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Archive for December 21st, 2015

The world of threats to the US is an illusion

When Americans look out at the world, we see a swarm of threats.

China seems resurgent and ambitious. Russia is aggressive. Iran menaces our allies.

Middle East nations we once relied on are collapsing in flames.

Latin American leaders sound steadily more anti-Yankee.

Terror groups capture territory and commit horrific atrocities. We fight Ebola with one hand while fending off Central American children with the other.

In fact, this world of threats is an illusion.

The United States has no potent enemies. We are not only safe, but safer than any big power has been in all of modern history.

April 2015 by Stephen Kinzer

Geography is our greatest protector. Wide oceans separate us from potential aggressors. Our vast homeland is rich and productive. No other power on earth is blessed with this security.

Our other asset is the weakness of potential rivals.

It will be generations before China is able to pose a serious challenge to the United States — and there is little evidence it wishes to do so.

Russia is weak and in deep economic trouble — not always a friendly neighbor but no threat to the United States.

Heart-rending violence in the Middle East has no serious implication for American security.

As for domestic terrorism, the risk for Americans is modest: You have more chance of being struck by lightning on your birthday than of dying in a terror attack.

Promoting the image of a world full of enemies creates a “security psychosis” that misshapes our view of the world.

It tempts us to interpret defensive steps taken by other countries as threatening. In extreme cases, it pushes us into wars aimed at preempting threats that do not actually exist.

Arms manufacturers profit from the security psychosis even more directly than militarists.

Americans take our staggeringly large defense budget almost for granted, and lament continuously that other countries do not build as many exotic weapons systems as we do.

Finding new threats is always good business for someone.

With the United State so dominant in global politics, it’s time to secure this low-threat world.

Our strategic goal should be to keep our country as safe as it is now. That means bringing troublemaking countries out of their isolation.

Ignoring their interests, or seeking “full-spectrum dominance” to assure that they cannot rise, provokes reactions that will be bad for us in the long run. (These awe and shock carpet bombing strategies)

Last year, after Russia began encouraging upheaval in Ukraine, NATO decided to “suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation” with Russia.

Moments of crisis, however, are precisely the times when contact is most urgent. We took advantage of Russia when it was powerless a quarter-century ago.

Future peace requires taking its security concerns seriously rather than treating the country as an enemy that is always seeking to best us.

Our policy toward China is less aggressive, but beneath its surface is often a presumption that one day there must be a showdown between our two countries.

The recent deal between Western nations and Iran is being sold as the taming of an enemy — although Iran is not our enemy.

Neither is Cuba, despite the warnings of revanchists in Washington and elsewhere. Nor are most of the enemies-for-a-day that we eagerly seek, from Sandinistas in Nicaragua to Houthis in Yemen.

I recently asked a United States Navy officer what threats he believed the United States might confront in the future.

To my astonishment, he answered, “Venezuela.”

The South American country is in political crisis and careening toward bankruptcy. Its combat navy counts six frigates and two submarines, none of them seaworthy.

Yet last month President Obama designated Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US national security.” The search for enemies can lead to odd places.

This impulse is not peculiarly American. Feeling threatened strengthens group solidarity. Some thinkers have gone so far as to suggest that since societies become more united and resolute in the face of enemies, those that have none should find some.

“It is always possible to bind together a considerable number of people in love,” Freud wrote, “so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestations of their aggressiveness.”

Nietzsche believed the nation-state’s “profound appreciation of the value of having enemies” produced a “spiritualization of hostility.”

A young country especially, he said, “needs enemies more than friends: in opposition alone does it feel itself necessary.”

When Americans see threats everywhere, we fall into this trap.

Believing we are besieged is strangely comforting. To recognize how safe we are would require a change of national mindset that we seem reluctant to make.

(This persistent trend in US foreign policy leaning in That “All crisis at All times” should be created and invented.)

Stephen Kinzer is a visiting fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University. Follow him on Twitter @stephenkinzer.

O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

William Shakespeare's photo.

William ShakespeareLike Page

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.”
–Mark Antony from “Julius Caesar” (Act III, Scene II).

Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’

And (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg)

February 25, 2014

I had an epiphany the other day. I was in the middle of marking up a memo on U.S. drone policy while simultaneously ordering a custom-decorated cake for my daughter’s sixth grade musical cast party and planning my remarks for a roundtable on women in national security.Suddenly, it hit me: I hate Sheryl Sandberg.It’s not because she’s so rich, or because she’s the COO of Facebook, or because she has gleaming, meticulously coiffed hair.

True, Facebook is the Internet equivalent of Shiva, Destroyer of Worlds, and my own hair will never approach the glossy perfection of Sheryl Sandberg’s.

