By Josh Donovan

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Sean Hannity speaking at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Source: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

In the wake of September 11, the United States was reeling from the worst attack on American soil in its history. Among the changes wrought by the tragedy was a fundamental reframing of American policy. Finally, it seemed, American foreign policy made sense again. President Bush drew clear battle lines, vowing to “win the war against terrorism.” Fourteen years later, the world is every bit as scary as it was before. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan taught us something: there are limits to the long-term political changes that the American military can impose. The lines are blurred.

Recognizing this, President Obama has been treading a careful line in dealing with ISIS: tactical support and limited arms, rather than flooding the region with weapons; thousands of airstrikes, but no boots on the ground; and cautious diplomacy with Russia and Iran. To be sure, this lacks the “grand vision” many may be familiar with. But rebuilding Syria will not come solely, or even primarily, through a military solution. While some hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have specifically called for American boots on the ground, many politicians—and most Americans—are too war-weary to consider this palatable. American military leaders, too, seem skeptical about deploying troops.

Enter the prospective Republican presidential candidates. As 2016 draws closer, many Party favorites are speaking out on foreign policy issues—including ISIL. Naturally, they seek to draw contrast between themselves and President Obama. However, given the complexity of the current crisis, this has proven to be somewhat difficult (with the exception of those calling for ground troops).

Take Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), for example. When asked by Sean Hannity at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention how he would deal with the threat of global terrorism if he were president, Sen. Rubio took a page out of Obama’s book: the United States needed to send intelligence and logistical support, launch airstrikes, and build a coalition of Middle Eastern states (Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, etc.) to combat ISIS. Despite tacitly admitting that Obama was on the right track, the Senator simultaneously accused Obama of “not putting in place a military strategy to defeat ISIS” because he is afraid of upsetting Iran—despite the fact that Iran has been heavily involved in combatting ISIS and has called on other nations to join in the fight.

In a recent interview, another likely presidential contender, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) accused the Obama administration of failing to adequately arm the Kurds (despite the fact that the US has sent over 3 million pounds of ammunition to the Peshmerga) and accused the President, who authorized over 2,100 airstrikes on ISIS targets, of “leading from behind.” Rand Paul, in anticipation of Hilary Clinton’s likely run for the White House in 2016, recently said he “blamed her for a lot of this”. Paul argued that the United States’ 2011 intervention in Libya created a “breeding ground for terrorists” and voiced opposition to the Obama/Clinton plan to provide arms to Syrian rebels. Remarkably, in the same interview, Paul did an about-face on arming rebels, suggesting that Obama needed to arm Kurdish militias and “do much more.” Perhaps the most embarrassing 2016-fueled response to ISIS came from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who assured Americans that his experiences in “dealing with” peaceful Wisconsin protesters made up for his lack of experience and an actual plan.

Fortunately, the GOP rank-and-file seems largely unwilling to obstruct or interfere with the President’s response to ISIS, for now. Further, many Republicans who are not running for President in 2016, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, seem ready to engage in a serious debate about what form the United States’ continuing struggle against ISIS should take. With the serious exception of sending a controversial letter to the leaders of Iran in an attempt to undermine the United States’ uneasy relationship with a now critical regional partner (like it or not), we must hope that if Republicans participate in foreign policy making (as they should), they set aside election politics and do so in a responsible and constructive way.

By Olivia Daniels

Following the attacks on Jews living in European countries, most recently the terror attacks in Copenhagen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a mass emigration of Jews from Europe. Netanyahu said, “Jews have been murdered again on soil only because they were Jews,” reiterating, “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home”.

This comment left European leaders extremely defensive, French President Francois Hollande telling French Jews, “I will not just let what was said in Israel pass, leading people to believe that Jews no longer have a place in Europe and in France in particular,” while French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, “A Jew who leaves France is a piece of France that is gone”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also commented, “We are glad and thankful that there is Jewish life in Germany again,” and, “we would like to continue living well together with the Jews who are in Germany today”. Denmark’s Chief Rabbi Jair Melchior told the Associated Press, “People from Denmark move to Israel because they love Israel, because of Zionism, but not because of terrorism,” and insightfully, “if the way we deal with terror is to run somewhere else, we should all run to a desert island.”

