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On the Contradictions of Liberalism (and how to address them)

It is a well-worn criticism that despite their ostensive commitments to pluralism, respect, autonomy, etc. political liberals often find themselves incapable of accommodating or productively engaging those who reject central theses of their ideology. As Alain Badiou aptly put it: “Our suspicions are first aroused when we see that the self-declared apostles of ethics and[…]

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How to Truly Defeat ISIL

In 2011, it was widely assumed that the so-called “Arab Spring” would render groups like al-Qaeda irrelevant, as dissidents would find that they could achieve their goals for reformation through the ballot box rather than needing to rely on violence. I was one of the early and consistent cynics of this thesis. It seemed clear[…]

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National Security Strategy: From South Park, Colorado to Washington D.C.

In the Comedy Central television series South Park, the boys discover a cartel of gnomes who steal people’s underwear. Over the course of the episode it’s revealed that these seizures are part of their business plan which goes:   Step 1: Collect Underpants → Step 2: ? → Step 3: Profit   The punchline, of course, is[…]

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On Drawing Muhammad, Civil Rights, and Secularism

At the height of the unrest in Baltimore, I wrote a piece for Salon pushing back against the kneejerk condemnations of the riots. In the piece, I argued that advocates of pacifism fail to understand the extent to which their own methods are reliant on violence—to the point where it may not even be feasible[…]

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Critical Context on Iran’s Nuclear Program

Iran’s nuclear program was founded in 1957 as part of U.S. President Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative. As part of this deal, the United States helped provide the training, technology and infrastructure allowing Iran to become a nuclear power. It was America that built Iran’s first nuclear reactor in 1967, subsequently providing them with the[…]

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ISIS and the Escalation Game

ISIS distinguishes itself from other jihadist organizations, particularly its progenitor al-Qaeda, by positioning itself as the group that will do what other groups are unwilling or unable to do. There is a clear dialectic wherein other terror organizations will commit an a heinous act that receives widespread media coverage; ISIS will then try to divert[…]

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CIA Drone Campaign Demonstrates Need for Greater Intelligence Oversight, Accountability

A year ago SISMEC pointed out that, although most of the victims of U.S. drone strikes have ostensibly been “militants,” the White House definition of “militant” is extremely vague (generally, any fighting-aged male). Moreover, the purpose of the program isn’t to target any and all possible combatants, but instead to eliminate high-value targets from international terror[…]

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Airstrikes Begin in Syria: A Decisive Blow or an Ominous Precedent?

The Obama Administration has just announced that they and their coalition allies have begun a fierce campaign in Syria, bombing primarily “hard-targets” in the IS stronghold of Raqqa (about 20 of them). Here’s what is known—and perhaps more importantly—what is not known so far about the U.S. airstrikes: “Sunni Arab” Partners The U.S. was the only non-Arab actor[…]

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Al-Qaeda Contra the “Caliphate:” A Guide for the Perplexed

The public discourse about transnational jihadist organizations indiscriminately lumps together al-Qaeda, its forerunners (such as the Taliban), affiliates (such as Jahbat al-Nusra), its derivatives (such as Ansar al-Sharia or the Islamic State), and even groups which have no strong connection to al-Qaeda or such as Hamas, Hezbollah, or local tribal militants. It is not just[…]

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Depose Al-Malaki…And Then What?

Contrary to the popular narrative, Iraqi PM Nouri al-Malaki was not a sectarian leader. His fault was that he was an overly-ambitious autocrat who had the further misfortune of presiding over a fundamentally sectarian political system–and during the particularly polarized period in the Mideast following the Arab Uprisings. And while deposing al-Malaki had been a key demand of the Sunni opposition (as[…]

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When Hypocrites Take the Hippocratic Oath

Or, Undoing the “Arab Spring” Earlier this month, the White House unveiled its new foreign policy credo: “Don’t do stupid shit.” While many lamented the modesty of this approach, acting with restraint in order to limit iatrogenesis is certainly a worthy goal—and an approach with wide and enduring popular support—in fact, this is the vision[…]

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Libya: More Good News for People Who Love Bad News

In a recently-published article for The National Interest, I explored the profound depth and scale of the problems facing Libya. That article ended on a cautiously optimistic note: while many of the endemic problems were set to persist indefinitely, there seemed to be a breakthrough between the central government and the Eastern rebels, which would allow[…]

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Building on Nietzsche’s Prelude

