Category Archives: North America

CIA Russia hacking report, Twitter Sarcasm and the Prospects of Russia-U.S. Relations

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By Aleksandra Serebriakova, a 3rd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a strong interest in post-Soviet Union space and Russia in particular.

On the 6th January the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the unclassified report that openly accused Russia of interfering in the U.S. presidential elections. The report argued that findings were based on the “understanding of Russian behavior” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order” and preconditioned by Russia’s “clear preference for President-elect Trump”, but nevertheless did not argue that hacking affected the election results.

The whole language of the Report was supported by the logic of ‘judgements’ rather than hard evidence through analyses of the CIA and two other agencies (FBA and NASA). This absence of strong evidence was explained by inability to “reveal sensitive sources or methods and imperil the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future”. Thus, the Report has stated that the campaign to undermine U.S. presidential elections was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin who wanted to “denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency”. What is more, Russia’s military intelligence agency and its Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) has been accused for directing the hacks into the emails of Democratic Party officials and released them with a help of Guccifer 2.0 hacker through Wikileaks and DCLeaks.com beginning in March 2016. Notwithstanding the fact that this kind of reporting would be ridiculous in any other democratic country, as it would confirm that administration itself had a “clear preference” for the Presidential candidate ignoring the desires of its own population, two interesting points can be picked up from this Report: U.S. open advertising of ‘Russia Today’s’ (RT) ability to influence American population and reaction of Russia’s officials to these findings that has often been sarcastic and undiplomatic.

Firstly, due to inability to provide strong evidence the Report had to explain Russia’s alleged influence through its ‘covert intelligence operations’ and ‘over propaganda efforts’ with a help of Russian Government agencies, paid social media users (internet ‘trolls’) and state-funded media, with RT and Sputnik news outlets being examples of this ‘propaganda machine’. Seven pages of unclassified version of the Report were devoted to assessing RT America TV’s activities in relation to “undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest”. Without profoundly discussing RT’s efforts to meddle in the current election and only briefly touching upon its ‘negative’ portrayal of Hilary Clinton and open support for Donald Trump, the short Report devotes a substantial part to the discussion of the channels attempts to “fuel political protests” during Occupy Wall Street movement and rise criticism on the U.S. economic and political systems. Overall, the Report presents RT America as some kind of international criminal syndicate with enormous power and financial connection to Russian Government. The argument that “RT recently was the most-watched foreign news channel in the UK” and the tables of comparison that present this channel as the most popular on YouTube out of foreign broadcasting companies (image 1) has caused a stream of comments and jokes from the Russian officials.

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Image 1: Comparative Tables from ODNI Report, Appex A

Thus, the Russian Embassy in London claimed that the Report findings have been the best advertising for RT (image 2). Indeed, RT preferences for Trump were clear from the start but how can the coverage of one channel that has a clear connection to the foreign government be argued to have such an enormous power to indirectly influence election process in a sovereign country? While RT should definitely be grateful to this Report for its promotion, we still should be willing to get some more evidence in support for the existing accusations. Otherwise, it all too sounds more as a Cold War scare.

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Image 2: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is more, the reactions of Russia’s officials to this Report were not at all surprising. Seen as another groundless attempt to discriminate Russia in the eyes of international community following the traditions of doping scandal and McLaren report, CIA report was met with sarcastic comments from Russian officials. Thus, Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary of Putin, called the accusations on Russia’s involvement in hacking a “witch hunt” and said that Obama’s administration is “behaving like an elephant in china shop”; while Maria Zakharova, a Director of the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Obama’s team in Facebook “a group of foreign policy losers, anxious and short-sighted”. At the same time, Russian Embassy in the UK called the Report a “pathetic attempt at tainting American’s vote by innuendo coached in Intel new-speak” (image 3) but also posted a bunch of memes in Twitter mocking the Report and Obama administration for its efforts to unleash the Cold War.

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Image 3: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is so telling about such an active engagement of Russian officials with Twitter and Facebook in such an ‘undiplomatic’ way? In 2015 Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin have argued that Russia was one of the most successful countries to accommodate the chaotic dynamic of social media and user-led content that for some time upset policy-makers ability to influence and control information. In particular, they argued that Russia was successful in “arresting the mainstream media” through its engagement with Twitter, Facebook and VK by allowing only certain parts of the conflict, such as the one in Ukraine, to be visible and framed in a certain way. Russia’s open engagement with social media allows mediatization of conflicts and disagreements and is trying to be especially proactive in promoting its own definitions of how certain disagreements should be seen and which side should be blamed for their existence (well, definitely not Russian). The Twitter and Facebook comments of Russian officials on hacking claims has signified a change in the platform for diplomatic exchanges and showed how influential it might be for promoting a particular view especially when sarcasm, the competition of memes and social media logic of shareability are present.

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Image 4: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 29th December 2016

All of these raise a question over the prospects of future Russia-U.S. relations. While during the last press-conference Barak Obama called Russia “a smaller and weaker country”, which nevertheless was able to meddle with the U.S. elections through hacking processes, new sanctions against Russian officials and diplomats summed up the last two years of Obama’s administration unsuccessful politics towards Russia. At the same time, Trump’s position over Russian involvement into the election process was ambiguous. While his Twitter praised Putin’s decision not to expel the U.S. diplomats in reciprocal measures by tweeting that he always knew that Putin was very smart, at the same time condemning findings of the hacking report, his positions somehow changed after few days when he actually agreed that the hacking took place, but due to the “gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee” that would never happen again when he becomes the president. Russian press such as independent Novaya Gazeta news outlet has suggested that such change in the rhetoric is occurring mainly due to the pressures Trump is experiencing from his own Republican party and other officials that take hacking report seriously and do not share his admiration for Putin. Overall, it is clear that unpredictability of the next American president and the pressures he will be experiencing in the White House might force him to completely change the rhetoric in a more anti-Putin and anti-Russian way that will definitely be followed by reciprocal tweets and Facebook posts from Russian officials in even more sarcastic manner.

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Culture Counts

Benjamin Nielsen is a conservative student at the Department of War Studies. His academic interests include diplomacy, the history of European international relations, comparative European politics, and Western philosophy.

 

churchill.jpegWhen the United Kingdom, in June, decided to leave the European Union, most of my teachers and fellow students reacted with a mixture of bewilderment and anger. “How can more than 17 million people find the European Union so repulsive?”

When the American people, last Tuesday, elected Donald John Trump as the next president of the United States, the anger and bewilderment among teachers and fellow students returned with even greater force. “What makes more than 59 million Americans vote for this racist, sexist, homophobic person?” (Apart from the prospect of getting to see more of his incredibly beautiful and elegant wife, obviously).

Baffled and visibly disgusted by the outcomes of the EU referendum and the US election, students and teachers are now searching for explanations as to how all this could happen. But where should we start? In the unreadable, empty and fatuous writings of Foucault? In the pseudo-scientific scholarship of Saïd? Do we start with a bit of Gramscian nonsence? Or just the blatant drivel of Deleuze? Surely, these neo-marxist turtlenecks would tell us that it’s all about the bourgeosie versus the suppressed workers. Not surprisingly, some ‘intellectuals’ have already framed the election of Trump in terms of class politics.[1]

The only problem with this explanation is that neither Brexit nor the election of Trump have much to do with economic circumstances or inequality. As Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, Erik Kaufmann, clearly illustrates the far most important issue for both Brexiteers and Trump voters was/is immigration. In order words, Trump-voters and Brexiteers are primarily people who first and foremost prioritize cultural continuity and reject fundamental socio-ethnic change. The real explanation for Brexit and the election of Trump is thus to be found in the realm of culture.

How do we respond to this “anti-immigrant movement of exclusion” which now includes if not the majority then a very significant and ever increasing part of the Western population? Well, being a student in this day and age, I’ve come to learn some of the most typical solutions:

1: We could arrange a ‘Tolerance and Anti-racist protest march” in Shoreditch during which we will shout abuse at people who don’t have the same opinion as us.

2: We could try and make #fuckPatriotism trending on social media.

3: We could write another angry facebook-rant about neoliberalism. Or Bush. Or Blair. Or Israel.

4: We could all gather in an organic coffee shop in Soho and write a blog on hetero-normativity, stereotypes and structural sexism while we eat gluten-free avocado wraps and listen to 84 hours of non-stop Tracy Chapman.

5: We could arrange a panel “discussion” – of course only with participants we agree with.

Are any of the 5 solutions above useful? Of course not. But maybe they can give you an idea of why the liberal-left is about to become even more disliked than Piers Morgan.

