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.


Not everything in this is true, but it gets to the essence of the problem. From the Daily Mail.


Not everything in this is true, but it gets to the essence of the problem. From the Daily Mail.

Governing New Jersey, where the threat of terrorism is acute, gives [Chris Christie] an advantage on national security over his gubernatorial counterparts.

National Journal

Oh, please. “Acute”? “A remote possibility due to its proximity to New York and Philadelphia” would be more accurate.  


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)



[T]he president seems grimly determined to practice what Mr. Bush’s lawyers only preached. He is acting on the proposition that the president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has unilateral authority to declare war.

In taking this step, Mr. Obama is not only betraying the electoral majorities who twice voted him into office on his promise to end Bush-era abuses of executive authority. He is also betraying the Constitution he swore to uphold.


Bruce Ackerman’s devastating op-ed in The New York Times.

The paper’s editorial board was just as harsh.

All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaeda, in order to make the generals race there and cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses…

Osama bin Laden

A reminder that terrorists want to drag us into war. 

I noticed this interesting exchange on Twitter tonight between Conor Friedersdorf (a libertarian) and Arun Gupta (a progressive). It seems to highlight the differences between left-wing and libertarian foreign policy views. Neither side is particularly enthusiastic about Israel’s actions in Gaza but only one side seems willing to protest those actions. 

I noticed this interesting exchange on Twitter tonight between Conor Friedersdorf (a libertarian) and Arun Gupta (a progressive). It seems to highlight the differences between left-wing and libertarian foreign policy views. Neither side is particularly enthusiastic about Israel’s actions in Gaza but only one side seems willing to protest those actions. 

I was born in Iraq and I’d never in my life been asked if I was a Sunni or a Shiite. And I didn’t know who among my relatives or neighbors or co-workers or colleagues at school were Sunnis or Shiites, because it wasn’t an issue. It’s not that people were tolerant toward each other — they weren’t aware of sectarian backgrounds. It’s similar to some areas in the US where you don’t necessarily know what Christian sect your friends belong to. You might know, or you might not know. That was before the US intervention. The US destroyed that Iraqi national identity and replaced it with sectarian and ethnic identities after 2003. I don’t think this is something that many Iraqis argue about, because you can trace the beginning of this sectarian strife that is destroying the country, and it clearly began with the US invasion and occupation.

In recent interviews, two dozen current and former administration officials, foreign diplomats, friends and outside analysts described Mrs. Clinton as almost always the advocate of the most aggressive actions considered by Mr. Obama’s national security team — and not just in well-documented cases, like the debate over how many additional American troops to send to Afghanistan or the NATO airstrikes in Libya.

Mrs. Clinton’s advocates…are quick to cite other cases in which she took more hawkish positions than the White House: arguing for funneling weapons to Syrian rebels and for leaving more troops behind in postwar Iraq…


The New York Times

73% of Democrats want this person to be president. God help us all.

No one understands any longer who America stands with or against. No one really understands exactly what we’ll stand for — and what we are willing to sacrifice to stand up for it. [America must be] the strongest moral power for what is good and what is right in the world.

Chris Christie

The neoconservative criticisms of Obama’s supposedly “feckless” foreign policy are motivated by a worldview that demands that America kill a lot more people. That may seem overly simplistic but it’s true. In Syria, according to neocons, we should have bombed Assad’s forces and armed the rebels. In Libya, we should have launched our cascade of bombs earlier. In Iraq, we should have sat still for an indefinite amount of time rather than withdraw. In Nigeria, we should send out special forces in order to “#BringBackOurGirls.” In every instance, hawkish Republicans want to kill more people, spend more money, and risk more lives. Once the smoke clears and the bodies have been carted off to their graves, the world would supposedly be a freer, safer place.

Rand Paul, whatever one might think of him, has offered Republicans an alternative worldview that recognizes the limit of military power and is skeptical of the government’s ability to manage large, expensive projects efficiently. His foreign policy is a deeply conservative one that happens to overlap with the beliefs of many progressives. As long as 47% of Americans desire a reduced role in world affairs and as long as people such as Paul on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left offer members of both parties a more rational and peaceful foreign policy, hawkish politicians will at least meet some resistance before they ascend to power.

Any Democrat who is averse to misinformation from their standard bearer, or who wants a president committed to protecting whistleblowers…ought to find an alternative to the hawkish national security statist eyeing the White House.
- Conor Friedersdorf, re: Hillary Clinton
If the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…
My opposition to intervention in Syria [and] my hope for a diplomatic solution in Iran is due to the fact that I think we need to understand that the blunt instrument of military power, whether it’s with invasions or attacks from the sky, just doesn’t work very well in the information age in which people can turn what we think we’re trying to do for good into an avenue to recruit jihadists against us…