I have nothing against rich people, who sometimes fund my projects or buy me lunch at fancy restaurants. Rich people, I love you!

It’s also nothing personal. I’m sure Sheryl Sandberg is a delightful person, and I’d love her, too, if I knew her and she bought me lunch at a fancy restaurant.

In fact, she and I probably have some friends in common; we were college classmates, though I don’t remember if we ever met.

“Did we know Sheryl Sandberg?” I asked my friend Suzanne, who was also in my college class.

She gave me a funny look. “Well, I knew her. Don’t you know if you knew her?”

“I can’t remember.”

If you knew her, you would remember,” said Suzanne. “She was one of those people you would definitely remember. I used to go to an aerobics class she taught.”

That explained it.

Some college students, like my friend Suzanne, take aerobics classes.

Some college students, like Sheryl Sandberg, teach aerobics classes.

Other college students, like myself, lie around the dorm reading novels.

Sheryl Sandberg was already busy leaning in. I was busy leaning back on my sofa, with a good book and a nice cup of cocoa.

This, of course, is also why I hate her.

Sheryl, have you ever stopped to consider that all this “leaning in” is ruining life for the rest of us?

Long ago, before Sandberg’s book “Lean In” convinced me to change my ways, I had a life. I had friends, family, children.

I had hobbies. I had a job, too, of course, but I also took occasional vacations, knocked off work at a sensible hour and got eight hours of sleep each night.

Then I read “Lean In” and realized that I was self-sabotaging slacker.

I resolved to do better. I started stepping up at work: “I’ll handle both those complex and urgent projects,” I informed my colleagues, with just the right mix of confidence, assertiveness and non-threatening feminine charm.

“With a little creative, outside-the-box thinking, I can take care of both by tomorrow!”

I stopped turning down invitations to speak at conferences in inconveniently far-off places. I accepted every media request. I promised to write articles and reports and books.

I leaned in to the other spheres of my life, too: I became a room parent at the children’s school, hosted the class potluck and the mother-daughter book club, and decided that my children would go to school each day with organic, homemade lunches packed in eco-friendly containers.

Just as Sandberg promised, the rewards of leaning in quickly became evident. My confident, assertive yet non-threatening feminine charm helped me rapidly expand both my business and social networks.

When I dropped the kids off at school, other mommies gazed upon me with approval.

Older colleagues took me aside to tell me I was an up-and-comer and offer me plum assignments.

Younger colleagues asked me to mentor them and join their Lean In Circles.

Speaking engagements flowed my way, and rich people asked if they could buy me lunch.

With my confident yet charmingly self-deprecating smile, I accepted all offers and invitations.

Soon, the rewards of leaning in doubled.

Then they quadrupled. Then they began to increase exponentially.

I leaned in some more. I ate protein bars and made important telephone calls during my morning commute.

I stopped reading novels so I could write more articles and memos and make more handicrafts to contribute to the school auction.

I put in extra hours at work. When I came home, I did radio interviews over Skype from my living room while supervising the children’s math homework.

And I realized that I hated Sheryl Sandberg.

Because, of course, I was miserable.

I never saw my friends, because I was too busy building my network.

I was too tired to do any creative, outside-the-box thinking. I was boxed in.

I wondered if foreign-policy punditry was just too much for me.

I wondered if I should move to Santa Fe and open a small gallery specializing in handicrafts made from recycled tires.

I wondered if my husband and kids would want to go with me.

But then — after my I-hate-Sheryl epiphany — I came to a bold new conclusion.

Ladies, if we want to rule the world — or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions — we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us.

We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.

Here’s the thing: We’ve created a world in which ubiquity is valued above all.

If you’re not at your desk every night until nine, your commitment to the job is questioned. If you’re not checking email 24/7, you’re not a reliable colleague.

But in a world in which leaning in at work has come to mean doing more work, more often, for longer hours, women will disproportionately drop out or be eased out.

Why? Because unlike most men, women — particularly women with children — are still expected to work that “second shift” at home.

Men today do more housework and childcare than men in their fathers’ generation, but women today still do far more housework and childcare than men.

And just as work has expanded to require employees’ round-the-clock attention, being a good mom has also started requiring ubiquity.

Things were different in my own childhood, but today, parenting has become a full-time job: it requires attendance at an unending stream of school meetings, class performances and soccer games, along with the procurement of tutors, classes and enrichment activities, the arranging of play dates, the making of organic lunches and the supervising of labor-intensive homework projects.

It’s hard enough managing one 24/7 job. No one can survive two of them.

And as long as women are the ones doing more of the housework and childcare, women will be disproportionately hurt when both workplace expectations and parenting expectations require ubiquity.

They’ll continue to do what too many talented women already do: Just as they’re on the verge of achieving workplace leadership positions, they’ll start dropping out.

