American overreaction about ISIS isn't just wrong — it's dangerous

A nice summary of the hysteria surrounding ISIS. Spoiler alert: politicians and the media have a tendency to exaggerate.


Important news context:


This past few days there have been reports that there is a  ”just as bad as ISIS” terror group plotting international attacks from the same region — a group named Khorasan.

The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., said on Thursday that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

If you’ve never heard of Khorasan, that’s fine. It’s probably because Khorasan’s not actually a terror group, new or old. It’s still Al Qaeda and Jabhat al-Nusra doing what they do. 

Journalist and Syria in Crisis editor Aron Lund explains it:

"Khorasan" would be a great name for a terror group, with nearly unlimited potential for ominous mispronounciation. Sadly, it is not. It’s a word used by al-Qaeda (& others) for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, where its top leadership sits. What has happened, if US intel is telling the truth, is that a group of AQ veterans have relocated to Syria to support AQ’s local franchise, Jabhat al-Nosra, and (this is the newsworthy part) to develop its capacity for international attacks. All this, apparently, on the urging of AQ’s core leadership. The "Khorasan group" thing comes from them being sent to Syria from "Khorasan" – that is, by AQ’s leadership in Pakistan – and presumably taking their orders straight from there. It’s not the name of a group and they’re not an independent organization. As described in reports so far, they’re a specialized working group inside or otherwise attached to Jabhat al-Nosra that seeks to use the training camps, resources & recruits that Jabhat al-Nosra controls in Syria to run global attacks for which AQ can then claim credit.


BREAKING: U.S. Middle East Policy Still a Disaster

A few interesting tidbits from several periodicals of note.

First, a reminder that U.S. intervention in Iraq helped create ISIS, via The New Yorker:

ISIS is run by a council of former Iraqi generals, according to Hisham Alhashimi, an adviser to the Iraqi government and an expert on ISIS. Many are members of Saddam Hussein’s secular Baath Party who converted to radical Islam in American prisons. 

Then, a thorough debunking of the plan to arm and back a “moderate” opposition in Syria from The New York Times:

The persistent belief in Western policy circles that there is a “moderate opposition” in Syria…warrants serious scrutiny. The very notion of a “vetted” opposition has an absurd ring to it. It assumes that moderation is an identifiable, fixed element that can be sorted out from other, tainted characteristics. It further presumes that the vetting process will not stain those being vetted. It takes as a given that Western-backed opposition will prevail and in turn provide the basis for a happier and better Syria.

There is little to support any of these beliefs. The most effective forces on the ground today — and for the foreseeable future — are decidedly nonmoderate.

… The alleged moderates have never put together a convincing national program or offered a viable alternative to Mr. Assad. The truth is that there are no “armed moderates” (or “moderate terrorists”) in the Arab world — and precious few beyond. The genuine “moderates” won’t take up arms, and those who do are not truly moderates.

And finally, evidence that almost every instance of U.S. intervention in the Middle East has unexpected and/or dangerous consequences, via Haaretz:

The Islamic State jihadist organization has recruited more than 6,000 new fighters since America began targeting the group with air strikes last month, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

At least 1,300 of the new recruits are said to be foreigners, who have joined IS from outside the swathes of Syria and Iraq that it controls.

So we helped create ISIS in the first place and we’ve made it bigger and our strategy for destroying it might be doomed. Other than that, we’re doing just fine.


Senators who voted against arming Syrian rebels

NAYs — 22

Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
John Barrasso (R-WY)
Mark Begich (D-AK)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Tom Coburn (R-OK)
Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Mike Enzi (R-WY)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Dean Heller (R-NV)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Mike Lee (R-UT)
Joe Manchin (D-WV)
Ed Markey (D-MA)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Rand Paul (R-KY)
Jim Risch (R-ID)
Pat Roberts (R-KS)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)



Sweden has a long tradition of welcoming refugees and asylum-seekers. In the past decades, tens of thousands of Somalis, Palestinians, Iraqis and ex-Yugoslavians have found shelter from wars and deprivations here. The small city of Södertälje, on the outskirts of Stockholm, became famous for having accepted more Iraqi refugees than the whole of the US. Sweden takes in more refugees through the UN agency UNHCR than any other European country; this year it has decided to allocate almost one-third of its quota (600 out of 1,900 resettlement places) to Syrian citizens and Palestinians from Syria.

In September 2013 new regulations began offering blanket asylum to all Syrians who applied after arriving there. More than 2,700 did so, and according to the Swedish Migration Board, 12,000 were granted residence last year.


The Guardian

Here’s an excellent example of how a country can intervene in a crisis or conflict without the use of airstrikes or arms. It requires a long-term commitment to the housing, education, and health of refugees (which could explain why many “humanitarians” would rather drop a few bombs and be done with it). The results are not perfect (as the Guardian article explains) but it’s an effective way to aid the victims of a crisis without any inadvertent civilian casualties. Those who claim to support interventions on humanitarian grounds should be clamoring for more Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the United States. 