The only real solution is for all – including the most unworldly parts of academia – to accept and acknowledge that culture counts. In every nation-state, there will come a point where the uncontrolled influx of immigrants and the continuous breakdown of traditional norms and values will begin to threaten the very foundation of the nation – the shared cultural identity and heritage among its citizens. And the first people to feel this threat are the ordinary men and women who live normal lives. This is not an extreme nationalist theory – it’s a moderate conservative observation. Until the established political parties in the Western world begin to value, protect and acknowledge their nations’ cultural basis, more and more people will see no other option than voting for otherwise extreme and unappealing persons like Trump and Le Pen.

[1] See e.g. http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-fall-of-the-unions-paved-the-way-for-donald-trump-1478886094 or https://twitter.com/JohnBew/status/796296245849497600

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Black and Blue: Repairing the Bruised Relationship Between the Police and African-Americans in America

by Derek Eggleston, a second year International Relations student. He is currently interning on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and focuses on U.S. Foreign Policy. Connect at https://www.linkedin.com/in/derekeggleston

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As an African-American student in Europe, I am always asked about the apparent racial animus that permeates news from my country. Experiencing the recent events from a place of juxtaposition—one who fiercely loves his country but as a black person is painfully aware of its shortcomings—I have been forced to reconcile what I see on the news with the supposed ideals of liberty and equality that America has stood for. These seemingly contradictory ideals can be reconciled, however, if we take the time to listen and articulate a path forward. This article will first outline some of the problems with the legal system before analysing the shortcomings of movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) before discussing a possible framework for the advancement of civil rights in the U.S.

Time and time again, the black community is thrown into mourning. Whether it is over to the countless lives lost in urban America centres like Chicago, or the lives lost to those meant to be serving and protecting us, our present is not hopeless but is to an extent the continuation of the plight we have lived through in America’s history. The personal experiences of racism I have encountered as well as the extreme rates of poverty, incarceration, and police brutality appear to paint a bleak picture for a society founded upon its ideals of inclusiveness and liberty for all.

How is this allowed in the U.S. justice system? The answer is that laws are largely based on perception—the cop’s perception, that is. The cop’s perception of danger—substantiated or not—is, in the current legal system, a legitimate defense to avoid prosecution in many instances [1]. However, perception is clearly an arbitrary concept that is open to bias: “When almost 90 percent of white people in America who take the Implicit Association Test show an inherent racial bias for white people versus black people, that means something” [2]. These numbers make it very plausible that when a cop performs his routine duties, interactions with black citizens will be perceived as more threatening than they may be. This perception is then accepted as a legal defense. Effectively, racial bias is indirectly accepted as a legal vindication of the actions of cops.

The other issue is that of proportionate responses—or, the lack thereof. This one is not just a legal issue, but is a mindset one as well. In an international student orientation event with the UK police, one key thing we were told about all interactions with others and the cops is that the response must be proportionate. Seems reasonable, right? In the minds of many in the U.S. regarding cop interactions, this does not exist. Whenever a black man is gunned down there seems to be this false dichotomy that we must determine whether he was completely innocent or guilty and these are black and white. In some instances, such as Philando Castile, the court of public opinion decides he did absolutely nothing wrong therefore did not deserve his fate. However, in other situations people look at the smallest shortcoming as justification for brutality. In response to Mike Brown people said, “He may have stolen a cigar, he should have been following the law”. For Walter Scott people said, “He shouldn’t have run from the cop and should have complied”. And for Laquan McDonald, they say, “He shouldn’t have had a knife”. I am sorry, but since when did theft, running away, or simple possession of a knife warrant the death penalty? Common discourse is seriously flawed and needs to discover a sense of respect for proportionate responses. These scenarios are not black or white where either the suspect is innocent or deserves to die. There are many shades of grey in-between the two, which justly represent a way to deal with black Americans who are doing something they should not be—other than unloading a gun into their body.

These are the problems, so why don’t we fix them? The answer is, we are trying, but not doing so effectively. The problem has to do with the structuring of society which allows for innate biases to permeate society so greatly that they can be present in numbers at 90%+ and can give way to legal justification of murder. However, to combat this, movements have largely gotten it wrong. There are plenty of motivated, brilliant, loving members of BLM who want to see a better future. I myself support the movement in theory: Black Lives Matter and the way our society is structured does not always recognise this fact. However, the movement gets it wrong on many fronts. First off, we must ask: why do so many people disagree with BLM or respond with ‘all lives matter’? People believe the movement is a collection of angry individuals with no end goal in sight, a guise for anti-cop hatred. In the 1960’s extremist groups such as the Black Panthers existed but were not able to drown out the peaceful and just cause of civil rights under Dr. King, so why today is it that concern over the extreme, anti-cop wings of the movement have over-shadowed the legitimate calls to action by millions of sane minorities with legitimate grievances? The movement lacks: moments, leadership, and end goals. Dr. King shook the nation and mankind when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and proclaimed to the world his dream of equality. Moments like this and leadership which relentlessly worked with government ultimately manifested itself in clear end goals: most notably The Civil Rights Act of 1964. Who is that voice today for BLM? Who will step up and take a place in the halls of history to firmly proclaim and echo the sentiments of famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison that we will not equivocate a single inch until equality is recognised? Leadership in BLM is unorganised at best and, furthermore, there is a refusal on the part of many to engage with mainstream institutions. Advancement for our people in history has not come through shying away from the mainstream institutions we perceive to be the oppressor but rather through direct engagement with these institutions. BLM cannot turn its back on law enforcement and politicians if it is to achieve any of the goals it claims to have.

Then what is the way forward when the country has a clear racial bias, and those on the wrong end of this stick have been failed by the movements of social change which seek to rectify their oppression? First off, clear reform is necessary. Cops have a hard job and a dangerous one. As Obama noted recently, the fear blue families have for their loved ones is not dissimilar to the fear black mothers and fathers feel when their teenage son goes out at night. However, the danger of the job should not be a justification for a legal system based on perception. Furthermore, the perception in the first place needs to change, 90% of Americans should not hold intrinsic bias against African Americans. If those numbers exist, how can we get fair treatment when applying for a job or putting our hands on a cop car? However, this bias cannot be dealt with until it is accepted. People stipulate we have come a long way, but this should not be a catalyst for stagnation. We came a long way from 1860 to 1960 but it did not justify Jim Crow laws. We have come a long way from 1960 to 2016 but it does not justify the bias and discrimination our data trends indicate. We must accept this bias to combat it structurally. Furthermore to accept it people have to believe that the message of change isn’t an extreme, Panther-like one but is a peaceful, King-like one. To do this BLM and similar groups must organise and take centre stage. Make clear your demands and demand them.

America has come a long way in 240 years. Nothing worth fighting for in its history has ever been achieved through abandoning the principles which make us American. The founders wrongfully left out many groups of the civil society they created; however, it was the methodology employed by the founders which could be used as a framework to later expand these rights, that they wrongfully limited, to new groups [3]. Citing the Constitution, loving American ideals and engaging with society is how suffragettes got women the vote, abolitionists got freedom and civil rights supporters got legal recognition. We must embrace these things ingrained in who we are and the foundations of our institutions. We must engage with society around us and not isolate ourselves. We must be forceful, persistent, and not equivocate a single inch in order to heal the bruises that plague America today and the bruises that have plagued us African Americans for so long.

Sources:

[1]Goldstein, Joseph. “Is a Police Shooting a Crime? It Depends on the Officer’s Point of View.” The New York Times. July 28, 2016. Accessed August 06, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/nyregion/is-a-police-shooting-a-crime-it-depends-on-the-officers-point-of-view.html?_r=0.

[2] Nesbit, Jeff. “America Has a Big Race Problem.” US News. March 28, 2016. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-03-28/america-has-a-big-race-problem.

[3] Stein, Jeff. “The American Revolution Was a Huge Victory for Equality. Liberals Should Celebrate It.” Vox. July 03, 2016. Accessed August 02, 2016. http://www.vox.com/2016/7/3/12062334/american-revolution-liberals.

 

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A Pyrrhic Victory on Syria’s Diplomatic Front

by Lincoln Pigman, a student of War Studies at King’s College London and an organising member of KCL MENA Forum.

 

Nine months after Russia took the West aback with its entry into the Syrian conflict, the United States finally changed its tune, proposing an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Russia: coordinated attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the grounding of Syria’s air force. The offer, it seems, has been received warmly. Some in the West will welcome U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria, including prominent scholars and former U.S. diplomats. However, Washington’s reversal may prove counterproductive and even disastrous.

