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“Privatized Violence:” Pro-Regime Militias and the State in Syria

Going into its 6th year with no end in sight, the Syrian civil war has dramatically impacted state institutions, as well as the army. High casualty and desertion rates with a concomitant growth in the geographic scale and intensity of the fighting have seriously weakened the army. This untenable situation compelled the Syrian regime to[…]

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How to Make a Yemen Peace Process Stick

Six months into the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, the situation inside the southwestern Arabian peninsula country remains as fluid as it is deadly.  Pro-government forces allied to Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi — thanks in large measure to the willingness of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Qatar to deploy[…]

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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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Shia Militias, Sectarianism & Sovereignty in Iraq

In recent months there has been an important shift in American strategic thinking about Iraq, with key government officials and analysts arguing that Shiite militias are displacing the Islamic State as the most serious threat to Iraqi stability. In January 2015, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that increased Iranian influence[…]

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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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It’s Time For Politics in Yemen

Highly concerned that the security situation inside Yemen was no longer possible to ignore, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud made a decision that was highly uncharacteristic of Saudi behavior over the past decade: he went beyond the traditional option of funding acceptable proxies by assembling a Sunni Arab military coalition for conventional operations in Yemen.[…]

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Blue Shift: Why The U.S. Military Must Appeal To Silicon Valley

Regardless of his actual chances of winning in 2016, Senator Rand Paul’s candidacy for President of the United States will once again generate debates over the fiscal conservative agenda. What Senator Paul envisions, among other things, is a streamlined U.S. military with a demobilized posture and, critically, an attending decrease in defense spending. His father[…]

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For Farkhunda

The lynching of a young woman named Farkhunda in bustling downtown Kabul on March 19th just before nowruz (the Persian/Afghan New Year), has wracked Afghanistan and the Afghan community worldwide. Social media has been saturated with the bloodied pictures and videos of her, and thousands of demonstrators seeking justice for her killing and protesting lawlessness[…]

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ISIS’ Expedition Into Central Asia: A Spoiler or Boon for the Taliban?

Al-Qaeda concerned itself with establishing the “base conditions” for the Caliphate through its various franchised affiliates (i.e. AQIS, AQAP, AQIM, etc.). Other Islamist movements speak about establishing an Islamic State but are essentially national Islamist movements (such as the Chechen Islamists, Palestinian Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon and various Ansar al-Sharia franchises); these groups are pan-Islamist[…]

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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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Interrupting the War Image: SISMEC Interviews Graphic Artist Azim Fakhri

Farzana Marie (FM): Many of your works of art depict images of war and violence juxtaposed with, or altered in surprising ways to convey, instead, a vision for peace. Your tagline, “Imagination is my power,” directly implies a displacement of violent force with art. Can you talk about how this approach emerged for you, beginning[…]

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Former Army Interrogator: Moral and Legal Considerations Aside, Torture Doesn’t Work

Yesterday, torture was once again on our minds. Months after President Obama’s callous admission that “we tortured some folks” in the years after 9/11, the Democrat-led Senate Intelligence Committee has succeeded in unearthing details about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation program that greatly discredit the prevailing narrative of torture’s effectiveness. In spite of these new details,[…]

“Letters to War” and “Lethe”

Letters to War and Lethe is a collection of poems about war: its deprivations, its strange gifts, and its remembrances. “Whether set in Afghanistan or an American supermarket,” writes Boston-based poet Joyce Peseroff, these poems “upset platitudes and assumptions about those who fight, what they remember, and who speaks for them.” Farzana Marie’s book, Peseroff says,[…]

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The “Islamic State” and the “Bewildered Herd”

Walter Lippmann and Edward Bernays were masters at understanding how images and rhetoric could be manipulated in order to trigger certain psychological responses from the public. They perfected this craft over the course of World War I, while serving as advisers to President Wilson. Bernays served on the Committee for Public Information (Creel Committee), tasked with turning[…]

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Why Mideast Elections Are Overrated and Often Counterproductive

In his 1997 piece “Was a Democracy Just a Moment?” Robert Kaplan predicted that like Christianity, democracy would not create a more moral or peaceful world, but rather, a more complex one. Right now the erstwhile young democracies of Pakistan and Afghanistan are finding this out the hard way. In Pakistan, the past three months[…]

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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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Barbarians at the Gate: ISIS, Al-Qaeda and India

On September 3rd, Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of Al Qaeda Central (AQC) announced the establishment of a new branch: al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Zawahiri, often described as “long on words and short on charm”  delivered a characteristically ambling and inchoate message. He explained how the new group was the “blessed result”  of[…]

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Oil for Sovereignty? America, Iraq, and Kurdistan

Christian Sinclair   Much like the dispute in Libya between Cyrenaica and Tripoli, the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have long been engaged in local disputes over oil sales and revenues. Baghdad, for example, is withholding the KRG’s share of oil revenues, which amount to US7bn for 2014 alone. In July[…]

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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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The Missing Peace: Full Recognition of Palestinian Humanity

For the third time in less than six years, Israeli airstrikes are pounding Gaza. That means six-year-old Palestinian children have lived through 3 major Israeli military assaults in their short lives. Every few years now, the same nightmare replays, along with the familiar news chorus of Israeli propaganda: Hamas is to blame for all of[…]

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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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Baghdad and Kabul – A Reminiscence of Saigon

The fall of Saigon in April of 1975 left an indelible scar on the American psyche. The memorable scenes of the U.S. embassy and intelligence officials boarding helicopters from the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, surrounded by thousands of desperate and panicked South Vietnamese civilians, signaled the end of an almost 30 year[…]

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Egypt Turning a Corner: For Better or For Worse?

Dr. Michael C. Hudson On May 26-8 Egyptians went to the polls to elect a new president–a decisive moment in the tumultuous struggles which followed the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in the uprising of 2010-11. The masses had demanded an end to authoritarianism and the beginning of democracy. But in this election they overwhelmingly voted for the general,[…]

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Egypt’s Low Electoral Turnout: The Death Pangs of al-Sisi or the June 30th ‘Revolution’ ?

Today was the second day of the Egyptian presidential election. The election, which comes almost two years after the 2012 presidential election and eleven months after the July 2013 coup, is the most recent and most important step in the current regime’s ongoing attempt to move beyond the discursive as well as the on-the-ground conflict[…]