Archives for February 2016

Half of the Earth’s surface and seas must be preserved for nature, or humanity will have no future


Edward O. Wilson writes: Unstanched haemorrhaging has only one end in all biological systems: death for an organism, extinction for a species. Researchers who study the trajectory of biodiversity loss are alarmed that, within the century, an exponentially rising extinction rate might easily wipe out most of the species still surviving at the present time.

The crucial factor in the life and death of species is the amount of suitable habitat left to them. When, for example, 90 per cent of the area is removed, the number that can persist sustainably will descend to about a half. Such is the actual condition of many of the most species-rich localities around the world, including Madagascar, the Mediterranean perimeter, parts of continental southwestern Asia, Polynesia, and many of the islands of the Philippines and the West Indies. If 10 per cent of the remaining natural habitat were then also removed – a team of lumbermen might do it in a month – most or all of the surviving resident species would disappear.

Today, every sovereign nation in the world has a protected-area system of some kind. All together the reserves number about 161,000 on land and 6,500 over marine waters. According to the World Database on Protected Areas, a joint project of the United Nations Environmental Program and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, they occupied by 2015 a little less than 15 per cent of Earth’s land area and 2.8 per cent of Earth’s ocean area. The coverage is increasing gradually. This trend is encouraging. To have reached the existing level is a tribute to those who have led and participated in the global conservation effort.

But is the level enough to halt the acceleration of species extinction? Unfortunately, it is in fact nowhere close to enough. The declining world of biodiversity cannot be saved by the piecemeal operations in current use alone. The extinction rate our behaviour is now imposing on the rest of life, and seems destined to continue, is more correctly viewed as the equivalent of a Chicxulub-sized asteroid strike played out over several human generations.

The only hope for the species still living is a human effort commensurate with the magnitude of the problem. The ongoing mass extinction of species, and with it the extinction of genes and ecosystems, ranks with pandemics, world war, and climate change as among the deadliest threats that humanity has imposed on itself. To those who feel content to let the Anthropocene evolve toward whatever destiny it mindlessly drifts, I say please take time to reconsider. To those who are steering the growth of reserves worldwide, let me make an earnest request: don’t stop, just aim a lot higher. [Continue reading…]


‘We know what the U.S. can do with bombs,’ a Libyan student said. ‘What else can you do?’

In a 12,000-word two-part report for the New York Times on the U.S. intervention in Libya and Hillary Clinton’s role in it, Jo Becker and Scott Shane write: President Obama has called failing to do more in Libya his biggest foreign policy lesson. And Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to the United Nations during the revolution, is deeply troubled by the aftermath of the 2011 intervention: the Islamic State only “300 miles from Europe,” a refugee crisis that “is a human tragedy as well as a political one” and the destabilization of much of West Africa.

“You have to make a moral choice: a blood bath in Benghazi and keeping Qaddafi in power, or what is happening now,” Mr. Araud said. “It is a tough question, because now Western national interests are very much impacted by what is happening in Libya.”

It was late afternoon on March 15, 2011, and Mr. Araud had just left the office when his phone rang. It was his American counterpart, Susan E. Rice, with a pointed message.

France and Britain were pushing hard for a Security Council vote on a resolution supporting a no-fly zone in Libya to prevent Colonel Qaddafi from slaughtering his opponents. Ms. Rice was calling to push back, in characteristically salty language. [Read more…]


If you want a revolution, you have to vote for it

Derek Thompson writes: Because Generation Y is the largest generation in American history, it’s a big deal if it remains one of the most liberal generations ever. But there’s a huge, inescapable problem with the viability of Millennial politics today: Young people just don’t vote. Between 1964 and 2012, youth voter turnout in presidential elections has fallen below 50 percent, and Baby Boomers now outvote their children’s generation by a stunning 30 percentage points. Millennials might make a lot of noise between presidential elections, but in November, politicians remember what young people are: All throat and no vote.