 

 

Committed to ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration long maintained a position of disapproval, condemning Russia’s contribution to the refugee crisis and accusing it of ‘directly enabling’ Islamic State. Given the notable decline in refugee arrivals to the E.U. since December, the former may no longer hold true, while the latter is challenged by Professor Max Abrahms of Northeastern University. In Abrahms’ view, which he shared in private correspondence, that ‘unoriginal and never documented’ accusation reflects an ‘ideological’ refusal to acknowledge ‘Russian contributions against Islamic State.’ Even so, other objections to Russia’s conduct in Syria remain valid, and give cause for reconsideration of closer ties.

 

One of the most obvious is Russia’s unfaltering deception. The Kremlin’s main lie concerns the aim of its intervention. Although coalition voices quickly realised that Russia’s principal target in Syria was the opposition, not Islamic State, Russia continued to state otherwise. In October 2015, Sergei Ivanov, chief of Russia’s presidential administration, promised that Russia was simply ensuring that ‘no ISIL members were left to travel to Russia, and that all fighters would end up lying in the ground in Syria.’ Crucially, Ivanov neglected to mention which fighters.

 

Five months later, Putin unexpectedly declared Russia’s withdrawal from Syria. Since then, Russian involvement in Syria has expanded from air strikes to special operations and demining efforts, while reported Russian casualties near Palmyra and Raqqa point to increased ground presence. Russia’s tireless disinformation efforts, always accompanied by calls for U.S.-Russian cooperation, offer no grounds for trusting Putin to enforce the stillborn cessation of hostilities or pressure the Assad regime to ground its air force. (That the proposed agreement mentions no compliance mechanisms makes Russian non-compliance even more likely.)

 

Two grave problems doom such a demand. The first is the condition of Russian ‘pressure’ on Assad. Rather than insist that Moscow force Damascus to stop targeting rebels, making clear that only an end to attacks on the opposition can satisfy the agreement, the proposal’s language is moderated to such an extent that Russia could feasibly do nothing and claim that it had. Mere pressure does not equal success in bringing Assad to heel, and can amount to nothing more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist should Assad persist in his suppression of the opposition. Unless the U.S. operationalises pressure, specifying what forms it is to take, it may as well abandon the condition altogether.

 

Worse still, it is possible that ‘pressure the Assad regime’ is all that Moscow can do, making the U.S.’ demand impossible to satisfy. Some Syria commentators question whether Russia truly dictates developments on the ground, dubbing it Assad’s ‘hostage.’ A growing consensus admits that Russia seeks a diplomatic resolution to the conflict: one preserving Syria’s current government institutions but not necessarily Assad himself, as reasoned by the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund. Now emboldened by Russia’s decisive intervention, Assad clearly refuses to accommodate Russia’s diplomacy and its post-conflict plans for Syria, violating the cessation of hostilities in April 2016 and defiantly insisting on retaking ‘every inch’ of Syria in June 2016. Both positions reflect maximalist goals and a rejection of Russia’s relatively limited objectives, an intransigence that would surely apply to demands that Assad cease targeting rebels.

 

The demand’s second flaw lies in its identification of roles in Syria. By exclusively attributing complicity in the targeting of rebels to Assad, the U.S. tacitly denies Russia’s role in bombarding the opposition. According to Airwars, a project that consults open source intelligence to map the impact of air strikes in Iraq and Syria, Russian air strikes have inflicted up to 5,686 civilian casualties as of July 4th. Russia maximises the lethality of its air strikes by targeting densely populated areas and hospitals, and using incendiary munitions: weapons whose use against and around civilians is prohibited by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Russia is a signatory. The portrait of the war painted by Washington erases these casualties, and enables Russia to continue attacking rebel groups and non-combatants alike with impunity. U.S. silence legitimises Russia’s many transgressions, and is irreconcilable with a purported concern for Syrians’ welfare and advocacy of a rules-based international order.

 

In light of Russia’s disregard for collateral damage, Syrians will inevitably see U.S. support for Russia’s intervention as a betrayal. The first such betrayal, Obama’s failure to enforce his ‘red line’ after the sarin gas attacks of August 2013, ‘boosted Islamists … devastated the credibility of [opposition] officials who had tried to work with the West,’ and conveyed a clear message to Syrians: ‘No one’s coming to save you, not in any circumstances,’ writes Robin Yassin-Kassab in Burning Country. Similarly, today, supporting a belligerent viewed as ‘a colonial invader,’ Yassin-Kassab remarked over email, would consolidate the U.S.’ image as ‘another imperialist supporter of the regime which is tormenting [Syrians].’ Any peacemaking legitimacy possessed by Washington would forever vanish, in no small part thanks to its main concession to Russia: coordinated air strikes against al-Qaeda affiliate and anti-government militia Jabhat al-Nusra.

 

Although Russia and the U.S. both list the Islamist Nusra as a terrorist organisation, the intensity with which the two intervening powers attack it has differed greatly, creating a conflict of interests best highlighted by vocal complaints from Moscow. The U.S.’ new proposal to bilaterally coordinate air strikes against the organisation could be aimed at narrowing the diplomatic chasm between Russia and itself. Alternatively, its rationale could be restoring coherence to the U.S.’ position as an enemy of terrorism, removing all doubt by visibly targeting Nusra.

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However, a policy of partnership is unlikely to improve diplomatic relations with Russia. Despite Russia’s stated interest in continuing bilateral cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, no peripheral concession can resolve the fundamental disagreement over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which will continue to define U.S.-Russian relations until a consensus on the future of Ukraine’s security is reached. Coordinated air operations in Syria alone cannot cancel out the diplomatic hurt caused by years of sanctions, and are near useless as a diplomatic bargaining tool.

 

Nor will the proposed U.S.-Russian partnership advance Washington’s fight against terrorism. In fact, attacking Nusra with Moscow could prove completely counterproductive. Those suspecting the U.S. and Russia – widely viewed as having appeased Iran’s nuclear programme and given it free rein in Iraq and Syria – in backing the Shia side of a perceived geopolitical-sectarian confrontation are likely to see joint attacks on the Sunni Nusra as yet another sign of a seemingly pro-Shia Western agenda. Consequently, ‘many … who previously tolerated Nusra for pragmatic reasons … will become more sympathetic to the group and its ideology,’ warns Yassin-Kassab, adding that ‘the U.S.-Russian coalition will undoubtedly provide a boost to Nusra’s recruitment and help it to embed more deeply in Syrian society.’ At the tactical level, striking Nusra only to bolster it is a waste of military resources. However, at the strategic level, transforming an actor in Syria so powerful that it currently controls entire swaths of territory is reckless. In the succinct words of Yassin-Kassab, it threatens to ‘greatly influence the future trajectory of violent jihadism on a global level.’

 

The proposed U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria brings to mind a number of outcomes. These include Russia duping the U.S.; Assad continuing his attack on the opposition; legitimisation of Russia’s transgressions; discrediting of the U.S. among anti-regime Syrians; and empowerment of Jabhat al-Nusra. Pursuing a military victory against the al-Qaeda affiliate without considering the partnership’s political ramifications reflects nothing less than the absence of a U.S. strategy in Syria.

 

If the U.S. is to work with Russia at all, it should focus on securing the Kremlin’s assistance in combating Islamic State, a peripheral matter to Russia, rather than make concessions on the vital interest that is the Syrian opposition—especially if there is no visible benefit in doing so. As Islamic State greets ‘the beginning of the end,’ weakened by over seven hundred days of coalition bombardment, the U.S. should not court disaster by entering into counterproductive unions. The future of Syria demands it.

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The 2nd amendment isn’t going anywhere

Carly Greenfield is a Second year International Relations student in the War Studies department at King’s College London. Her main interests center around conflict resolution and corruption, with a special focus on the Americas.

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Amendment II: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[1]

            No mass shooting in our time will end the American people’s’ freedom to possess firearms. This is not a radical opinion: while our European peers may balk at a citizen’s ability to buy a gun, it is ingrained in American history that an individual has the right to protect themselves, likely from the state itself. There are multiple reasons for keeping this right in place, but in my mind, the way to understand our 2nd amendment is through the history of the formation of the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a lobbying group, and the American culture of individual freedoms.

           The right to bear arms is included in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights spells out the first 10 amendments to the American constitution, and was necessary to the constitution being passed. They encompass the freedoms that each American citizen has and that the government cannot condemn. Of course, each amendment has limitations, but overall, they are not to be heavily doctored. For instance, within this same bill exists the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and to a “speedy and fair trial.”

