Stop Americans from joining IS with propaganda

By Mark Cross in Sydney, Australia

15 September 2014

The blog is currently featuring posts written by post-graduate students from the USSC 6903 Foreign and National Security Policy class, taught by Dr. Sarah Graham. You can see more of their posts here

During an interview at the Naval War College, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said, “We are aware of over 100 US citizens who have US passports who are fighting in the Middle East with ISIL forces. There may be more; we don’t know.” Additionally, Matthew Olsen, the Director at the National Counterterrorism Center, claimed that at least 1,000 European passport holders are fighting in Syria and Iraq as well.

The death of James Foley, an American journalist who was likely killed by a British citizen working with the Islamic State terror group, along with the death of Douglas McCain, an American citizen fighting with IS in Syria, calls attention to the number of Westerners fighting in the region. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he aims to confiscate passports and possibly strip British citizenship from those fighting with IS, and the American public is calling for the US government to do the same.

The US government has the authority to confiscate American passports of suspected IS fighters and limit their international travel. This is often done when someone is awaiting trial or is a suspect in an investigation. However, it is more difficult to strip their citizenship. Only in rare situations does the United States have the authority to take away an individual’s citizenship involuntarily, as the government cannot leave someone stateless.

Confiscating passports and possibly stripping US citizenship will not solve the problem; it is only a response to the realisation that there are American citizens working with IS. The United States must address the cause of the problem itself: why are Americans joining IS in the first place?

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The United States should look to new — or perhaps old — methods to fight IS. During the Cold War, the United States spent millions on various tools of propaganda. Most of this was coordinated through the US Information Agency, USIA, whose purpose was to inform and influence public opinion by promoting American goals. This influence on public opinion, both abroad and in America, played a major part in winning the Cold War. However, USIA was dissolved in 1999 and, currently, only a small number of people within the Department of State are devoted to influencing public opinion.

IS relies heavily on social media and YouTube to gain fighters, financial support, and a sympathetic audience internationally — and it has been working to their advantage. With propaganda, IS seems to be beating America at its own game. The Department of State finally released an Anti-IS propaganda campaign titled “Think Again, Turn Away” to discourage Americans from joining the extremist cause. Even though the United States has been “messaging” through social media in English, Urdu, Arabic, and Somali for three years, the budget is extremely low and likely less than what IS is spending.

The United States must be proactive and reach out to both an American and international audience before IS does. Taking away passports and restricting US citizenship may help in a few specific situations, but the United States must remember how it won the Cold War: not solely through an arms race and covert military operations, but also through propaganda. Americans mastered propaganda during the twentieth century and developed social media. Now, the country must use it to gain advantage over IS. 


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American Daily: September 15, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

15 September 2014

  • "Why America's Iraq strategy will work and why Australia should take part."
Iraq does threaten core Australian interests. The existence of ISIS-stan increases the terrorist threat faced by Australians both in Australia and in our region (not to mention places Australians like to travel, such as Europe). This is because, as has been mentioned many times now, Iraq and Syria are providing military skills to extremists from Australia, but also neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia the Philippines, and around the world. These fighters are also developing connections with other extremist groups that will make them a more lethal threat in years to come.
The law allows a cop to shoot someone if the cop has a reasonable belief that his life is in danger or that the victim is a felon. But the officer is required to show that his actions were justified every single time he pulled the trigger, not just the first time. According to an independent autopsy report, Brown was shot at least six times.
The Wall Street Journal devoted a major article to the efforts by President Obama and several governors to address the skills gap. According to the piece, employers in manufacturing can't hire workers with the right skills. If employers can't get enough workers then we would expect to see wages rising in manufacturing.
They aren't. Over the last year the average hourly wage rose by just 2.1 percent, only a little higher than the inflation rate and slightly less than the average for all workers. This follows several years where wages in manufacturing rose less than the economy-wide average.
"Criminal justice policy was very much driven by public sentiment and a political instinct to appeal to the more negative punitive elements of public sentiment rather than to be driven by the facts," he said.
And that public sentiment called for filling up the nation's prisons, a key part of the 1994 crime bill.