The liberal revolution would require more than quadrennial thrills. It would require a sustained focus on filling congressional and Senate seats with liberals so that a left-leaning president can sign bills approved by left-leaning majorities. Instead, this generation hasn’t shown that it can sustain interest in politics through non-presidential elections. Voting among people under 30 in non-presidential elections is hovering around its lowest rate in the last half-century.

A lasting revolution would require even more than that. At a time when the federal government is dragging its feet on every issue, the most significant policy decisions often come at the local and state level. But Republicans control more than half of state legislatures and governor’s mansions, in part because Millennials simply don’t show up to vote. One study found that the median age of voters in mayoral elections is 60.You cannot create a national movement around critical local policies, like higher minimum wages, if city hall is elected exclusively by voters born before Dwight Eisenhower’s reelection. [Continue reading…]


Russia says federal model is possible for Syria in future

Reuters reports: Syria could become a federal state if that model works in the country, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a news briefing on Monday.

A fragile cessation of hostilities, drawn up jointly by the United States and Russia, has led to a dramatic reduction of violence in Syria over the weekend, though rebels are accusing the government of numerous violations including air strikes.

The United Nations’ Syria mediator, Staffan de Mistura, has said he intends to reconvene peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition on March 7, provided the halt in fighting largely holds and allows for greater delivery of humanitarian relief.

“If as a result of talks, consultations and discussions on Syria’s future state order … they come to an opinion that namely this (federal) model will work to serve the task of preserving Syria as a united, secular, independent and sovereign nation, then who will object to this?” Ryabkov said. [Continue reading…]


In the fight against ISIS, the effectiveness of the YPG gets overstated

Hassan Hassan writes: A week after ISIL was reportedly expelled from its last stronghold in Hasaka, it launched an assault in Tal Abyad in northern Raqqa in the early hours of Saturday.

The militant group clashed with Kurdish militias affiliated to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), who drove ISIL from this border city in June last year. The attack on Saturday was ISIL’s second infiltration of the city since its defeat there.

During the clashes, ISIL fighters reportedly stormed the house of a tribal sheikh from Deir Ezzor living in Tal Abyad and beheaded him. Khaled Dahham Al Bashir – from the Baggara tribal confederation, one of the largest in Syria – was said to have been working with the YPG as part of the tribal component in the Syrian Democratic Forces, and was therefore an obvious target for ISIL. The ISIL assault on several different locations seemed carefully planned with specific targets.

Of particular significance was the fact that the YPG had to immediately call in US air strikes to repel the attack. The episode reveals a fault line in the way that the United States, the main backer of the YPG, fights ISIL in Syria.

The YPG’s victories against ISIL – in Kobani, Tal Abyad and southern Hasaka – were made possible largely because of intensive US firepower. According to military sources, the YPG lacks the capacity to defeat ISIL without close US air support. One source said that American air strikes account for “more than 90 per cent” of the ISIL defeats in those battles.

This is important if one contrasts the YPG with other forces in northern Syria that have defeated ISIL or repulsed its assaults for more than two years without any air support. Those forces would typically be fighting on two fronts at the same time. Rebel forces in Idlib, for instance, have kept the province free from ISIL despite repeated attempts to infiltrate it since 2014 – including at the peak of ISIL’s strength and morale after it defeated the Iraqi army in Mosul. [Continue reading…]


The politics of greed: Disney blocks Leonardo DiCaprio’s message on climate change


Truth Dig reports: Upon being named winner of the 2016 Oscar for best actor for his leading role in the Alejandro Innaritu-directed film “The Revenant,” Leonardo DiCaprio, a committed environmental activist with a long record of backing campaigns, led the political charge at the awards show and pleaded with listeners to “work collectively together and stop procrastinating” and take action to stop climate change.

“Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world, a world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history,” DiCaprio said. “Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

DiCaprio even urged support for political candidates who do not rely on corporations and their interest groups to finance their campaigns. That appears to be an endorsement of candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein, as opposed to Hillary Clinton and most of the Republicans.