            After the Revolutionary War, the American colonies were wary of a strong central government and the Bill of Rights was a way to limit Federal power over individual states. It is important to remember that the United States did not form like other countries did: each state still had vast influence over its own territory and the federal government was rather weak, especially compared to European states. There were even arguments held over having a central bank or a federal debt. This history affects present day gun legislation because it means that most gun laws are decided at the state level.

          Gun laws vary drastically from state to state, and in Florida, where the deadliest mass shooting in history recently occurred, buying a gun is not made difficult. According to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), there is no permit or registration necessary to purchase a rifle, shotgun, or handgun.[2] While there is a permit to carry and a 3-day waiting period installed to buy a handgun, and background checks are installed for every firearm purchase, an AR-15 style rifle used in the Pulse shooting in Orlando can be purchased the same day as the handgun. This is exactly what the shooter did, and he passed Florida’s background checks.[3]

         Even though Omar Mateen, the shooter, had been interviewed on three different occasions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), no charges were brought against him and therefore he was still allowed to purchase the guns.[4] Because the right to bear arms is seen as a civil liberty protected through the Bill of Rights, Mateen could not be denied his rights without any proof or through the American judicial process. If we believe the right to bear arms is an individual freedom that must not be infringed upon, then we cannot ask the FBI to only infringe upon the rights of those they consider terrorists. Americans do not have access to the FBI terror watch list, they do not know how they end up on the list or are removed from it, and do not face a jury of their peers to confirm their guilt. Due to the usurping of the judicial process, the legislative branch of the federal government, mainly Republicans in Congress, have refused to give the federal government the power to block gun sales to potential terrorists.

          The NRA plays a heavy hand in this. The lobbying group has over 5 million members and boasts a strong financial wing to both combat anti-firearm politicians and donate money to campaigns that will further their cause. This has led to congressmen receiving millions in donations from the NRA to keep gun laws loose. They are against any type of national firearm registry, for fear of something similar to the Nazi Germany seizing of guns, and believe that terrorists and ‘bad guys’ will get a hold of guns whether the government wants them to or not, so limiting gun sales only hurts legally abiding citizens who want to protect themselves. The amount of money that the NRA can spend influencing politicians is unlimited, according to the Supreme Court.

         In 2010, the Supreme Court decided on Citizens United v. Fec, which gave corporations the right to act as people; a corporation can donate as much money as they want to any given cause under its ‘personal freedoms.’[5] This allows the NRA to put on millions in contributions along with target ads against certain congressmen and women that are seen as trying to limit the scope of the 2nd amendment.

       Finally, the 2nd amendment will not be abolished because of American culture: it is focused on the freedom of the individual citizen and not of the collective. While this oftentimes infringes upon the civil liberties of minority groups like African-Americans and the LGBT+ community, America at large has yet to pull away from this ideal. Our country has about as many guns as people, both over the 300 million threshold.[6] The infamous ‘Don’t tread on me’ flag, pictured below, has been held hostage by the Tea Party in recent years but represents a wider swath of the American public: there is general distrust of the federal government and individual freedoms are not to be infringed upon, which includes a citizen’s right to own a firearm.

        This culture is changing, of course, as more and more people call for gun control legislation after the onslaught of mass shootings in recent years, but we have to ask the question: is the death of 49 people in a gay club like Pulse really going to change it? Why not 27 six and seven year olds at Sandy-Hook in 2012? Why not 32 college kids at Virginia Tech in 2007? What makes this shooting different?

      In truth, it is not so different when only looking at the guns. It is a hate crime, similar to the shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina just last year, but the gun culture will not change so rapidly. The continued calls for more guns versus less guns has only further polarized the gun debate, and partisan politics has never been a stepping stone for radical change. The largest mass shooting in American history will not lead to an abolishment of the 2nd amendment: we have yet to even limit the sale of semi-automatics. Baby steps, America.

 

 

[1] http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

[2] https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/florida/

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36522570

[4] http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/orlando-terrorism-fbi-omar-mateen-213971

[5] https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-205.ZS.html

[6] http://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers

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Dear Hillary

by Jackson Webster, a Los Angeles native, currently in his final year of International Relations in the King’s College London Department of War Studies.

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Dear Hillary,

 

Congratulations. The Democratic nomination is all but yours, and the GOP faces an existential crisis which has caused its voters to choose a loud-mouthed human toupee as their nominee. You’re likely to take the reigns of power next January, and then it’ll be out with the campaigning and in with the governing. Here’s a few humble observations from yours truly about our broken yet salvageable national security strategy and how best to fix it. Let’s get down to business.

 

  1. Ok, so here’s what you have to do:
    1. maintain American pre-eminence through cooperation with new mid-level allies,
    2. establish connectivity with the global economy as our top national security priority,
    3. use of American military power to back the norms of the liberal world order when institutions fail to do so.
  2. And here’s why:
    1. unquestioned US dominance is fading, and this power is transferring to mid-level states,
    2. the global economy is increasingly interconnected,
    3. hundreds of thousands have died in Syria and territory has been annexed by force in Ukraine, and the UN Security Council has done essentially nothing about it.

 

OUR NEW PARTNERS

 

The unipolar global system created at the end of the Cold War, where the US’ power stood unchallenged, is no longer a realistic worldview upon which to base our strategy in the 21st century. Equally, American strategy has been bastardized over the past two decades into dealing with old rivals and old allies. We’d best heed Washington’s warnings against unconditional alliances, and revaluate the costs and benefits of our partnerships. Moreover, we have become distracted by threats which do not pose serious existential danger to the US or its interests, such as locally-focused religious extremism in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. We have dangerously overplayed the importance of combating terrorism. This calculus must change to recognize the dynamic nature of power distribution in the 21st century.

 

American power projection is based in strong alliances backed up by material assistance. The US can be a regional kingmaker. This power is unique in political history. This ability of US patronage was used to create the regional powers of West Germany, Japan, and Israel during the Cold War. The US must be prepared once again to double-down on mid-level allies in this century, though the allies we must court differ from those of the last century. Such states include Poland, Turkey, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Argentina. Each of these states faces serious internal issues which would be best combatted with our assistance. Patronage for Poland can be used as leverage over the current government, which has spent its time in office thus far flouting the rule-of-law. Turkey faces a serious separatist and terrorist threat in its Kurdish southeast. Malaysia faces slow growth from falling oil prices and multiple regional refugee crises. Mexico is fighting well-armed and well-financed drug cartels. Nigeria faces an Islamist insurgency in its northern provinces, with spillover effects into the territories of other US partners like Mali and Chad. Argentina continues to face serious national debt problems. All these countries need assistance, and with our patronage comes an integration of American interests with these states’ interests. Through our aid, and through closer cooperation and inclusion in the liberal international order, we can ensure these states’ partnership for decades to come, just as Marshall reconstruction at the end of the Second World War solidified US partnerships with West Germany and with our East Asian allies.

 

While Russia has previously presented a geopolitical challenge to the US, and Moscow has successfully countered our interests in Syria and Ukraine, Russia does not present a serious long-term threat to American pre-eminence due to Russia’s own internal weaknesses. A kleptocratic political system centred around President Putin himself, combined with a gas-dependent and sluggish economy, do not provide strong nor stable bases for Russian power. In the short-term, Russian power can be best countered through existing alliances, namely with increased NATO armoured deployments in the Baltic States. A return to conventional deterrence is prudent in this instance. Indecisive acquiescence to Moscow is not. A strengthened American commitment to our allies in Eastern Europe will amply halt Russian ambitions in that region. Russia today is not what the Soviet Union once was: it is not a great power competitor on-par with the depth or breath of American power, despite Mr. Putin’s ego often arguing the opposite.

 

China, however, provides a direct revisionist threat to the liberal world order. The strength and diversity of the Chinese economy, combined with a decade of robust Chinese diplomacy in their near abroad and in Africa, have lead to extensive gains in Chinese economic and diplomatic influence. This influence is shown in the popularity of the Chinese-lead Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. However China, too, is best contained through existing institutions. China’s willingness to work within the international system allows its rise to be less conflictual than historical revisionist powers. China is not a rogue state. It seeks legitimacy as a member of the international community. The US must continue to place resources and faith into our alliances with Japan, Australia, and South Korea as the best regional counterbalances to Chinese ambitions, and must work to increase cooperation with and amongst these allies. Equally, the maritime stability provided by the US Navy will remain crucial to all East Asian export-based economies well into this century, including China’s.