With the number of Syrian refugees now at more than 2 million, half of them children, the U.N. is calling Syria the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis. But the U.S. has only taken in 90 Syrian refugees since the civil war began.

Al Jazeera America

The U.S. government, which is so very deeply committed to humanitarianism, will consider bombing the daylights out of a country (for the country’s own good, of course), but will it allow war-torn families to live in its midst? Fat chance.


U.S. Suspends Nonlethal Aid to Syrian Rebels in North


There’s still no official account of last week’s attack, though there is apparently little reason to doubt that some portion of the nonlethal aid supplied to Syrian rebels has now fallen into the hands of groups that the United States does not wish to support. Government officials are reportedly also concerned with the continued fracturing of opposition forces.

Oh, the U.S. had difficulty controlling the distribution of its aid to Syrian rebels, huh? (he asked, his voice brimming over with condescension) 

John Kerry’s brilliant “vetting process” was immediately met with skepticism and criticism by the media (and labeled “a fool’s errand" by a certain enterprising young blogger), and the presence of extremist factions within Syria’s fractured rebel coalition was widely known. This was a predictable outcome and it casts even more doubt on the administration’s dormant plan to bomb Assad’s forces and/or arm the “moderate” rebels.   

In a coordinated attack, numerous rebel groups fought off a small garrison of government troops and swept into the villages, killing 190 people, according to a Human Rights Watch report to be released on Friday. At least 67 of the dead appeared to have been shot or stabbed while unarmed or fleeing, including 48 women and 11 children, the report said. More than 200 civilians are still being held hostage.

Syrian Civilians Bore Brunt of Rebels’ Fury, Report Says

I’m dreading the seemingly inevitable report that shows that arms supplied to Syrian rebels by the CIA were used to murder civilians. Will anyone in the Obama administration decry that “moral obscenity" if/when it occurs?

Do you think Obama’s been judged by any rational standards? Has Guantanamo closed? Is a war over? Is anyone paying any attention to Iraq? Is he seriously talking about going into Syria? We are not doing so well in the 80 wars we are in right now, what the hell does he want to go into another one for?
A small town in Sweden called Södertälje has accepted more refugees from Iraq than the U.S. and Canada put together.

In Surprisingly Bold Move, Sweden Offers a Home to All Syrian Refugees

Sweden, a country with a laudable open-armed immigration policy, has decided to offer permanent residency to literally all Syrian refugees. There are currently 8,000 Syrians living in Sweden with temporary residency permits and they are likely to be joined by many more asylum seekers. The UN estimates that over 2 million Syrians have fled their war-torn homeland in search of safety and prosperity. Sweden’s decision to welcome all refugees, which was made with the realization that Syria’s civil war is unlikely to cease any time soon, is burdened with possible long-term consequences:

Malek Laesker, the vice chairman of the Syrian Arabian Cultural Association of Sweden, welcomed the decision.

However, he warned it could inflame the debate on immigration, encourage people-trafficking, and cause problems further down the line.

"The fact that Sweden is the first country to open its arms is both positive and negative," he said.

"We already have a crisis around that issue in Sweden. I hope that our politicians solve it in a nice way." 

Indeed, any instance of mass migration, especially when vast cultural and political differences are involved, could yield serious consequences, not to mention logistical nightmares. But Sweden has knowingly taken such risks in the interest of humanitarianism.

Compare Sweden’s Syrian refugee policy with the limited bombing campaign proposed by President Obama. Which plan poses less of a threat to innocent Syrians? Which runs less risk of instigating more warfare and conflict? Which one manages to “do something” about the crisis in Syria without provoking the ire of Russia and Iran? The answers to these questions are obvious and they illuminate the absurdity of referring to any bombing campaign as a “humanitarian” act.

While it’s probably not advisable or feasible for every country to imitate Sweden’s refugee policy, surely there is more that can be done to aid the Syrian families fleeing death and persecution. If we fail these people, as we have so clearly failed the people of Iraq (many of whom were escaping a war zone that we created), then the words etched onto the Statue of Liberty, which declare that we welcome the “huddled masses yearning to be free,” is nothing but hollow rhetoric, as empty and meaningless as our professed commitment to humanitarianism. 


I’d like to return to my apartment, but I know that as soon as I do, I’ll be confronted by a roommate with opinions on the Syrian conflict and a determination to share them with me. The apartment has high ceilings and exposed brick along the far wall. At only $800/month it’s a steal for the location. I won’t listen to your god damn opinions on Syria, Mike. I won’t do it.