“We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed … Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.” [Continue reading…]

The YouTube clip of DiCaprio’s acceptance speech used by Truth Dig has been blocked by Disney Enterprises Inc — apparently they are more concerned about copyright infringement than they are about climate change. But this isn’t the first time the actor has spoken on this issue. To hear him speak at slightly greater length, watch his 2014 address to the UN in New York:

The Guardian adds: Over the last few years, DiCaprio has steadily donated his celebrity – and at least $30m in funding according to his foundation – to help advance the United Nations climate negotiations, protect coral reefs and tigers, and spread public awareness about the dangers of climate change.

The actor has become a fixture at events focused on global challenges since 2014, dropping in at the Davos economic forum to pick up an award last January, and holding a private chat on the sidelines with Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary general, on the sidelines of the Paris climate negotiations last December. [Continue reading…]


Living under business surveillance in America

One of the ironies of Libertarianism in America is its soft-spot for Capitalism — as though anything that brands itself free, like free-enterprise, actually promotes freedom. Libertarians never tire of warning about the threats posed by the NSA and other intrusive government agencies, while the coercive and covert power of commerce generates far less fury.

Yet anyone who is genuinely concerned about infringements on civil liberties through electronic systems of surveillance, probably needs to be more wary of business than they are of government.

Most of the data the government collects gets poured into digital black holes — the data being collected for business applications, however, is constantly being mined to extract all its value.

Government might be watching you, but business is telling you where to go.

The New York Times reports: Pass a billboard while driving in the next few months, and there is a good chance the company that owns it will know you were there and what you did afterward.

Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, which has tens of thousands of billboards across the United States, will announce on Monday that it has partnered with several companies, including AT&T, to track people’s travel patterns and behaviors through their mobile phones.

By aggregating the trove of data from these companies, Clear Channel Outdoor hopes to provide advertisers with detailed information about the people who pass its billboards to help them plan more effective, targeted campaigns. With the data and analytics, Clear Channel Outdoor could determine the average age and gender of the people who are seeing a particular billboard in, say, Boston at a certain time and whether they subsequently visit a store. [Continue reading…]


Iraq issues warning of ‘catastrophic’ Mosul dam collapse


Middle East Eye reports: Authorities in Iraq have issued a contingency plan for the possible collapse of the Mosul dam amid fears that the lives of almost 1.5 million people along the Tigris river could be at risk from catastrophic flooding.

The statement is the first public acknowledgment by the Iraqi government of the danger posed by the dam, which is in a poor state of repair after years of neglect and its brief capture by Islamic State (IS) fighters in 2014.

The government earlier this month awarded a contract to Italian engineering firm TREVI to undertake emergency repairs on the 3.4km dam, which is the fourth largest in the Middle East and lies 40km north of Mosul, Iraq’s second city which is currently controlled by IS.

Many other Iraqi cities including Baghdad, the capital, Shirqat, Baiji, Tikrit, Samarra, Balad and Dujail could be flooded if the dam breaks down, Iraqi and US officials warned.

“The collapse of the dam is very unlikely, especially with the technical and administrative precautions taken by the authorities, but the serious consequences if it did happen necessitate the alert,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said in a statement on Sunday.

“We have developed a package of precautionary recommendations, in order to avoid any potential risk, God forbid. They [the recommendations] have to be taken into consideration by all people.”

The US embassy in Baghdad on Sunday also issued an alert to US citizens warning them of the dangers of a possible collapse. [Continue reading…]


Hezbollah is learning Russian

Alexander Corbeil writes: Hezbollah has suffered several setbacks since it began its involvement in the Syrian war — over 1,300 of its fighters have been killed and thousands injured, it has had to cut back on social services it provides to its constituency and had to resort to recruiting teenagers for the fight in Syria. However, the Syrian civil war, especially the recent Russian involvement is also helping enhance the group’s fighting capabilities which is likely to have significant political and security implications in Lebanon and beyond.