 

IT’S THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, STUPID

 

At the creation of the American Republic, the only permanently standing element of the Federal military was the Navy. The Department of the Navy was created to maintain daily connectivity to the global economy, a lifeline the new Republic desperately needed. The US needs this lifeline today more than ever. Freedom of navigation maintains both current global order and US primacy, which are synonymous. The American Navy’s unquestioned dominance underwrites American hard power more than any other branch of the military. Equally, it ensures that American power can be projected anywhere in the globe within hours of a crisis.

 

Bill was right, when we’re talking about the bedrock of global order, “it’s the economy, stupid.”  The world’s economy is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s only getting more so thanks to the Internet. Global free trade remains the central priority of US national security strategy. For this reason, the US Navy will be the key branch of the armed forces into the 21st century in terms of power projection. Whereas investment in land-based counterinsurgency techniques and equipment has characterized the last decade, investment in naval technology, basing, and logistics must be the central priority of the national security budget in the coming decades. The American population no longer has the political will to launch large land-based occupations, and these kinds of actions can often be a poor long-term investment with very little stability produced in return. Investment in our Navy will ensure American dominance of the seas into the next half-century, will counterbalance China’s new blue-water navy, and will guarantee that global chokepoints of trade remain open to our nation’s imports and exports.

 

UNDERWRITING THE LIBERAL ORDER

 

America is not as all-powerful as she was when your husband took office, however the depth and breadth of US power still must not be underestimated. The American military outclasses all our competitors and our allies combined in every measure of strength, the American economy is still the largest in the world despite our relatively small population, and the US possesses a geographically advantageous location: we are literal oceans away from threats to the homeland.

 

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The US must use its power projection to be the guarantor of the liberal world order. This rules-based order is beneficial to the US economy, to our allies, to our continued primacy, and to our values. Supporting norms, weapons prohibitions, international treaties, free trade, and institutions of due-process upholds the liberal world order. As the US is the creator and natural leader of the liberal world order, the maintenance of this system is of paramount interest to the US. Even if this support comes at a cost and forces restraint on American actions abroad, the long-term benefits outweigh the short term shortcomings.

 

As was done in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the US must use our power to punish states who do not play by the rules. We must continue to use our overseas military deployments as guarantees to our allies, who must have no doubt we will defend their sovereignty. When states break international norms or violate the sovereignty of our allies, the US must have a credible threat of the use of force against these rogue actors. While not every violation of the system alone constitutes a direct threat to US national security, the maintenance of the global system of norms and institutions is a central priority of US national security. Therefore, a violation of these norms or a defiance of these institutions constitutes a credible threat to US national security and thus warrants decisive action.

 

Mrs. President, I wish you the best of luck in the next four (let’s be honest, with the current state of the GOP, probably eight) years. Here’s to hoping for an easy end to what was an excruciatingly long —though certainly unique— election cycle. I hope Bill doesn’t get into too much trouble as our nation’s first First Dude.

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Jackson Webster

Proud member of the California Democratic Party

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Part 4 | Ignorance does not equal bliss: Russia & the U.S.

Derek Eggleston is a first year student of International Relations in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. His primary focus is American domestic politics and its impact on American foreign relations. Connect at: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/derekeggleston.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Russian President Putin in Los Cabos

“In MSNBC’s Democratic debate on Thursday February 4th, occurring directly before the New Hampshire primaries, moderator Chuck Todd questioned the candidates on who posed the greatest threat to U.S. interests: North Korea, Iran, or Russia. Former Secretary of State and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton elucidated the concerns of Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter: “Russia is trying to move the boundaries of the post-World War II Europe…they are deeply engaged in supporting Assad because they want to have a place in the Middle East…Secretary Carter is seeing…we have to send a very clear message to Putin that this kind of belligerence, that this kind of testing of boundaries will have to be responded to” (Clinton quoted in NBC, 2016). Anyone who follows current American politics is unsurprised by this statement, it is clearly a pervasive thought amongst American policymakers that Russia poses a significant obstacle in the international system to American foreign policy objectives. However, it is necessary to ask, as this article does from several different perspectives, what is the exact nature of this threat? How does America exactly perceive the ‘Russian threat’ and what impact does this have on American foreign policy? This segment will first analyze the perceived stability threat Russia poses and then discuss the dearth of American expertise on Russia and how this impacts America’s response to the Russian threat before finally concluding on the nature of relations between the two countries in the current world.”

The Russian Threat: Instability

The current world is largely the product of American attempts in the 20th Century to consolidate a global order marked by: openness, a plurality of organizations, norms of cooperation, and free trade (Hurrell 2006, p. 3). The Cold War, to the United States, represented the manifestation of Russian opposition to this global order beneficial to the United States. This chasm created meant to the U.S a more fractured world in which it could not oversee its favored international norms. Similarly, current Russian behavior represents just this to Americans, a threat to a stable international order. Putin’s displays of Russian might and involvement in Ukraine are perceived by American government officials as destabilizing ‘saber-rattling’ which will only serve to hurt Europe in the long run (RT, 2015). But are these perceived threats taken as a serious risk to European stability or seen as just simple grandstanding by Putin? The former is the overwhelmingly pervasive view in American thought. American think tank Rand Corp. spent months elaborately simulating a Russian incursion into NATO territory in the Baltics. The report was conspicuously released just a week before the 2017 budget for the Pentagon was released and the policy manifestations of these fears can be clearly seen as the U.S. will: “Add a brigade’s worth of pre-positioned tanks and other heavy equipment in Europe” and “Quadruple investment in the European Reassurance Initiative to $3.4 billion” (Vandiver, 2016). All of this paints a very clear and bleak picture of American perceptions of Russia. Not only do more than two-thirds of the American public negatively view Russia as a country (Stokes, 2015), but to American policy-makers, Russia represents an inherent threat to regional stability—particularly in Europe. America has and will continue to try and counter Russian power and its perceived threat with America power—a textbook security dilemma which, any IR student can tell you, may only lead to a burgeoning of tensions between the two countries.

Know Your Enemy

To understand the American perception of Russia, it is important to also understand the nature of Russian studies in the U.S. One benefit of the Cold War was a government devoted to better understanding the USSR and the Soviet government. However, as the U.S. celebrated its victory and enjoyed its freedom as the sole superpower, it neglected its vigilance in regards to understanding and relating to Russia. The U.S. has lost its focus and, in turn, its ability to deal with Russia: “Experts, lawmakers, and former administration officials describe a national security apparatus that, once teeming with experienced Russia specialists…now relies on looser regime of more junior experts who lack the reach to directly influence policy” (Demirjian, 2015). This dearth of Russian expertise has manifested itself in an inability to understand or predict what Russia does. Senior Senator and Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ) notes: “We’ve been surprised at every turn…we were surprised when they went into Crimea, we were surprised when they went into Syria” (McCain quoted in Koshkin, 2016). How can the U.S. manage reasonable and practical understandings of Russia and create sensible policy to deal with Russia if the U.S. is simply playing catch-up to a list of perceived unexpected and bellicose moves? The mantra is simple: know your enemy. The U.S. may not have gotten along with the Soviet Union during the Cold War but could at least target policy towards a long term strategic goal due to the fact they tried to understand their adversary and address the USSR’s goals as well in relation to their own. However, right now the U.S. is in the dark and cannot fully deal with Russia if it cannot anticipate Russia. Furthermore, if the U.S. cannot anticipate Russia this will innately characterize every move Russia makes as “sudden” and “irrational” which does nothing to relations but further alienate Russia and increase disapprobation of one another.

Conclusion

In the spring of 2014, I had the great pleasure of hearing former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul speak on bilateral relations between the two countries. He gave the bleak ultimatum that Putin sees the relationship in zero-sum terms and that true, mutually-beneficial progress cannot be made until there is a change in Russian leadership. Whether such an ultimatum is true or not is hard to know. However, it is hard to know because the U.S. has not done everything it can to manage relations with Putin in the status quo and try to establish and foster system in which Russian actions do not equate to the deferral of American interests. The U.S. must take the steps to once again concern itself with Russia who will not go away. Russia has and will remain a key player in international politics, and if the U.S. is to coexist beneficially, it must accept this and devote human capital towards better understanding and anticipating Russian behavior. Otherwise, this damaging game of catch-up will only continue. Russia will act in a way unforeseen by the U.S. who will then in turn respond with a show of its own might. This security dilemma will continue in perpetuity unless the cycle of ignorance can be broken by cognizance.