Rich towns

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American Daily: September 12, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

12 September 2014

Yet on Wednesday a senior administration official told reporters that the 2001 authorisation covered the war against Isis. Legal scholars have already debated its coverage of al-Qaida affiliates that did not exist in 2001. Isis, however, is not an al-Qaida affiliate, having been specifically disavowed by al-Qaida’s leader, Ayman Zawahiri. Ken Gude of the liberal Center for American Progress, a thinktank close to the administration, tweeted that he was “utterly shocked” the administration would contend the 2001 authority applied - an argument he had earlier in the day called “laughable.”

Every American President in the past quarter century has now gone on television during prime time to tell the nation and the world that he has decided to bomb Iraq. Last night was Barack Obama’s turn, and it was a vexing performance. This is a President who has been stubbornly dedicated to extricating the United States as much as possible from its post-9/11 wars and resisting—in the absence of any good options for decisive action—being drawn into Syria’s catastrophic civil war. “The greatest responsibility I have as President is to keep the American people safe,” he said, two years ago. “That’s why I ended the war in Iraq.” And he repeated that boast last night, even as he told a very different story, effectively declaring a new war of staggering scope and complexity against forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, and other enemies, in Iraq and Syria—a war that he described as having no end in sight.
  • Is IS really that much of a threat to the US anyway?

Press coverage of ISIS often ignores the fact that, in the past, the group has not targeted the American homeland. Jihadist groups, even monstrous ones, don’t inevitably go after the United States. Al-Qaeda began doing so as part of a specific strategy. After fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, it initially turned its attention to overthrowing regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri considered oppressive, corrupt, and un-Islamic. It was only when those direct efforts failed that al-Qaeda hatched a new strategy: attacking those regimes’ patron, the United States. That’s still al-Qaeda’s strategy. And as a result, so far, the U.S. has arguably had more to fear from those Westerners who have joined the al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, than from those who have joined ISIS. But, ironically, al-Nusra may be a beneficiary of America’s war, as it takes territory that ISIS now claims.

  • Does it matter if presidents are "tough"?
Much like "leadership," "strength" is one of those imprecise characteristics that presidents are mandated to exhibit with exaggeration when it comes to foreign affairs. Its appeal is obvious, at least in theory: If the nation's leader is the personification of strength, then the United States purportedly will have greater leverage and influence over its allies and adversaries around the world. As the logic follows, whenever foreign leaders refuse to obey America's stated wishes, it is the president's personal obligation to simply show more determination, steel, backbone, or resolve (pick a synonym). Of course, then the noncompliant foreign leader recognizes the error of his ways and quickly falls back into line.

The only behavior this league polices effectively involves uniforms, celebrations, or marijuana testing that the rest of the country stopped caring about several years ago. Meanwhile, there’s still no HGH policy in place, head injuries remain a problem with no clear solution, domestic violence and offseason crime is an issue that’s not getting better, and as the league pushes for an 18-game schedule and a draft in late May, more people than ever wonder how much longer we can keep watching.

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I can live with "don't do stupid stuff"

By Sarah MacDonald in Sydney, Australia

11 September 2014

The blog is currently featuring posts written by post-graduate students from the USSC 6903 Foreign and National Security Policy class, taught by Dr. Sarah Graham. You can see more of their posts here

In a recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, Hillary Clinton said, "Great nations need organising principles, and don’t do stupid stuff is not an organising principle.”

Just as the dust settled on Hillary Clinton’s remark, President Obama appeared before the White House Press Gallery in a smart tan suit to comment on the situation in Syria.  The President said: “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet.”

It is debatable whether this remark, or the President’s suit, got more attention from the world media.

Obama in tan suit 

It is easy to criticise President Obama for his failure to articulate an overarching foreign policy principle that amounts to more than not doing "stupid stuff." But how much does an overarching foreign policy principle even matter?

After 9/11, President George W. Bush enunciated the Bush doctrine, which, broadly speaking, encompassed his overarching foreign policy principles. The Bush doctrine included a policy of preventative war, which meant that the US could depose foreign regimes that threatened the security of the United States, even if the threat was not imminent.