Hezbollah has proven to be a forward-thinking and malleable fighting force. In 2012, when the group began to engage more robustly in Syria, it quickly learned that its defensive tactics were not applicable to the fight. Instead of a modern Israeli army, Hezbollah faced an insurgency. These rebel groups applied similar tactics to Hezbollah’s against regime soldiers and further benefited from local knowledge of the terrain in areas crucial to Bashar al-Assad’s survival. For instance, during the capture of Qusayr in 2013 Hezbollah reportedly lost around one-tenth of its fighters, with estimates ranging from 70 to 120 dead and 200 wounded, up to two dozen of whom were killed in a rebel ambush on the first day of that offensive; what Hezbollah leaders thought would be a quick victory instead turned into a drawn-out fight. Fast-forwarding to 2016, Hezbollah has refined its offensive capabilities and—under the cover of a new powerful ally, Russia—continued to help the Syrian regime take back crucial territory with lower casualty rates. [Continue reading…]


The mysterious fate of the dissident Italian priest snatched by ISIS

Michael Weiss writes: The last time Hind Aboud Kabawat saw her mentor Father Paolo Dall’Oglio alive, she felt her heart “squeeze in pain.”

The Italian priest who had for 30 years made his home and clerical reputation in Syria was depositing her at Ataturk International Airport, in Istanbul, when he forgot the spiritual form their physical leave-taking always took: prayer. Father Paolo would place his crucifix on Kabawat’s head and chin, and then they would ask the divine to guide them in their daily struggles. Perhaps he was in haste to get her onto her return flight to her hometown of Toronto, but the rite this time slipped his mind. So Kabawat, an Orthodox Christian, reminded the gray-bearded Jesuit and hero of the Syrian people of the valedictory benediction. Father Paolo lovingly obliged. That was three years ago.

The priest was snatched by ISIS not long thereafter while walking through the streets of the caliphate’s capital of Raqqa. He had smuggled himself back into Syria after being kicked out by Bashar al-Assad, Kabawat says, to try and negotiate the release of captive journalists, and was convinced he could reason with the jihadists.

Kabawat is a natural-born worrier, and Father Paolo used to call her “Martha,” after the sister described in the Gospel of Luke as “cumbered about many things” whom Jesus visits at her home. Unlike her attentive sibling Mary, Martha neglects the savior’s counsel. But now the roles were somewhat reversed, and the emissary of Christ was the one who wouldn’t listen.

One needn’t have been especially preoccupied or put-upon to fear an audience with ISIS. “This was 2013—we didn’t really know who they were. But still I told him, ‘Don’t do it face to face.’ He said, ‘No, no, no. If, after three days, you don’t hear from me, then something bad will have happened.’”

Something bad did.

The echo here with the resurrection may have been intentional, though it’s hard to associate Father Paolo with the megalomania of one comparing himself to his avowed role model. On this score, Kabawat is definitive: “He was always telling me, ‘Hind, we can’t be sitting and lecturing others. We need to go to the people. Because this is freedom and democracy, from the people to the people. This is exactly what Jesus wants and what Jesus did. He did not sit in his home.’” [Continue reading…]


Iran reformists cheer election gains, conservatives play down shift

Reuters reports: President Hassan Rouhani and his allies won big gains in elections that could deepen Iran’s engagement with the world after his government ended years of sanctions by agreeing to curb its nuclear program.

The outcome in the results for Tehran on Monday was a blow to the conservative Islamic establishment, although it retains decisive power due to Iran’s unwieldy dual system of clerical and republican rule.

Most of the lawmakers who failed to win re-election to the new parliament strongly opposed the nuclear deal, including Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, who called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif a traitor, and Rouhollah Hosseinian, who threatened to bury the negotiators under cement for agreeing to concessions to world powers.