Sources:

Demirjian, Karoun. 2015, “Lack of Russia Experts Has Some in U.S. Worried.” Washington Post. December 30, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/12/30/lack-of-russia-experts-has-the-u-s-playing-catch-up/.

Hurrell, Andrew. 2006, “Hegemony, Liberalism and Global Order: What Space for Would-be Great Powers?” International Affairs Int Affairs 82, no. 1 (January 19, 2006): 1-19. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2346.2006.00512.x.

Koshkin, Pavel. 2016, “Lack of Experts Can Stimulate Russian Studies Programs in the US.” Russia Direct. January 6, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://www.russia-direct.org/analysis/lack-russia-experts-could-be-stimulus-russian-studies-programs.

NBC News, 2016, “What’d They Say? Transcript From Clinton-Sanders Debate.” NBC News. February 04, 2016. Accessed April 12, 2016. http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/transcript-msnbc-democratic-candidates-debate-n511036.

RT, 2015, “Russia & China Are ‘challenging the World Order’ – US Defense Sec.” RT International. November 8, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2016. https://www.rt.com/usa/321194-carter-russia-threat-world-order/.

Stokes, Bruce. 2015, “Russia, Putin Held in Low Regard around the World.” Pew Research Centers Global Attitudes Project RSS. August 05, 2015. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/08/05/russia-putin-held-in-low-regard-around-the-world/.

Vandiver, John. 2016, “Report: Russia Defeats NATO in Baltic War Game.” Military.com. February 5, 2016. Accessed April 14, 2016. http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/02/05/report-russia-defeats-nato-in-baltic-war-game.html

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The Yellow Haired Buffoon: 6 reasons why Donald Trump should not be considered for the presidential race

by Andrei Popoviciu, a first-year International Relations student at King’s College London. Andrei is the Social Media Editor of International Relations Today and a supporter of the American Democrat party. 

donald-trump-interview

As frontrunner of the republican nomination and a controversial character in the American presidential race, Donald Trump’s decision to run for head of state has been heavily debated by almost every media facet and political figure. With policies such as the wall to shut out Mexico, killing the families of terrorists, deporting all illegal immigrants and preventing Muslims from entering the United States, he was considered a joke up until he started to gain popularity amongst voters. One of the turning points when everyone figured out how dangerous he is was Super Tuesday, where 8.5 million Republicans turned out to vote in the 11 GOP Super Tuesday. This year’s turnout in those 11 states is 81% higher than four years ago. Donald Trump says he is the main reason behind the shift, claiming to draw Democrats and independents into the Republican process this year, boosting his party at the expense of Democrats. What is extremely worrying is that since 1988, every candidate who has won the most states on Super Tuesday went on to become the party’s nominee. Trump seemed harmless at the beginning, but in light of recent events, he is almost guaranteed to be the Republican nominee.

But how and why did this happen? Most supporters see in Trump the potential to be the next president due to a series of characteristics and assets they think are essential for the position he is running for. Ignoring his inconsistencies in policy and his hypocritical statements, reasons such as his incredible business skills, the fact that he funds his own campaign, his anti-establishment position or his charismatic and though personality were considered by his devotees when they decided to support him. This article sets to debunk all these reasons and to justify why he shouldn’t be considered as an option for the presidential race.

#1 He is funding his own campaign

 Well, not really. He declared at a certain point that he spent 25 million dollars on his campaign so far. He boasts about the fact that he hasn’t taken any corporate money and that he is truly financially independent. What is important to note is that starting from the start of his campaign in April through October last year, individual contributors made up about 67% of his total money raised for his campaign. His self-financing only started to come up in the last months of 2015, making his statements not so true. Furthermore, he gave his campaign a $10.8 million loan, making the vast majority of his contributions loans rather than donations. This means that he is expecting to eventually get his money back at some point. Additionally, of the $12 million Trump’s campaign spent in 2015, $2.7 million went toward reimbursing Trump-affiliates companies for services provided to the campaign, such as traveling in his own plane and helicopter. Sure, it is safe to say that he might be partially funding his campaign or that he’s accepting donations as means of gratitude to his supporters but this idea that his campaign is fully independent is of course twisted in his benefit.

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#2 He is tough

One of his best assets is his ability to victimise himself. He has a long history of suing people, businesses, cities and countries or media outlets. He sued a newspaper, his ex-wife, a Native American Tribe and even the state of New Jersey. He sues to make a point, to regain his sense of control or just for sport. Trump has a habit to sue whenever he feels threatened, small or insufficiently wealthy, making him look like a money-driven and anger-filled character that could be anything but tough.

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#3 He tells it like it is

A lot of Trump’s supporters are really keen on his personality and his rhetoric. One thing he can get credit for is his public speaking skills. He knows how to engage with a crowd and he knows what to give people. However, according to PolitiFact, 1% of his statements are deemed to be true and 43% to be false. Truth be told, he doesn’t care what the truth is and his statements and the things he says are just a way to self-indulge and make himself noticed on the political stage. He, at one point, admitted to the New York Times that he doesn’t believe in what he says and everything is just for show. So why does he have that many supporters? Are American people that desperate to change the current views of the state that they would vote for such a person? This has been heavily debated and it is still a mystery in the eyes of political analysts and scholars in the domain.

nice pers

 

#4 He inspires success

Well, you might say that his multi-million dollar businesses count for something and that his habit of never missing a chance to remind people that he is successful and rich counts for something. Furthermore, he likes to think that his name and everything he owns and runs inspires money and success as a self-made man. One of the main arguments against this is his multi-million inheritance from his father which helped him set the bases of his empire. Trump states that his name and brand is valued at 3 billion dollars, accounting the fact that his name gives quality to everything he owns or sells. Let’s take a closer look at the facts. His branded products like Trump Magazine, Trump Steaks, Trump Shuttle, Trump Vodka and Trump University have been businesses and initiatives that failed over time. He’s being sued over some of them: Trump University was deemed as a scam of a for-profit university. He even started a mortgage company in 2006, named obviously, Trump Mortgage, which emerged right before the financial crisis of 2008. The bottom line is: he is not really the most reliable person when it comes to businesses and ventures.

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#5 He has a clear plan for policies

On some issues, Trump’s campaign has gone through more than a half dozen plans in two months. On top of the fact that he is characterised by his inconsistency and his plain stupid way to engage with policy making, he doesn’t believe in his own plans.

Let’s take the example of the undocumented immigrants living in the US.

  • In July 23rd he said “The first thing we have to do is strengthen our borders. And after that, we’re going to have plenty of time to talk about it.”
  • “If somebody’s been outstanding, we try and work something out.” This was his statement on the 24th of July. So he said that he will deport the “rapists and the wrong doers” but will try to “work out something so the good ones can stay.”
  • His 3rd version is quite similar to his 2nd. “We’re going to do what’s right. Some are going to have to go. And some, we’re just going to see what happens,” July 26th.
  • Then again, on July the 27th he wants to deport everyone by saying “But the good ones – of which there are many – I want to expedite so they can come back in legally.”
  • Then on July the 29th he was in conversation with CNN which raised the issue of the children of the illegal immigrants. He states, “They’re with their parents? It depends?”

As you can see, in a matter of a week he gave 6 different statements on his stance about the issue. Another essential problem he was evasive about was the tax reform.

  • On June the 18th he stated that the best option is to “Simplify it. At a minimum, simplify it.”
  • On August 11th, in an interview with CNN he said “You can’t be just boom, boom, hard and fast.”
  • His 3rd option was to maybe get rid of the income tax and have a national consumption tax with a “Fair Tax”. “You can have a ‘Fair Tax…’ This was on the same day as his previous statement.
  • He suggests in the same interview to keep the income tax, but make it one flat rate for everybody.
  • Or maybe don’t change the current system at all and just add things to it. “You can leave the system alone, which is probably the simplest at this point. Leave the system alone and take out deductions and lower taxes and do lots of really good things, leaving the system the way it is.”.

There’s obvious clash of statements in just two of one of the main issues the candidates will need to tackle if they win. He fails to have a persistent view on anything at any point, making this reason flawed and not worthy to take into consideration.

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#6 He would make a great president

His main mind-set is to be flexible. He is indeed very flexible, changing his views in a matter of minutes and surprising everyone with statements every day. At the FOX News GOP primary debate he was shown a montage in which moderators showed him changing his opinions about matter such as the Iraq war or the refugee problem. His response:

“I’ve never seen a very successful person who wasn’t flexible. Who didn’t have a certain degree of flexibility? … You have to be flexible. Because you learn.”