The Bush doctrine led to the 2003 Iraq War. But the war and its aftermath were disastrous for the United States. There were approximately 4500 US casualties and the direct cost of the war is estimated to be 1.7 trillion dollars.

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President George W. Bush

The 2003 Iraq war serves as a reminder that the application of firm overarching foreign policy principles does not always yield a successful foreign policy outcome. It is the careful and meticulous planning and decision making of a president and his advisors that will result in the most successful execution of a foreign policy objective. It matters very little whether you rigorously pursue an overarching principle in every corner of the globe.

Furthermore, given the diverse nature of foreign policy concerns the United Sstates faces, an overarching principle may not be possible. For instance, in Iraq and Syria, the United States may aim for an aggressive overarching principle that boldly confronts the Islamic State and does not compromise on any of its objectives. However, the United States, when dealing with Israel regarding the situation in Gaza, may aim for a more conciliatory overarching principle that does emphasise compromise. World security issues are not one-size-fits-all problems and neither is the overall strategy and principle the US should adopt to deal with them.

Perhaps if we focused less on the President’s ability to articulate an overarching principle in a similar matter to his predecessor, we could see what President Obama is really trying to accomplish in the painstaking exercise of preserving America’s interests abroad. Only then could we truly judge the effectiveness of his foreign policy endeavours.

To insist that the problem is that the US does not have a firm overarching principle guiding its foreign policy ignores the reality that US power can be exercised in a variety of ways. A diversity of problems only creates a diversity of solutions which do not neatly fit under the same umbrella.

Until the world becomes simple enough for one overarching principle, I can certainly live with "don’t do stupid stuff." As Gene Healy recently argued, it is hard to imagine why a "first do no harm approach" is so controversial.


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The President's address on Islamic State

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

11 September 2014

Here's the video of President Barack Obama's speech outlining the US response to the Islamic State terror group's actions in Iraq and Syria. Transcript is after the jump.

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As Prepared for Delivery

My fellow Americans — tonight, I want to speak to you about what the United States will do with our friends and allies to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.

As Commander-in-Chief, my highest priority is the security of the American people. Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We've targeted al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We've done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer. 

Still, we continue to face a terrorist threat. We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world, and small groups of killers have the capacity to do great harm. That was the case before 9/11, and that remains true today. That's why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge. At this moment, the greatest threats come from the Middle East and North Africa, where radical groups exploit grievances for their own gain. And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the "Islamic State."

Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not "Islamic." No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria's civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq–Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

In a region that has known so much bloodshed, these terrorists are unique in their brutality. They execute captured prisoners. They kill children. They enslave, rape, and force women into marriage. They threatened a religious minority with genocide. In acts of barbarism, they took the lives of two American journalists — Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff.

So ISIL poses a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East — including American citizens, personnel and facilities. If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region — including to the United States. While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies. Our intelligence community believes that thousands of foreigners — including Europeans and some Americans — have joined them in Syria and Iraq. Trained and battle—hardened, these fighters could try to return to their home countries and carry out deadly attacks.

I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve. Last month, I ordered our military to take targeted action against ISIL to stop its advances. Since then, we have conducted more than 150 successful airstrikes in Iraq. These strikes have protected American personnel and facilities, killed ISIL fighters, destroyed weapons, and given space for Iraqi and Kurdish forces to reclaim key territory. These strikes have helped save the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children. 

But this is not our fight alone. American power can make a decisive difference, but we cannot do for Iraqis what they must do for themselves, nor can we take the place of Arab partners in securing their region. That's why I've insisted that additional U.S. action depended upon Iraqis forming an inclusive government, which they have now done in recent days. So tonight, with a new Iraqi government in place, and following consultations with allies abroad and Congress at home, I can announce that America will lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat.

Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter—terrorism strategy.

First, we will conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against these terrorists. Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we're hitting ISIL targets as Iraqi forces go on offense. Moreover, I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven. 

