Tag Archives: United States

Espionage Among Friends

Jonathan Pollard was paroled yesterday, after serving more than 30 years of a life sentence in a federal prison. While serving as a US Navy analyst, Pollard apparently gave suitcases of classified information to Israel. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, Pollard’s actions “put at risk important US intelligence and foreign policy interests”

Pollard’s conviction had long been a sticking point in US-Israeli relations, with Israel regularly pushing for his release. But his release had been steadfastly opposed by intelligence and defense officials, citing the volume of information sold to Israel and concerns that releasing him would send the wrong message to others who may be inclined to engage in similar actions. Interestingly, less than a week after a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Pollard was paroled. As a condition of his parole, Pollard is prohibited from leaving the United States for at least five years, preventing him from leaving the country for Israel, which granted him citizenship in 1995.

What do you think? Does Pollard’s release signal an improving relationship between the United States and Israel? Do you think Pollard should have been paroled? Why?

The Fallout from Paris

The international response to last Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris continues to intensify. Investigations by French authorities have led to multiple arrests in Belgium and France, and an international warrant has been issued for the Belgian citizen believed to be the mastermind for the attack. French President François Hollande descried the attacks as “an act of war” and has intensified French airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria.

Within the United States, the response to the attack in France has been shaded by the ongoing Presidential primary process. Republican presidential candidates from Donald Trump to Bobby Jindall have called for a range of military actions, from increased airstrikes to deploying American ground forces. Democratic candidates have generally supported President Obama’s existing strategy of airstrikes to support anti-ISIS forces—most notably rebels in Syria and Kurds in Iraq—rather than deploying US soldiers directly on the ground.

But perhaps the sharpest difference has been on the response to Syrian refugees. Noting that one of the terrorists killed in the Paris attack carried a Syrian passport, Republican presidential candidates have called for responses to address immigration. Some have called for an outright ban on refugees from Syria, while others have called for a religious test, limiting immigration to “true Christians” only. Governors of more than fifteen states have said that they would not accept Syrian refugees—proclamations that may be more symbolic than effective. But according to German sources, the Syrian passport was likely a fake intended to paint the attackers as Syrian refugees and provoke precisely this response.

What do you think? Should the United States and other Western countries take steps to limit the ability of Syrian refugees to seek asylum abroad? Why? Does such a move strengthen ISIS’s narrative, as President Obama suggests? Why? And how do you think the United States should respond to the Paris terror attacks?

The Shifting Politics of Climate Change

President Obama yesterday dealt a fatal blow to the Keystone XL oil pipeline, ending a seven-year review period with a decision hailed by climate activists as critical in global efforts to address climate change. Stating that “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” President Obama said that “approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.” The proposed project had been strongly backed by pro-industry Republicans and many Democrats in oil producing states like North Dakota. But environmentalists had sought to block the pipeline.

Rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have connected oil sand fields in Western Canada with refineries and ports in Texas and Louisiana. But the project became the focus of anti-climate change activists, who noted that the oil produced in Western Canada was among the most polluting in the world. For his part, President Obama’s rejection of the proposed pipeline was part of a broader effort to address global climate change, a key policy area for his final year in office. President Obama had previously announced new regulations to cut emissions from power plants across the country. And Bill McKibben, a noted American environmentalist, commented  that the decision was a “turning point” in the fight against climate change and observed that “President Obama is the first world leader to reject a project because of its effect on the climate. That gives him new stature as an environmental leader, and it eloquently confirms the five years and millions of hours of work that people of every kind put into this fight.”

What do you think? Was President Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline project the correct one? What are the environmental implications of this decision? What are the economic implications of the decision? Would you have arrived at the same decision? Why?

Reconsidering US Intervention in Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi, who previously served as interim Minister of Oil and Deputy Prime Minister in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, died yesterday. Chalabi was a Shiite Iraqi who studied in the United States, ultimately becoming a key adviser for the neoconservative advisers who shaped President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. He is perhaps most well-known for his role in pushing for US intervention to remove Hussein from power in 2003. Indeed, Chalabi was a key asset for the US intelligence agencies, asserting that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “false information” from Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi National Congress “was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.” It found that the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”

What do you think? Knowing what we do now about Hussein’s regime in Iraq, was US intervention to remove Hussein warranted? Should the United States have invaded Iraq? Why?

Is It Time to End the Cuban Embargo?

The United Nations General Assembly voted to condemn the US embargo on Cuba earlier this week. Only the United States and Israel voted against the resolution, which passed by a vote of 186 in favor and 2 against. The embargo, put in place by the United States in 1963, less than 10 years after a communist movement led by Fidel Castro seized power in the country. According to the Cuban government, the embargo has cost the island nation at least 109 billion euro. Despite improving relations between the two countries, the embargo remains in place, largely because of political differences between Congressional Republicans and the Obama White House.

What do you think? What purpose does the embargo serve? Has it been effective in achieving that goal? Why? And should the United States lift the embargo against Cuba?

A New Isolationism?

In an interview with CNN yesterday, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump made the controversial claim that the world would be “100 percent” better with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi still ruling Iraq and Libya respectively. While stopping short of saying he should remain in power, Trump also spoke critically of efforts by the Obama Administration to oust Syrian President Bashir al-Assad by supporting rebel movements in Syria.

In evidence of his claim, Trump asserts that Iraq and Syria have become “the Harvard of terrorism,” a veritable training ground for the world’s leading terrorist groups. He also claims that the United States doesn’t really know which groups it is supporting in Syria, and that much of the money and equipment provided by the United States to Syrian rebels is actually making its way in to the hands of the Islamic State.

Trump’s call for a renewed focus on the domestic economy in the United States and a shift away from interventionist policies in the Middle East echoes historical calls for greater isolationism after World War I. It also draws on a growing sentiment among the American people that the United States should reduce its global footprint. A 2014 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 52 percent of respondents believed the United States “should mind its own business and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” This was up from about one-third of respondents 10 years ago.

What do you think? Was the world better off when Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi ruled Libya? Should the United States be supporting the opposition in Syria? Would you support a more isolationist foreign policy for the United States? And under what conditions, if any, should the United States become involved in other countries?

Is the Middle East in Danger of Destabilization?

It was announced yesterday that missiles launched from a Russian naval vessel intended to strike targets in Syria instead veered off course and exploded in a remote part of Iran on Thursday. Then today, a Russian jet was reportedly shot down by Turkish defense forces after it strayed into Turkey’s airspace.  Russian intervention in Syria has largely been condemned by the West as an effort to prop up the Assad regime, which has been destabilized by both anti-government forces and Islamic State militants operating in the country. Although the Russia has maintained its airstrikes are intended to weaken ISIS militants, the United States and its allies have condemned Russian intervention as an effort to help shore up the Assad regime. Shortly after Russian airstrikes, the Syrian government launched a series of renewed operations which drove rebel forces in the country back. And now, key American military advisers warned the Obama Administration that it’s goal of supporting rebel forces in their efforts to overthrow the Assad regime may no longer be a viable strategy in Syria, leading the Obama Administration to concede it would end its policy of supporting rebel forces in the country.

What do you think? Is the Middle East in danger of destabilizing? How has Russian intervention changed the strategic calculus for the United States in Syria? Do you agree with the advisers warning that the United States’ goal of overthrowing the Assad regime is no longer viable? Why? And if so, how should the United States proceed?