The general American tendency to think that “more time at work” equals “better work” is exacerbated by the All Crisis All the Time culture of foreign policy.

Global crisis never sleeps, and neither do the overworked staffers at the Pentagon, the State Department or the White House. (They create the crisis to keep busy and leaning in to their bosses)

It’s little wonder that many of the gifted young female staffers who enter these workplaces hit a wall at some point, and come to the painful realization that work and family obligations aren’t always things you can simply “balance.”

Often, these weights become too heavy. They can crush you.

And this isn’t just about women. Men — and our society more broadly — also suffer when both work and parenting are intensive, round-the-clock activities.

Back in the day, Henry Ford didn’t advocate the eight-hour day for his auto assembly line workers because he was a nice guy. He advocated the eight-hour day because research demonstrated that worker productivity cratered after more than eight hours.

As Brigid Schulte documents in her forthcoming book, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time,” humans can only take so much for so long.

When a workplace is full of employees who always lean in and never lean back, it’s full of employees who are exhausted, brittle and incapable of showing much creativity or making good decisions. (The culture of ever youth: You can take it)

Sometimes, overwork gets downright dangerous. We have tough legislation mandating adequate rest periods for truck drivers and airline pilots — not because we think they need their beauty sleep, but because when overtired drivers and pilots make mistakes, people can die. When did we come to believe that crucial national security decisions are best made by people too tired to think straight?

If we truly want gender equality, we need to challenge the assumption that more is always better, and the assumption that men don’t suffer as much as women when they’re exhausted and have no time for family or fun. And we need to challenge those assumptions wherever we find them, both in the workplace and in the family.

Whether it’s one more meeting, one more memo, one more conference, one more play date, one more soccer game or one more flute lesson for the kids, sometimes we need to say, “Enough!”

In 1929, Virginia Woolf issued a cri de coeur: How can women become poets and writers, she asked in her now-classic essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” when they have no money, no independence, no privacy and no space? “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” declared Woolf.

Other forms of creativity are no different. If we want to do more than just go through the motions, both love and work require a protected space in which creativity can flourish.

Today, most women can make money on their own and acquire rooms of their own — but they still get too little psychic space and too little time for the kind of unstructured, creative thinking so critical to any kind of success.

Perhaps the modern equivalent of Woolf’s “room of her own” is the right to stop “leaning in” all the time.

There is, after all, much to be said for leaning out — for long lunches, afternoon naps, good books and some nice, slow hours in the La-Z-Boy.

Sandberg can keep right on leaning in if it makes her happy, but here’s my new feminist manifesto — call it a Manifestus for the Rest of Us.

We need to fight for our right to lean out, and we need to do it together, girls.

If we’re going to fight the culture of workplace ubiquity, and the parallel and equally-pernicious culture of intensive parenting, we need to do it together — and we need to bring our husbands and boyfriends and male colleagues along, too.

They need to lean out in solidarity, for their own sake as well as ours.

Women of the world, recline!
– – –
Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a fellow at the New America Foundation. She served as a counselor to the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a State Department senior adviser. A longer version of this post appeared previously in Foreign Policy.

Hezbollah recruiting push:

Is it coming amid deeper role in Syria

At tightly guarded facilities in south Lebanon, men as young as 17 undergo training by the Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah on weapons and anti-insurgent tactics before being sent to Syria to fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Hezbollah has been conducting a large recruitment drive, a sign of how the war in Syria has become perhaps the most intense conflict the group has waged.

Its losses in Syria — now more than 1,000 killed — are approaching the toll incurred by the group in 18 years of fighting the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.

That conflict earned Hezbollah its reputation as Lebanon’s strongest armed force.

Bassem Mroue shared a link.

The recruitment, drawing from Lebanon’s Shiite community, is even more important now as Hezbollah expands its involvement in Syria, engaging in battles deep inside the country and trying to take back rebel-held territory.

“Hezbollah is both battle-weary and battle-hardened,” said Bilal Saab, a resident senior fellow for Middle East Security at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

“Hezbollah has lost many men in Syria, but it has also acquired new skills. It is overstretched, but it can operate in multiple terrains.”

With strong financial and military backing from Iran, Hezbollah has been able to step up its role in Syria even while maintaining the political domination in Lebanon that it has held for several years.

“Hezbollah is not weaker than the time they joined the war in Syria,” said Hisham Jaber, a retired Lebanese general.

About 3,000 Hezbollah fighters are in Syria, roughly 15% of the group’s main fighting force, said Jaber, who heads the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research in Beirut and closely follows Hezbollah. It also has about 30,000 fighters it could mobilize if needed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 1,005 Hezbollah fighters have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, compared with 1,276 killed fighting the Israeli occupation, which ended in 2000.