Second, we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists on the ground. In June, I deployed several hundred American service members to Iraq to assess how we can best support Iraqi Security Forces. Now that those teams have completed their work — and Iraq has formed a government — we will send an additional 475 service members to Iraq. As I have said before, these American forces will not have a combat mission — we will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq. But they are needed to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment. We will also support Iraq's efforts to stand up National Guard Units to help Sunni communities secure their own freedom from ISIL control.

Across the border, in Syria, we have ramped up our military assistance to the Syrian opposition. Tonight, I again call on Congress to give us additional authorities and resources to train and equip these fighters. In the fight against ISIL, we cannot rely on an Assad regime that terrorizes its people; a regime that will never regain the legitimacy it has lost. Instead, we must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria's crisis once and for all.

Third, we will continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks. Working with our partners, we will redouble our efforts to cut off its funding; improve our intelligence; strengthen our defenses; counter its warped ideology; and stem the flow of foreign fighters into — and out of — the Middle East. And in two weeks, I will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council to further mobilize the international community around this effort.

Fourth, we will continue providing humanitarian assistance to innocent civilians who have been displaced by this terrorist organization. This includes Sunni and Shia Muslims who are at grave risk, as well as tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities. We cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands. 

This is our strategy. And in each of these four parts of our strategy, America will be joined by a broad coalition of partners. Already, allies are flying planes with us over Iraq; sending arms and assistance to Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian opposition; sharing intelligence; and providing billions of dollars in humanitarian aid. Secretary Kerry was in Iraq today meeting with the new government and supporting their efforts to promote unity, and in the coming days he will travel across the Middle East and Europe to enlist more partners in this fight, especially Arab nations who can help mobilize Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria to drive these terrorists from their lands. This is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom; and we rally other nations on behalf of our common security and common humanity.

My Administration has also secured bipartisan support for this approach here at home. I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved — especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counter—terrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America's core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order. 

My fellow Americans, we live in a time of great change. Tomorrow marks 13 years since our country was attacked. Next week marks 6 years since our economy suffered its worst setback since the Great Depression. Yet despite these shocks; through the pain we have felt and the grueling work required to bounce back — America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth.

Our technology companies and universities are unmatched; our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it's been in decades. For all the work that remains, our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. Despite all the divisions and discord within our democracy, I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day — and that makes me more confident than ever about our country's future.

Abroad, American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world. It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression, and in support of the Ukrainian peoples' right to determine their own destiny. It is America — our scientists, our doctors, our know-how — that can help contain and cure the outbreak of Ebola. It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria's declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people — or the world — again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.

America, our endless blessings bestow an enduring burden. But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia — from the far reaches of Africa to war—torn capitals of the Middle East — we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity. These are values that have guided our nation since its founding. Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward. I do so as a Commander—in—Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform — pilots who bravely fly in the face of danger above the Middle East, and service—members who support our partners on the ground.

When we helped prevent the massacre of civilians trapped on a distant mountain, here's what one of them said. "We owe our American friends our lives. Our children will always remember that there was someone who felt our struggle and made a long journey to protect innocent people."

That is the difference we make in the world. And our own safety — our own security — depends upon our willingness to do what it takes to defend this nation, and uphold the values that we stand for — timeless ideals that will endure long after those who offer only hate and destruction have been vanquished from the Earth.

May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.


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Who holds the pen in Iraq?

By Georgina Harrowell in Sydney, Australia

10 September 2014

The blog is currently featuring posts written by post-graduate students from the USSC 6903 Foreign and National Security Policy class, taught by Dr. Sarah Graham. You can see more of their posts here.

US troops in Iraq

Shortly after two American journalists in Iraq were beheaded by Islamic State militants, President Barack Obama received much criticism in the press for heading out for a round of golf. Responding, he said he should have thought twice about the optics but realised that “part of this job is also the theater [of it]." If the latest acts of this play are any indication, it looks as if US foreign policy is heading in a tragic direction.