I’d like to return to my apartment, but I know that as soon as I do, I’ll be confronted by a roommate with opinions on the Syrian conflict and a determination to share them with me. The apartment has high ceilings and exposed brick along the far wall. At only $800/month it’s a steal for the location.

I won’t listen to your god damn opinions on Syria, Mike. I won’t do it.



Donate to the Syrian Refugee Crisis Fund

At least two million people have fled violent conflict in Syria into neighboring countries, and thousands more cross the borders each day. Most of the refugees are women and children, arriving with little more than the clothes on their backs. Meanwhile, millions of children remain in war-torn Syria – many facing violence and threats to their very survival.

Oxfam’s efforts to provide 650,000 people with humanitarian aid in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria are severely underfunded. Your donation will help families get access to safe water, latrines, shelter, and critical supplies.

Please donate to the Syrian Refugee Crisis Fund to help us meet the most critical needs in this escalating emergency.

Here is a way to “do something” about the crisis in Syria without bombing civilians. 


Arming Syria’s Rebels: A Fool’s Errand

The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures. The shipments began streaming into the country over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear — a flow of material that marks a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war.


Although the Obama administration signaled months ago that it would increase aid to Syrian rebels, the efforts have lagged because of the logistical challenges involved in delivering equipment in a war zone and officials’ fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of jihadists.

The Washington Post

How confused is U.S. strategy in Syria? We’d like to witness a rebel victory and aid in that effort by supplying weapons to the rebels, yet we’d also like to prevent a portion of those rebels from emerging victorious with an armful of weapons. According to Secretary of State Kerry in a recent interview, there is a vetting process to determine which rebels are worthy of being armed, but the efficacy of this vetting process has been questioned (for instance, the infamous rebel soldier who ate the heart of his vanquished enemy was part of a so-called “moderate” faction).

In the context of a brutal Middle Eastern civil war, “moderate” may be a difficult term to define. Once upon a time, Assad himself was labeled a moderate by various media outlets. His wife Asma was described as “glamorous, young, and very chic" with "a killer IQ" in a glowing 2011 Vogue magazine profile. John Kerry and his wife even dined with Assad and Asma in 2009. Our understanding of what constitutes moderateness in the Middle East is in constant flux and thus rarely correct for any substantial length of time. So even if, in a best case scenario, the U.S. only supplies moderate rebels with weapons and the rebels then topple Assad and seize power, who can be even remotely sure that Syria will be a better place to live or that the persecution of minority groups won’t continue or that the newly installed regime will align itself with U.S. interests? Perhaps the greatest problem in President Obama’s Syria strategy is that even if it works (which is doubtful), it still does little to improve the living standards of the average Syrian.

Occasionally, some nations are ripe for foreign-influenced democratic reform. Post-war Japan was one such nation. But Syria is not on the brink of democracy, its people largely despise us (a mere 14% of Syrians approve of the job performance of U.S. leadership), and when we intervene in Syria’s internal affairs, we risk entangling ourselves with forces that are either enacting or pursuing policies of violence and oppression. 

You want to know about innocent children dying in horrible circumstances? Read John Hersey’s “Hiroshima.” That book made clear, as the Syrian videos have, that death in warfare is terrible, and particularly heart-wrenching and unbearable to know about when it involves children. …But as the Hiroshima comparison illustrates, to mention the suffering of children does not settle political, strategic, or even moral questions. You can argue that the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were historical necessities and even “merciful” in some way, in averting later and much larger numbers of Japanese and American deaths during an invasion. You can argue the reverse. Either way, little children had their flesh roasted as they walked to school or happily played. Their suffering does not answer the “was Truman right?” or the “is deterrence moral?” questions. The suffering of people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania 12 years ago today did not answer the “should we invade Iraq?” question. The Syria videos tell us that something horrible happened, not what we should do about it.

First and most importantly, an attack on Syria does not make the American people safer. Secondly, the possible death of innocent Syrian civilians as collateral damage from missile strikes may increase local and regional anti-Western sentiment and risks increasing the ranks of terrorists. Thirdly, the lack of a United Nations (UN) mandate or a strong global coalition in support of military action undermines our legitimacy to act.

Finally, we should be cautious in evaluating who we are assisting. While there are responsible elements among the Syrian opposition that want peace and democracy for Syria, extremists — some affiliated with Al-Qaeda — are growing stronger each day, and an American attack may inadvertently strengthen extremists while undermining support for more moderate forces.


One of the factors that led me to run for Congress was my opposition to the unnecessary war in Iraq, which was predicated by faulty intelligence and cost almost 7,000 American lives and, countless Iraqi lives. During my tenure in Congress, I have consistently voted against continued funding for the Iraq war and am proud to have been a part of ending the conflict. I am now in a position to stop another unnecessary war before it begins.

The President has chosen to ask for the advice and counsel of Congress, and with my voice and my vote, I respond: do not attack Syria.