 Donald Trump, Fox News GOP primary debate

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At the end of the day, does anyone want a president who is constantly changing his views based on his mood? His opinions don’t really matter now, and he can be mocked, but what will happen if he manages to gain office? Which one of his political views will he stick to? Do the American people want a president with a stream of broken business ventures who has the support of a white supremacist clan leader, David Duke, and who is often compared to Hitler? I think not.

Sources:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/03/04/fact-checking-the-11th-gop-debate/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/03/04/fact-checking-the-11th-gop-debate/?tid=bkgd_campaign2016

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/feb/10/donald-trump/donald-trump-self-funding-his-campaign-sort/

http://www.politico.com/story/2015/10/donald-trump-fec-fundraising-214838

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/feb/10/donald-trump/donald-trump-self-funding-his-campaign-sort/

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The Canadian conundrum: End of Canada’s airstrikes and the rise of grand strategy

by Nicolas Seidman, a first-year War Studies student at King’s College London.

The saying goes – give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The Canadian government has ceased all airstrikes against ISIS in order to focus on, what it sees, as more effective means to increase long term regional stability. Prime Minister Trudeau stated that by February 22nd all six of its fighter jets would be withdrawn.[i] He does this despite Canada’s membership to the US-led airstrike coalition against ISIS. The question can therefore be asked: Does this undermine the efforts against ISIS? Does this show unwillingness of Canada to fight ISIS? In short, No.

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To begin with, allied forces[ii] have engaged in only 31.9% of all airstrikes in Iraq since August 2014.[iii] The rest are conducted by the United States Air Force (USAF). Of those 2271 allied airstrikes, Canada is the third lowest country to contribute, with just 246 in total.[iv] This means that it has engaged in more or less 2% of all total airstrikes. If anything, Canada helps most by maintaining a perception of cohesion amongst the coalition. Denmark and Belgium are the only countries engaging in less airstrikes. Canada’s contribution is dwarfed by the rest of the coalition – not to mention the US. This should therefore come to no surprise that Canada has figured out other ways to help the coalition’s goal of defeating ISIS. It will continue to supply air-refuelling and surveillance assistance to its allies, however will branch off into other areas. It strives to address issues that jeopardize long-term stability. Trudeau perceives the use of bombing as a ‘short-term military and territorial gains’ but not for ‘long-term stability for local communities.’[v]

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CF-18 fighter jets, accompanied by a U.S. Air Force jet, are refuelled by a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker on Oct. 30 over Iraq.

Canada looks beyond the now and into the when.

When ISIS is either defeated, destroyed or overthrown, it is necessary to ensure there is a concrete political and physical infrastructure to keep the region propped-up. Trudeau pledges more than $1.6 billion over the next three years to increase humanitarian aid and security in the region for the goal of improving stability.[vi] This includes $840 million over three years in humanitarian assistance and $270 million over three years to “build local capacity” in Jordan and Lebanon, where there are a large number of refugees. This assistance will help combat local radicalization by improving the standard of living for many. Similarly, local capacity-building is to ensure stronger governance via education, economic growth and infrastructure. This reflects Trudeau’s understanding of grand strategy and the overall political objective as to why the West is even fighting in the Middle-East. The grand strategic goal can be said to be a stable transition from ISIS controlled territory to a well-governed entity that can supply both a good standard of living as well as security. Airstrikes are one of many tools of hard power (i.e. military means) to obtain a political objective. However it is not a strategy in itself. The shift toward soft power (i.e. non-military means) by Canada shows that this conflict brings about many more dimensions than military engagement alone. That being said, we must not forget that local forces must be able to reinforce the authority of the reinstated power.

By increasing the efficiency of local forces Canada hopes to fill the security gap necessary for future regional stability. Currently the most vital ground force combating ISIS is the Peshmerga forces.[vii] Canada hopes to improve their ability to combat the jihadists through more training and armament. Trudeau declared an additional 230 Canadian armed force personnel and a triple of current Special Forces to train the local Kurdish force. He extends his confidence in their capabilities that Canada will supply SALW (small arms and light weapons) such as rifles and machine guns to more effectively engage in combat.[viii] Eventually, Western troops are going to pull out of the Middle-East. When that happens, (if even in our life time) the capability of local and regional security forces to retain order must be strong.

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Canadian Armed Forces members stand in front of the new Camp Patrice Vincent commemorative wall at the Remembrance Day ceremony in Kuwait during Operation IMPACT on November 11, 2014. Photo: Canadian Forces Combat Camera

 

Not a rift but a shift

Trudeau’s decision to shift its focus away from hard power and into soft power does not undermine the coalition or the overall ability for the West to combat ISIS. If anything the US’ approval of the Canadian change of plans shows there is an understanding that the operational level needs change; epecially in September 2015 when there was something of a ‘tactical stalemate’ according Martin Sempsey, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.[ix] Canada’s recent decisions could influence other policy-makers to rethink their own strategy. The threat of ISIS has been looming over the World for some time. With some would say no end in sight. Maybe Trudeau has a point, eh?

[i] “Canada Set to Cease Air Strikes Against Isis As Justin Trudeau Says Syrians ‘need Our Help – Not Our Vengeance’ | Americas | News.” The Independent. Accessed March 3, 2016. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/canada-set-to-cease-airstrikes-against-isis-as-syrians-need-help-not-vengeance-a6862491.html.

[ii] France, UK, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia and Canada

[iii] “Airwars.” Airwars – Monitoring the Coalition Air War Against ISIS. Accessed March 3, 2016. http://airwars.org/data/.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] “ISIS Airstrikes by Canada to End by Feb. 22, Training Forces to Triple – Politics – CBC News.” CBC.ca – Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV. Accessed March 3, 2016. http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/justin-trudeau-canada-isis-fight-announcement-1.3438279.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] “Inside the Kurdish Fighting Forces: the U.S.’s Proxy Ground Troops in the War Against ISIS – The Washington Post.” Washington Post. Accessed March 3, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/02/02/inside-the-kurdish-fighting-forces-the-u-s-s-proxy-ground-troops-in-the-war-against-isis/.

[viii] “War on Isis: Canada to End Air Strikes Against Daesh in Iraq and Syria on 22 February.” International Business Times UK. Accessed March 3, 2016. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/war-isis-canada-end-air-strikes-against-daesh-iraq-syria-22-february-1542678.

[ix] http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/616656/dempsey-future-of-isil-increasingly-dim

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Fighting the Islamic State: The case for boots on the ground

 

Patrick Visser is a second year, American-Dutch War Studies Student, voted class most likely to stage a coup two years running”. He loves wars: big wars, small wars, can’t get enough of ’em. After writing this article he will undoubtedly be called a neoconservative.

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It is indicative of how scarred the western psyche has been by the “forever wars” of Iraq and Afghanistan that the simplest, most effective way of ending the Islamic State has been dismissed out of hand by the public, decision makers and virtually all serious commentators. The idea of putting “boots on the ground” is not something that is looked at in terms of its costs and benefits, but with a shudder, as something that is unthinkable. This is not good enough. When dealing with a terror as malignant as the Islamic State all options must be considered, especially as boots on the ground may be the only way of ending the conflict quickly and defeating their ideology.

When I propose boots on the ground, I am not talking about small scale special forces units to carry out raids and call in airstrikes as we are seeing now, these are a necessary part of the existing strategy, but too few in number to make a real difference. Nor am I talking about Lindsey Graham’s insane plan to create safe zones with up to 20,000 US troops,[1] which would expose our soldiers to heavy casualties, while doing little to actually solve the problem. I am arguing for a massive, multi-divisional deployment of overwhelming force on the lines of the 2003 march to Baghdad, to conduct a shock and awe blitzkrieg with the express purpose of defeating and conquering the Islamic State. Actual numbers should be determined by military necessity, not political convenience and while this force would necessarily be led the Americans, all parties, including the Russians, Iranians and all the Arab states, should be invited to participate. Around 100,000 men is a reasonable estimate, it could be done with less but this would expose our troops to unnecessary risks.

What makes this different to the disaster that was the 2003 Iraq War? Simply put, time. This force would not be expected to engage in nation building or stay in the country once it has destroyed the Islamic State, the goal is not to transform Iraq and Syria into nice places to live but to remove the threat to ourselves and the affront to humanity that is the Islamic State.