Not only are Obama’s campaign promises about withdrawing from Iraq being called into question, many are voicing concern over his overuse of executive power. There is little to show for America’s $25 billion investment in Iraq over the last decade. This was anticipated; “The Perfect Storm,” commissioned and written in 2002 by two US diplomats under Secretary of State Colin Powell, examined the effect a US invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq might have. The memo proved prescient. It said that, at worst, a US invasion would "unleash a multitude of forces that the United States was not equipped to confront and contain." This transpired and, even still, President Obama is again authorising US operations in the country.   

It’s true, this situation is unique. The threat that IS poses to Iraq and regional stability has brought together uncommon allies. Take a look at a recent graph created by the Wall Street Journal showing just how complex the web of national interests becomes in relation to IS. But despite the seemingly global consent in halting IS’s progression, the Administration remains in the awkward, almost post-colonial position of having to play leader whilst being ever-cautious about a war-weary public and hostile congress.  

To thread this needle, Obama has been authorising air strikes and small amounts of ground troops, but not officially asking for congressional consent. The White House continues to suggest they do not need legal authority for their current actions, but the operation is likely to extend beyond the time limit under the War Power’s Resolution Act.  The Act requires the President to terminate the use of force after 60 days unless Congress declares war or authorises the use of force. At present they are sidestepping the 60-day deadline by filing a new report, resetting the clock each time, for individual sets of strikes. Technically this is legal, but it will become inherently questionable in terms of ongoing authority.

President Obama is set to deliver a major speech outlining the “strategy” that his administration reportedly did not have a few weeks ago. It’s likely he will announce a three-part plan for defeating IS. It would initially involve continuing airstrikes in Iraq, then training and arming of Iraqi and Kurdish forces; and finally fighting IS within its key stronghold in Syria. All of this is likely to last longer than Obama’s presidency, leaving unfinished business and a war with no end in sight. The President seems to both want to spread the role of protagonist amidst a variety of plans, but also take the majority of credit for being the mastermind. Rarely does that work.

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America would like to push the burden on to a coalition of allies and the Iraqi and Kurdish forces — those it has spent the past decade trying to replicate into an image of its own.

If this is Obama’s plan for the script, then the set and foundations may be falling apart. Tip-toeing around congressional authority and ruling out the use of US ground troops on a large scale calls into question the very motivations for entering into the conflict in the first place. If the Administration is serious about wiping out IS, it also needs to be serious about all dangers it poses to global norms, the region, and their allies, not just to those of Americans. No one denies the tragedy of the beheading of the two American journalists whose peril finally forced the Administration, Congress, and the American public to declare the necessity of a strategy. But let us not forget the true victims of the humanitarian crisis: tens of thousands of Yazdi minorities, let alone that women who continue to be an after thought in this spiralling tragedy, where they have been found naked, raped, and tied to trees.   

It’s time to flip the script. 

Even Democrats have been critical of the Administration’s ad hoc approach. Obama's former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton said in a recent Atlantic interview that “great nations need organising principles, and 'don’t do stupid stuff' is not an organising principle.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, touted Obama’s foreign policy as being in "freefall." 

But for now, this murky storyline appears to be the likely way forward. Despite frustration in both chambers about the lack of a clear strategy, the beheadings created outrage and the congressional war drums are now beating. The Administration is likely to continue to manoeuvre around the War Powers Act and Congress appears as though it will acquiesce or pre-emptively grant authorisation for the President.

An open ended, non-authorised war is a dangerous game, especially one with a smorgasbord of actors playing undefined roles. Hopefully the President’s speech will bring some amount of direction to this saga; what remains unclear is who exactly is holding the pen.


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American Daily: September 10, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

10 September 2014

This is a messy coalition and one in which there will be plenty of free-riders and others doing more than their fair share. Yet in some ways this coalition is simpler than those of the past. Obama has largely abandoned America's ideological obsession with democratising the region. As long as IS is dealt with, whether it is done with the help of theocrats, autocrats or democrats matters little in the short term. The challenge for the US is going to be whether the 'non-core' and 'unmentionable' parts of the coalition can reach a modus vivendi, or whether they will revert to type and view everything through a narrow and short-term lens.