During the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, 1,200 people were killed in Lebanon. Lebanon says most of those killed were civilians, while Israel says 600 of the dead were Hezbollah militants.

The group recruits from Lebanon’s Shiite population, believed to make up about a third of the country’s 4.5 million people. (How about 50%?)

It finds no shortage of volunteers, since Shiites have rallied around Hezbollah even more than in the past, seeing it as the community’s protector amid a wave of bombings and suicide attacks by Sunni radicals against mainly Shiite areas in Lebanon since 2013.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has depicted the war in Syria as a fight against Sunni Wahhabi extremists whom he called an “existential threat.”

Sunni militants fighting for the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s branch in Syria known as the Nusra Front consider Shiites to be heretics, referring to them by the derogatory term “rawafid,” or “rejectionists,” and openly call for the destruction of Shiite shrines. (All shrines, no exception. That’s the Wahhabi dogma)

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV often shows video encouraging Shiites to join the fight against “takfiris,” a term for Sunni extremists meaning “those who declare others infidels.”

In May, Nasrallah said in a speech that Hezbollah could “declare general mobilization to all people. I say we might fight everywhere.”

Several south Lebanon residents whose relatives are fighting in Syria or have undergone training told The Associated Press that an intense recruitment campaign has been underway. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about Hezbollah’s operations, which are kept largely secret.

At three camps in southern Lebanon, thousands of volunteers aged 17 and up have undergone training in recent years, particularly since 2013, when the bombings took place and Syrian militants held ground near the Syrian border, the residents said.

The training lasts 60-90 days.

Fighters in the past were prepared for more conventional warfare against Israel, but today they are trained for street battles and counterinsurgent tactics to deal with rebels, the residents said.

Also joining the training are a small number of Shiites from other Mideast and Asian countries who came to Lebanon to study at Shiite religious institutions, the residents said. (Lebanon was the main religious teaching hub for Iranians before Khomeini came to power)

Once in Syria, the fighters wear pro-government National Defense Forces camouflage uniforms and are asked to speak with a Syrian dialect so they don’t attract attention. Some elite fighters get more than $2,000 a month for being in Syria, a very good salary by Lebanon’s standards.

“My nephew has been fighting in Syria for two years,” one of the residents said. “He comes to take some days’ rest in Lebanon before going back.”

Hezbollah offers benefits that also motivate volunteers. The children of fighters get free education until they graduate from university. If a fighter is killed, his family continues to receive a stipend; if he is wounded, he is treated for free in the group’s hospitals.

Hezbollah first began sending fighters to Syria in 2012 to help protect Shiite shrines near the capital of Damascus.

In May 2013, the group went in full force and captured the strategic central town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon, a three-week battle that cost the group nearly 100 fighters, according to pro-Hezbollah media.

In the following months, it cleared rebels from most of the towns near the border, sharply reducing the number of bombings in Lebanon.

(They retook most of the rugged eastern mountain chain of Al Kalamoun, bordering Lebanon, and participated in the liberation of the strategic large city of Zabadani. Thus, the Lebanese army can control a couple of the entrances of the extremists from the Bekaa Valley)

“We have pushed the strategic threat away from Lebanon and we want to remove the danger from Syria because this strengthens our stability in Lebanon,” said Mohammed Raad, who heads Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, during a rally in November marking the death of a Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria. “When we fight in Syria, we are defending ourselves and strengthening our security.”

Since Russia began giving air cover to Assad’s forces and their allies, Hezbollah fighters have been vital to the government’s push to capture rebel-held areas in Latakia, Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

On Wednesday, they helped government forces capture the strategic Noba Mountain in Latakia province.

But the battles come at a high cost, especially with the group losing some of its most experienced commanders.

Hardly a day passes without Al-Manar TV showing a funeral of Hezbollah fighters, their coffins draped with the group’s yellow flag. Hezbollah does not release numbers of the dead, who they say were “martyred while performing their jihadi duties.”

Hassan Hussein al-Haj, a top Hezbollah commander, was killed in October while fighting in Idlib province. His replacement, Mahdi Hassan Obeid, was killed there hours after al-Haj was buried in his south Lebanon hometown.

In May 2014, military commander Fawzi Ayoub also was killed in Syria. Ayoub, known as Abu Abbas, was a dual Lebanese-Canadian citizen who was wanted by the FBI on charges of trying to use a forged U.S. passport to enter Israel.

Hezbollah officials vow to continue fighting militants from the Nusra Front as well as the Islamic State group in areas bordering Lebanon.

“We are bent on ending the terrorist takfiri presence on our border, no matter what the sacrifices are,” said Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, in a speech in June.

Note: Hezbollah has maintained Lebanon geographically and gave it a political weight after the Israeli pre-emptive war of 2006.


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