“This election can be a turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic,” said an editorial in reformist newspaper Mardomsalari, whose managing editor, Mostafa Kavakebian, won a parliamentary seat in Tehran.

“The biggest achievement of this election is the return of reformists to the ruling system … so they won’t be called seditionists or infiltrators anymore,” he said, referring to hardliners who accused reformists of links to the West.

Rouhani and allied centrists and moderates won 15 out of the 16 Tehran seats in the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with choosing the country’s next supreme leader, final election results for Tehran showed. Some of the 15 elected in Tehran were in both conservative and reformist electoral lists. [Continue reading…]

Barbara Slavin writes: When given the chance, Iranians have generally voted for reformists or pragmatists, from Mohammad Khatami for President in 1997 and 2001, to Rouhani in 2013. The exception was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist hardliner who defeated a former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani, in 2005 and won again in 2009 in elections marred by fraud. Reformists swept parliamentary elections in 2000 but were disqualified en masse by the Guardian Council in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

The Guardian Council also ruthlessly pruned the candidate roster this year, removing nearly half of the more than 12,000 people who sought seats in the 290-member parliament, including almost all declared reformists. But a surviving reformist leader, a Stanford University-educated engineer and former Khatami Vice President, Mohammad Reza Aref, cobbled together candidates most supportive of Rouhani and the nuclear deal. Bolstered by a social media campaign that included a video of Khatami urging people to vote, this “List of Hope” swept all thirty seats allotted to the capital, Tehran. Among those defeated was the top hardline candidate, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a former Speaker of parliament whose daughter is married to Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

In polling for the eighty-eight-member Assembly of Experts, Rafsanjani, a former Chairman of the body, led the field for sixteen seats in Tehran. Among those who failed to make the cut was Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is known as “Ayatollah Crocodile” for his anti-democratic views, and Mohammad Yazdi, the incumbent chair of the Assembly.

While the final tallies depend on runoff elections in some constituencies, the gains for more pragmatic figures, particularly in parliament, should make it easier for Rouhani to implement economic reforms and to appoint and retain qualified cabinet ministers.

As the scope of the mandate became clear, Rouhani told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on February 27: “It’s time to open a new chapter in Iran’s economic development based on domestic abilities and international opportunities…The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government.” [Continue reading…]


Berlin’s museum tours in Arabic forge a bridge to refugees


The New York Times reports: The Pergamon Museum is home to the famous Ishtar Gate, a monument of blue and white tile decorated with golden lions and daisies that was once the entrance to ancient Babylon. When Kamal Alramadhani, a 25-year-old Iraqi economics student, saw it for the first time this month, “I got goose bumps,” he said, pointing to his arm.

“It’s from Iraq,” he added quietly, through an Arabic translator. “My country.” A native of Mosul, Mr. Alramadhani studied economics at the University of Baghdad and came to Germany in October, part of a wave of asylum seekers that is stirring opposition here but also leading the government to look for ways to help the migrants adjust.

That afternoon, Mr. Alramadhani and about 30 others — some of them teenagers who had walked much of the way from Syria — were visiting the museum for the first time, on a free Arabic-language tour. It is part of a new and growing state-financed program to introduce the refugees to Germany’s cultural heritage — even, of course, when some of that heritage comes from the Middle East.

The visits can be fraught. “Sometimes people say: ‘The Germans have all our heritage! They stole it!’” said Zoya Masoud, 27, who led the Arabic-language tour that afternoon at the Museum of Islamic Art, which is part of the Pergamon Museum and filled with treasures from empires past. Often, the visitors say the art is probably better off in Berlin because so much in Syria has been destroyed by the war and the Islamic State, Ms. Masoud said.

Other times, the tours bring up raw memories for visitors who have arrived in the last three months. At a painted marble wall niche from a house in Damascus that dates to the 15th and 16th century and was inhabited by Samaritans, a Christian minority, “some people want to cry,” Ms. Masoud said. “When they see the colors and the shapes, they get chills.”