September 11th may be a part of history now, but some of the events that led to that horrible day remain veiled by the political considerations of the present. The intelligence community doesn’t want to light up its failures once again, and no doubt the Obama Administration doesn’t want to introduce additional strains on its relationship with the Saudis. In the meantime, the forces that led to catastrophe before are gathering strength once again. Thomas Massie, a Republican congressman from Kentucky and a sponsor of the House resolution to declassify the material, told me that the experience of reading those twenty-eight pages caused him to rethink how to handle the rise of ISIS. It has made him much more cautious about a military response. “We have to be careful, when we run the calculations of action, what the repercussions will be,” he said.

Senate partisan history
  • Why do Republicans suddenly support making the contraceptive pill available over-the-counter

There’s no question it’s clever—even sort of a threefer: (1) taking The Pill out of the Rx drug equation protects those “pharmacists of conscience” who don’t want to fill prescriptions if they don’t approve of the marital status or lifestyles of the women involved; (2) it also makes the fight against Obamacare’s contraception coverage mandate less portentous and controversial; and (3) most obviously, lets Republicans claim a “centrist” position on reproductive rights: pro-contraception, anti-abortion.

  • How the US government can make it easier for abuse victims to leave violent partners.

Take away abusers’ guns. As Vice President Joe Biden noted to NBC News Tuesday, domestic violence is actually down 60% overall. But it’s still incredibly deadly to women. According to the Violence Policy Center, every week nine women are shot to death by their husband or partner. There are programs across the country focusing on “lethality assessments” — essentially, whether, or when, an abuser will kill, and how to best prevent it.

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Is IS the new 9/11 threat?

By Shalailah Medhora in New York, New York

10 September 2014

Shalailah Medhora is the recipient of the 2014 US Studies Centre – World Press Institute media fellowship and is contributing to the blog while in the United States.


1 World Trade Center and Lower Manhattan

Photograph by Flickr user Oliver Rich 

Rising from the rubble of what was once the north tower of the World Trade Center, Freedom Tower shines bright as a symbol of American resilience. Built from the ruins of the 9/11 terror attacks, One World Trade Center, as it’s now called, cost nearly $4 billion and revitalised a depressed Lower Manhattan through job creation.

Its glowing edifice overlooks a memorial to the nearly three thousand victims who died when two planes hit the World Trade Centre buildings in September 2001.

Thirteen years after the attack, the physical scars of the 9/11 attacks are fading from New York’s tough exterior. The spontaneous memorials that sprang up in the initial years after the attack have been swept away or removed. The "I heart NY" patriotism once worn as a badge of honour by hardened New Yorkers is now left to tourists who don’t know any better.

The psychological scar of 9/11, on the other hand, is still glaringly obvious. Americans want to protect their values and their way of life, though they’re reluctant to be drawn into another conflict in the Middle East. They want Islamic extremists punished for waging jihad against the United States. But when the rubber hits the road, they don’t want to expend American dollars — or worse, American lives — in stopping them.

President Barack Obama will make an announcement the day before the 9/11 commemorations outlining his administration’s response to Islamic State militants. He told NBC that the US can defeat the extremist group.

“Over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of ISIS,” Obama said. “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities.”

While some Republicans have called for a hard line approach to the group that includes military intervention in Syria, the President says that option is off the table.

Some analysts believe the United States needs to focus on a political rather than military solution in Syria and Iraq in order to defeat Islamic extremists.

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Former CIA operative Bob Baer told CNN that the problem is bigger than IS itself.

“Yes we can degrade them; the air force can take out all the armour and the drones,” Baer said. “But we will not solve the problem unless there’s a political solution [in Iraq and Syria].”

So just how large is the threat to Americans on home soil?

Negligible, says author and commentator Peter Bergen.

“There’s a lot of fear around terrorism that I think is unmerited,” Bergen says. “The likelihood of an attack is very small.”

Bergen was part of the first team of Western journalists to interview former al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

He says Americans believe the threat posed by terrorists is much greater than it actually is.

“Since 9/11, 21 Americans have been killed in the United States by Jihadi terrorists. The number of people who get killed every year by dogs is about 25,” Mr Bergen says. “You’re more than ten times as likely to get killed by a dog in the United States than a terrorist.”