What makes IS a far more serious threat than its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq is its control of territory. It might not be Islamic, but we are kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that it is functioning as a state, with a government, a well-equipped army, a taxable and conscriptable population, and a booming economy.[2] It is terrorism on an industrial scale, an order of magnitude removed from the pinprick attacks of older terrorist groups. Fortunately, Western militaries are very very good at breaking states. Nobody does conventional war as well as we do- just ask Saddam. The military feasibility of the conquest of the Islamic State is not in question, and if the 2003 War is anything to go by it could be completed in under 6 weeks with fewer than 300 KIA.[3]

How does this solve the underlying problems in Iraq and Syria? It doesn’t, but it is not meant to. The immediate, domineering problem of fighting IS has meant that none of the underlying problems could be faced anyway- you can’t bring together Iraq’s Sunni’s and Shia in an inclusive government while al-Anbar province is under IS rule. What the defeat of the Islamic state would do is buy time and breathing space to resolve these problems, preferably in conjunction with a settlement in Syria (in which it must now be accepted that Assad must play a role). Once IS loses Raqqa, Mosul and its other population centres, it won’t suddenly cease to exist and it is sure to retreat into the desert and revert to its previous role as a “normal” terrorist group and insurgency, but merely forcing this is already a major and important victory, as without the resources of a state it is a far less menacing threat, both regionally and abroad.

The conquest of IS’s territory would shatter the legitimacy the group has achieved by declaring itself the new caliphate, as for a caliphate to be recognised under Islamic law it must be able to enforce Sharia over the temporal sphere.[4] Indeed, al-Baghdadi’s genius is that he realised people are far more willing to sacrifice for the here and now, rather than Bin Laden’s hazy dream of a world caliphate in the distant future, generations away.[5] Taking this away from the Islamic State removes its most important recruiting tool and sets the jihadist cause back years. It is all well and good to go to Iraq or Syria when you feel you have personal agency in bringing about God’s kingdom on Earth, with the added bonus of getting 30-or-so Yazidi slave wives, it is quite another thing to go to fight and die for a losing cause with the entire might of the world’s most powerful army raining down on you.

The Islamic State’s ideology also creates huge vulnerabilities to Western firepower. According to their doctrine, they see the West as the “new Rome” with which they eagerly await a showdown alluded to in the Hadith on “the plains of Daqib” a town in northern Syria that IS was especially delighted to bring under it rule.[6] In a larger sense, they cannot simply melt into the countryside like most insurgencies, as this would throw away the legitimacy they are so painstakingly trying to build up. They are ideologically mandated to test their mettle against our metal. Let’s see how that works out for them. As they are forced to stand and fight, IS militants will be exposed to our overwhelming firepower and slaughtered en masse, not only is this extremely satisfying from a moral standpoint, it will inhibit the group’s ability to bounce back after it is defeated. In Afghanistan in 2001, after the Taliban was forced to concentrate to resist the advance of the Northern Alliance and then smashed by Western firepower, it took so heavy casualties that it could not constitute a major threat to the government again until 2006. In the same war, al-Qaeda never fully recovered from losing its training camps and the majority of its fighters.[7] It is true that attrition, the infamous “body count” cannot alone solve the problems of terrorism, but it does buy time, time in which other actors can work to resolve those problems.

It is often argued that the Islamic State is able to function because it has at least the tacit support of Iraq and Syria’s Sunni population and that once the US leaves, IS will be able to just walk back into the areas it previously controlled. I counter that in the aftermath of a US campaign IS will not have enough fighters left to “bounce back” and would point out that they managed to take al-Anbar Province and Mosul last year, not because the wider Sunni population rose up and drove out the Iraqi government, but because IS fighter beat the embarrassingly bad Iraqi army on the field of battle and then imposed control on the Sunni population. The Islamic State is deeply unpopular in most of the areas it rules and is only able to impose control through fear, not because its citizens have bought into the message of hate that it spouts.[8] For a long term solution we must look to one of the most successful initiatives of the Iraq War- the al-Anbar Awakening, where local Sunni militias, supported by the US and (reluctant) by the central government were able to decisively defeat al-Qaeda in Iraq between 2007 and 2011.[9] Indeed the single greatest enabler for the rise of the Islamic State was the sectarian Maliki governments reckless disbanding of these militias, that left the Iraqi Sunnis unable to defend themselves when AQI (now IS) recuperated.[10] This must be reversed in the aftermath of a successful US led campaign for the victory to last.

Why does the conquest of the Islamic State require American troops? Cannot the same be done with local actors, supported by US airpower, which is the thrust of the existing strategy? Will not US intervention just stir up further anti-western sentiment and help the Islamic State? These are all valid questions, but I would argue that there is no local actor that can do the job. The Iraqi Army is a bad joke, and too dependent on Iranian assistance, which delegitimises it in the eyes of Iraq’s Sunnis; The Kurds are good fighters, but there are not enough of them and they are mostly and understandably focused on protecting Kurdish interests, not the stability of the wider region; The Syrian resistance is a non-factor; and Assad is overstretched and undermanned, and entirely concerned with his own survival. While the US is not popular, it is at least trusted by all factions not to started committing genocide.[11] Indeed, IS has aroused an extraordinarily large coalition against itself, all of whom would be served by US intervention. The idea that Iraqi’s will suddenly start fighting the US, against their own interests, requires a very low opinion of their intelligence- an opinion that I do not share. All the more so as it will be made clear from the outset that the intervention has a strict time limit and once IS is conquered the territory is to be returned forthwith to Iraqi and Syrian control. Charges such as “imperialism” will be thrown around, as they always are, but they are unlikely to gain much traction.

It is possible, likely even, that IS will eventually be ground into dust under the current strategy, the diverse forces arrayed against them are too large to be resisted over the long run. The problem with this is, firstly, that it will take too long, time in which IS can continue its atrocities and carry out attacks in the West, and also that the moral impact of a grinding defeat, with IS able to portray itself as holding off the whole world and fighters able to escape back home to carry out Paris style rampages, is far less devastating to their cause that a short, sharp disaster, where their kingdom is brought crashing down around them in a matter of weeks, their bravest fighters killed in droves and their ideology revealed to be no match for the forces of civilisation. Such a defeat would undermine the morale of Jihadi groups across the world and be a major coup in the global war on terror.

What about the idea that such a campaign would set a precedent? That having done it once we would have to do the same thing for the next Islamic State, and the one after? I would argue that the precedent that we will smash unmitigated evil wherever it rears its ugly head is a good one, both in terms of common morality and in furthering international stability. Especially as the potential for working multilaterally with traditional adversaries such as Russia exists against the Islamic State and such action could be legitimised by the UN Security Council. In any case, precedent is a pretty weak argument to rest opposition on as there is no rule that you have to act in the future as you did in the past, and as people have very short memories when it comes to foreign policy.

In all honesty, the plan I have proposed is not going to happen. We are war weary after the decade long struggle since 9/11 and for most people IS is just something unpleasant we hear about on the nightly news whenever they launch an attack (on the west- their daily massacres in Iraq and Syria barely register) or behead an aid worker. This is something to be mourned, we have become gun-shy, a legacy of our reckless intervention in Iraq. This caution is commendable when it stops us from blundering into disastrous foreign policy adventures, but is a tragedy when it blinds us to an evil that we have the power to put an end to. I will leave you with a quote from Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”. We have great power, but we have shirked our responsibility. IS wants to be considered a state and play at conventional war. Fine. Bring it.

 

[1] Jenifer Rubin Sen. Lindsey Graham offers a new ‘construct’ to defeat the Islamic State, The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2015/11/17/sen-lindsey-graham-offers-a-new-construct-to-defeat-the-islamic-state/

[2] Helen Lock, How Isis became the wealthiest terror group in history, The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/how-isis-became-the-wealthiest-terror-group-in-history-9732750.html

[3] There is reason to believe that a campaign against the Islamic state would be even easier, as they lack many of Saddam’s heavy weapons and armour, have few men under arms and are geographically smaller.

[4] Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

[5] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p.193-195

[6] http://searchtruth.com/book_display.php?book=041&translator=2&start=0&number=6924; Graeme Wood, What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

[7] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower, p.424-428

[8] Munqith al-Dagher, How Iraqi Sunnis really feel about the Islamic State, The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2015/03/24/how-iraqi-sunnis-really-feel-about-the-islamic-state/

[9] Lt Col Michael Silverman, Awakening Victory, the entirety of

[10] Toby Dodge, Iraq: From War to a new authoritarianism, p99-101

[11] Dr Steven Biddle, Iraq After the Surge, http://keats.kcl.ac.uk/pluginfile.php/1483392/mod_resource/content/1/Biddle%20Testimony%20-%20Iraq%20after%20the%20Surge.pdf

 

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