Ms. Masoud is not a refugee — she grew up in Damascus, a child of Syrian and Lebanese parents, and moved to Europe to study in 2010, before Syria fell into civil war. She is one of 19 guides — 18 from Syria and one from Iraq — who are part of a program, called Multaka, or “meeting point” in Arabic, which began in December and is aimed at training refugees to become museum guides. [Continue reading…]


Report spells out dangers of killer robots

The New York Times reports: A new report written by a former Pentagon official who helped establish United States policy on autonomous weapons argues that such weapons could be uncontrollable in real-world environments where they are subject to design failure as well as hacking, spoofing and manipulation by adversaries.

In recent years, low-cost sensors and new artificial intelligence technologies have made it increasingly practical to design weapons systems that make killing decisions without human intervention. The specter of so-called killer robots has touched off an international protest movement and a debate within the United Nations about limiting the development and deployment of such systems.

The new report was written by Paul Scharre, who directs a program on the future of warfare at the Center for a New American Security, a policy research group in Washington, D.C. From 2008 to 2013, Mr. Scharre worked in the office of the Secretary of Defense, where he helped establish United States policy on unmanned and autonomous weapons. He was one of the authors of a 2012 Defense Department directive that set military policy on the use of such systems. [Continue reading…]


Tech companies are eating journalists’ lunch. Shouldn’t they at least pay for it?

Richard Jones, University of Huddersfield

Journalism is in an existential crisis: revenue to news organisations has fallen off a cliff over the past two decades and no clear business model is emerging to sustain news in the digital era.

In the latest in our series on business models for the news media, Richard Jones asks whether tech companies that benefit from journalism should pay a levy to help sustain it.

Twitter was once described as the most significant innovation in journalism since the telephone. More than three quarters of journalists in the UK use it to gather stories, promote their own work and keep up with what’s going on.

But Twitter is in trouble. User growth slows every quarter, and is flat in the US. Squished between Facebook, Google and Apple, and under pressure to do more to tackle abuse, Twitter has lost some of its sparkle, not least to Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp.

Now back at the helm of the company he co-founded, Jack Dorsey recently signalled that Twitter’s most famous feature – the 140-character limit – might soon be lifted.

[Read more…]


Music: Accordion Tribe — ‘Netzwerk’


If you hate your own government then the crimes of dictators who it vilifies become easy to excuse

Idrees Ahmad writes: On Sunday, when one of Hollywood’s most politically active and humane figures weighed in to condemn the media for “misleading the public on Syria”, one could only welcome the intervention.

Except, Mark Ruffalo, the Oscar-nominated star of Spotlight, was not indicting the media for failing the people of Syria; he was condemning it for being insufficiently sympathetic to the regime and Russia. He was recommending to his 2.23 million Twitter followers an article by Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer in which he alleges that the “American press is reporting the opposite of what is actually happening”; that it unfairly describes everything Russia and Iran do as “negative and destabilizing”; and it fails to report that in the Assad regime and Russia’s assault on Aleppo, its inhabitants are “finally see[ing] glimmers of hope”. Kinzer’s basis for these claims? A comment “on social media” and the opinion of a “Beirut-based analyst” (in reality a pro-Hizbullah activist who is a contributor to the Russian news outlet RT and the Iranian supreme leader’s personal news site).

To compensate for its fact deficit, Kinzer liberally sprinkles his article with straw men. He claims that journalists are misleading the public by describing Jabhat al-Nusra, as “moderates,” not as “the local al-Qaeda franchise”. As a matter of fact, no one refers to Nusra as “moderates”, and a Nexis search of major newspapers reveals virtually no article that doesn’t refer to it without mentioning its al-Qaeda affiliation.