Baer thinks the fear is entirely warranted. “The American people are scared [of IS], and they should be,” he said.


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American Daily: September 9, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

9 September 2014

Lawmakers in the House and Senate on Monday introduced separate bills authorizing military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Republican Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.) offered the bills.

  • The NFL is under scrutiny for its response to leaked video of a player beating his fiancée.
On Monday, a video of Ray Rice, the Ravens running back, punching his then fiancée in the head and leaving her slumped on the floor of an elevator, was released on TMZ. It was greeted with shock. By the early afternoon, the Ravens tweeted that they were terminating Rice’s contract. That is an appropriate response, except for one thing: we’ve known for months that Rice had hit Janay Palmer and left her unconscious; there had been a video already, of him dragging her inert body out of the elevator in a hotel in Atlantic City. And yet, somehow, the video from inside the elevator was not what some purportedly well-informed observers expected. The N.F.L. had investigated the incident, after all, and only suspended Rice for two games; that didn’t fit with the pictures on the screen. But what did people think it looked like when a football player knocked out a much smaller woman? Like a fair fight?
  • When Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, did he end accountability in Washington?
[P]olitical elites took away a dangerous lesson from the Ford pardon — our true shame: All it takes is the incantation of magic words like “stability” and “confidence” and “consensus” in order to inure yourself from accountability for just about any malfeasance.
  • Why Hillary Clinton has not announced that she is running for the presidency.

The legal requirements and norms of presidential elections generally encourage candidates to begin very early – sometimes even before the previous election has ended – but to defer on public declarations until much later. None of the dozen or so Republican candidates traipsing around Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have declared their candidacies either, and most of them are publicly coy about why they happen to be spending time in those early primary and caucus states.

  • The population of blue whales off the California coast has maxed out.

Now there are signs that the whales are starting to recover. The latest paper, by Cole Monnahan, Trevor Branch and André Punt of the University of Washington, estimates that there are currently some 2,200 California blue whales in the eastern North Pacific — more or less the number that existed in the region before the advent of whaling.

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American Daily: September 8, 2014

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

8 September 2014

  • Texas state senator Wendy Davis's memoir reveals she has had two abortions.

Davis received national attention in 2013 after her special session filibuster of proposed abortion regulations. The legislation didn't pass during that session, but it passed during a second special session. Davis wrote that she had considered talking about the terminated pregnancies during the filibuster, but she said the timing wasn't right.

  • How the South stands in the way of a moderate Republican Party.
The broad ideological contours of those coalitions have held firm for some two centuries. Southerners, dating back to Andrew Jackson, strongly opposed a centralized government, believed the Constitution strictly prevented the government from intervening in the economy, distrusted cultural change, and represented the interests of whites as opposed to nonwhites. (Jackson’s defenses of strict Constitutionalism and the gold standard, and hatred for the national bank, perfectly anticipate tea-party economics.) Northerners believed more or less the opposite.
  • What is Congress doing between now and the midterms?

One thing is certain: Congress will not address all of these problems before the election. In fact, it may only address one or two of these issues. In these final weeks before November, leaders will orient the legislative process toward campaigns rather than policy. Don’t expect much before November 4th.

  • Twenty-five years after George H.W. Bush escalated the War on Drugs, what's the result?
The Monitoring the Future survey, which tracks illicit drug use among high school students, found drug use has greatly fluctuated over the past few decades. In 1975, four years after former President Richard Nixon launched the war on drugs, 30.7 percent of high school seniors reported having used illicit drugs in the past month. In 1989, the year of Bush's speech, the rate was 19.7 percent. In 2013, it was back up to 25.5 percent.

In short, we started thinking of the media as an institution—not as separate organizations or individuals we needed to judge on their own merits, but as a collective enterprise, and one we could judge collectively. The result is that it became a separate subject that could be argued about, and one that was resistant to evidence about individual reporters or newspapers. Sure, NPR is great, but the media is awful; Seymour Hersh does good reporting, but the media gets the story wrong every time. And the result, as I found in my research, is lowered trust.

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