Musa al-Gharbi explains the (anti)philosophy undergirding his research at the unlikely intersection of theology, cognitive science and Mideast geopolitics.   I. As a social epistemologist, my work has been focused on highlighting the ways misinformation, disinformation and ignorance adversely affect policy in the geopolitical and tactical spheres. I subscribe to the via negativa because it[…]

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Red Hands Waving False Flags

The Erdogan Administration’s Plan for War in Syria Earlier this week, two videos, totaling 15 minutes,  began circulating on YouTube wherein senior Turkish officials, including Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoglu and Intelligence Chief Hakan Fidan, discuss at length their intentions to have extremist groups in Syria carry out an attack on the Tomb of Suleiman Shah,[…]

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The Slow, Agonizing Death of the Syrian Civil War

Those who are hoping that an agreement between the exogenous opposition and the government can bring an end to the Syrian civil war misunderstand the purpose of the Geneva communique and subsequent talks: the aim is to get foreign powers to stop exacerbating and perpetuating the crisis, principally the United States and its regional allies.[…]

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The Tortured Logic of “Enhanced Interrogation”

Underlying any interrogation technique are a number of assumptions about how people think and behave. Contemporary cognitive science and psychology suggest rather robustly that the axioms which have historically lent credence to some of today’s most-popular interrogation techniques are more-or-less false. For instance, investigators have long believed (and many continue to believe) that fidgeting, avoiding[…]

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Droning on about UAVs: A Metacriticism

“Before we can talk about what is ‘effective’ we have to talk about what the goal is of using military force at all. Is it to make Americans safer? Is it to keep Afghanis, Pakistanis or Yemenis safe? What’s the goal?  The question of being ‘effective’ – if you’re asking do drones work to kill[…]

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Egypt’s “Deep State” Declares Independence

To be clear, the Egyptian military does not aspire towards total control of the state, with all of the responsibilities entailed thereby—what they want, what they have always wanted, is to be beyond accountability to the civilian population, to have their budget immune to external oversight or reduction, to reserve the right to intercede as[…]

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Negotiations with Iran: Nuclear Breakthrough or Nuclear Meltdown?

Initially, Bashar al-Asad had developed his chemical weapons programs as a deterrent against Israeli and Western aggression—lately, he has discovered that these arms are more of a liability than an asset, nearly provoking the very invasion they were intended to ward off. For its part, Iran has been unyielding in their condemnation of the use[…]

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The American Empire: Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin

Generally speaking, change is inevitable—however, most specific transformations are not. Virtually any prediction can be defied; in fact, most are. That people are pretty terrible at forecasting in most (especially sociological) domains does not inhibit many from making grandiose claims about the “inevitability” of American decadence—often relying upon ill-formed analogies with empires past. If only[…]

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Abu Anas Arrested: But will a too-late victory for America hasten the early demise of Libya?

Image: Libyans burn an American flag in protest of al-Libi’s “kidnapping” On October 5th 2013, in a joint operation between the CIA and U.S. Special Forces, the United States captured and extracted Nazih Abdul-Gamed al-Ruqai, known popularly as Abu Anas al-Libi (not to be confused with the late Abu Yaya al-Libi of AQSL). Abu Anas[…]

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Shallow Democracy v. Deep State: An Archaeology of the Crisis in Egypt

A week after carrying out his ultimatum to depose President Mursi, General al-Sisi delivered a new 48-hour ultimatum to those alienated by his actions to end their protests against the military coup.  Even as the general demanded that the protesters end their demonstrations, he called upon his own supporters to take to the streets nationwide[…]

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Coup me once, shame on you; coup me twice…

The Next Phase of the Egyptian “Revolution” Mohamed Mursi’s biggest, albeit inevitable, failure is now perhaps obvious: he was unable to significantly reform Egypt’s “deep state.” The recent coup makes it less likely that future elected officials will have the courage to even try, assuming they are ever granted meaningful authority over the state—there is no doubt[…]

How to Avoid Being a Turkey

 Taking a Closer Look at the Taksim Protests   In recent weeks there has been a deluge of coverage and analysis of Istanbul’s Taksim Square protests. These events have typically been framed as another case of a popular and peaceful youth movement being crushed by an authoritarian dictator; often pundits have gone so far as to[…]

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Binaries and Code in Discourse of MENA Region

Many in media and academic circles seem to pride themselves on having advanced beyond the “Clash of Civilizations” rhetoric that defined the aftermath of  September 11th (2001).  However, upon analysis is clear that the primary development has been the transformation of these frameworks into euphemistic forms:  consider, for instance, the supposed conflict between the liberals[…]