This article was a sequel to another, published three days after Russia started a series of attacks on MSF-run hospitals, which was boldly titled: “On Syria: Thank you, Russia!” In it Kinzer prescribed that “Russia’s policy should be ours: prevent the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s government, craft a new regime that would include Assad or his supporters, and then work for a cease-fire.” However, to accede to the opposition’s demand for a cease-fire, he insisted, would be to “guarantee continued war”. In a subsequent TV interview, Kinzer lauded the foreign policy wisdom of Donald Trump. (Similar sentiments have also been expressed by his Irish counterpart, Patrick Cockburn of The Independent).

Ruffalo wasn’t the only one promoting this nonsense. Beyond the agoraphobic netherworld of internet conspiracists, it was also warmly received by bestselling authors, Daily Show producers, liberal academics, Pulitzer Prize-winners, and think-tankers.

Why do bien pensant liberals like Ruffalo fall for such dross? Ideological blinkers? Or has dissent become all about aesthetics? It seems at any given moment maintaining an adversarial posture is more important than substantive engagement with an issue. Why bother with details when one can derive them from general principles? And if the reality of an issue contradicts one’s preconceived notions, then reality itself must be brought into question. Shooting the messenger is always a reliable option. But dressed up as criticism of “the mainstream media”, “the establishment”, or “Washington”, even a full-throated defence of fascism acquires the sheen of fearless truth-telling.

There are few things more commonplace than an Oedipal disdain for one’s own government. In this solipsistic worldview, one has no need to understand the dynamics of a foreign crisis; they can be deduced remotely. If you hate your own government then, by virtue of being in its bad books, a Putin or an Assad becomes an ally. [Continue reading…]


Air strikes hit six towns in Syria’s Aleppo day after truce, monitor

Reuters reports: War planes attacked six towns in Syria’s northern Aleppo province early on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, a day after a cessation of hostilities agreement took effect.

Syrian insurgents said the air strikes were carried out by Russian war planes in support of Syria’s government, but the Observatory which monitors the conflict said the identity of the jets was not clear.

“We do not know which planes carried out the strikes and also we are not sure if this is considered a breach to the truce because it is not clear if these towns are included in the truce,” the Observatory’s director Rami Abdulrahman said.

Syria’s state media did not mention the strikes. Russia’s defense ministry declined to comment. [Continue reading…]

Huffington Post asked Joshua Landis: Could this limited ceasefire be a first step towards a future peace deal?

I doubt it. Russia and Syria are committed to reconquering all of Syria. So far Putin doesn’t seem to show any signs of losing interest in Syria or getting stuck in a quagmire.

I think this momentary pause is first and foremost to demonstrate that America is doing something. There’s tremendous pressure on the United States. This is both for humanitarian reasons — as Russia bombs hospitals and a tide of humanity pushes up against the Turkish border — and because [President Barack] Obama needs to do something to smooth the feathers of our traditional allies, like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who are apoplectic and accuse the U.S. of abandoning them.

I think Obama told the Russians: Give us a ceasefire, even if it’s a limited one for short duration, because I’ve got to take something home. And this is what the Russians have come up with. But obviously Assad is very interested in pressing his advantage right now — he has the rebels on the run. The Syrian regime’s objective is to shut off the rebels’ supply chain to the Turkish border, and the more truces they sign, the longer they have to linger and wait. [Continue reading…]

Track ceasefire violations at Syria Ceasefire Monitor.


The Arab world and the West: A shared destiny

Jean-Pierre Filiu discusses his book, Les Arabes, leur destin et le nôtre, which aims to shed light on struggles in the Arab World today by exploring the entwined histories of the Arab World and the West, starting with Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt in 1798, through military expeditions and brutal colonial regimes, broken promises and diplomatic maneuvers, support for dictatorial regimes, and the discovery of oil riches. He also discusses the “Arab Enlightenment” of the 19th Century and the history of democratic struggles and social revolts in the Arab world, often repressed.

Filiu is also the author of From Deep State to Islamic State: The Arab Counter-Revolution and its Jihadi Legacy, “an invaluable contribution to understanding the murky world of the Arab security regimes.”