in the right sidebar. I agree with you that it’s not as good without the bullets.

  25. Mitchell

    I honestly don’t think most reasonable people take Gingrich’s suggestion seriously — it’s the kind of thing that Trump’s been saying, and I think it’s that specific line of Trump’s thinking that has the old-guard GOP guys refusing to endorse him, the religious stuff maybe slightly more than the race stuff.

  26. Reid

    Mitchell,

    Don’t worry about fixing the problem. It’s something I can live with, and I don’t want to add work to you. (It’s weird because I’m pretty sure the bullet points do appear sometimes.)

    I honestly don’t think most reasonable people take Gingrich’s suggestion seriously —

    I don’t think that matters. If “unreasonable” people take it seriously, you don’t think that can cause problems? I do think that Trump’s inflammatory and outrageous rhetoric has contributed to tensions and the fraying of our social fabric.

    And what about the way Muslim Americans and Muslim’s around the world perceive this rhetoric? You think they’re going to automatically dismiss it? I don’t really think this. They might be seriously worried and could begin to believe that the U.S. (and Western countries) are hostile to Islam. I’m also pretty sure ISIS and other groups will use quotes like this to sell this message.

  27. Reid
  28. Reid

    This is an interesting Vox article that examines the $400 million payment to Iran. The author claims that the payment wasn’t a ransom for hostages, but a payment for a very old dispute between the two countries involving an arms deal.

    PBS News Hour interview with the Wall Street Journal author who wrote the most recent story about this payment.

  29. Reid
  30. Reid

    I think Berger is a respectable source, so I read the article he recommends. The one takeaway is that there is infighting within ISIS. The article focuses on theological disputes–and they kinda remind me of the theological disputes between Christians. There are also some indications of dissatisfaction with the leadership, specifically with corruption and tolerance for extreme religious views (extreme relative to other members of the Islamic
    State).

    Edit

    Regarding the article above:

  31. Reid

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