The director of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachim Margolin, is using the tragedy in Copenhagen as means for a change in gun licensing laws to allow Jews to carry weapons in Europe. Margolin said, “When I pick up my son at the synagogue I want to make sure that he is there and he is alive…it is a very basic request”. Despite his loss of faith, Margolin also criticized Netanyahu’s call, explaining, “Netanyahu is basically saying ‘we have no way to protect you where you are’”.

europe des island2The problem is not that Netanyahu wants Jews to come to Israel: the state was built on immigration and its survival has always been contingent on Jews coming and staying. The issue is that the prime minister is insinuating that Jews are not safe anywhere but in Israel, which places a stigma on both European countries and European Jews: Jews are not welcome in Europe, and they will not be safe unless they leave. Even Shimon Peres, former Israeli president and prime minister, retorted, telling the Times of Israel, “Don’t come to Israel because of a political position, but because you want to come and live in Israel…Israel must remain a land of hope and not a land of fear”.

According to the Law of Return, any Jewish person can become an Israeli citizen, so long as they pose no threat to the state or the people. In 1970, the law was amended to include citizenship for non-Jewish immediate family members. Thus, it is relatively simple for any Jew with the will and the means to become an Israeli citizen. In the first quarter of 2014, Jewish immigration to Israel increased by 50 percent, 93 percent of which was from Western Europe and Ukraine. In all of 2014, more than 7,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from France, which was twice as many than in 2013. The January attacks in Paris left Israel expecting another increase. Around 8,000 Jews live in Denmark today and despite recent events, they have been asked to stay in their home country with the promise of protection. The Danish-born terrorist that killed two people in Copenhagen was shot and killed by police on Sunday, allowing the Danish people to feel a moment of relief.

Jews should feel safe in today’s world, and they should not have to relocate to Israel for that to become a reality. One cannot ask anyone to stay somewhere they feel threatened, so it is up to those European leaders to uphold their promises of inclusion and protection.

By Vik Shah

U.S. and Kuwaiti troops closing the gate between Kuwait and Iraq on December 18, 2011. Source: U.S. Army

At one point in 2011, the United States had over 101,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan. That was the height of the surge, when Helmand province had so many troops from the US Marine Corps that it was referred to as “Marine-istan.” Driven by institutional and organizational rivalries, US troops were heavily focused on “bagging and tagging” as many Taliban fighters as they could and were therefore stationed in the far reaches of Afghan mountains and valleys governed by tribal leaders that never saw themselves as part of the somewhat-mythical Afghan state. Population centers like Kandahar, the quasi-capital of Pashtun-dominated southern Afghanistan, received a fraction of the troops compared to Helmand, home to only 4% of Afghans. When the surge began in 2010, President Obama made a firm commitment to the American people during a speech at West Point Academy that the operation would only last two years and that in 2012 the US would begin reducing its military presence in Afghanistan and begin transferring over combat responsibilities to the Afghan National Army (ANA). The US forces in Afghanistan during the surge had two, unequally weighted responsibilities. First, to find, disrupt, and destroy the remnants of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. More importantly, however, the US forces were supposed to train the ANA in modern battlefield tactics and equip them with the tools they needed to continue the fight against terrorism and to enforce the rule of law in their country.

This meant giving them billions of dollars’ worth of weapons, vehicles, equipment, and training them to use and maintain them without US or NATO support. However, this second responsibility was given far less importance in the eyes of senior military commanders who were concerned with racking up as many enemy killed-in-action’s (KIAs) as possible. Once the drawdown began, the ANA was so poorly prepared that they sustained 7,000-8,000 battlefield deaths in the first fighting season in the summer of 2012. This toll was twice as high as the combined deaths the US had in both Iraq and Afghanistan after over a decade of conflict, which was just over 3,000 servicemen and women. In addition, the ANA still lacks the close-air and emergency medical capabilities necessary to sustain long-term operations. This past summer, the President announced the final troop drawdown timetable and set 2016, coincidentally also an election year, as the year that all military personnel will leave Afghanistan, save for the 1,000 stationed at the US Embassy in Kabul.

This presents a major threat to the overall US strategy. The Taliban know that the largest threat to their resurgence, the US military, will only be operational in Afghanistan for a few more months and then will begin sending resources state-side to meet their 2016 deadline. This means that all they need to do is head to Pakistan, their de-jure and de-facto sanctuary, and wait until the last US boots have left the ground and launch their resurgence. One of the first Taliban commanders captured by the US Army’s fabled 82nd Airborne Division in early 2002 said upon interrogation that the US will never win this war. He predicted that we will grow tired and leave Afghanistan much like we did in 1989 and that when the dust finally settles, the Taliban will return.

By Benjamin Jury

Women and children protest for peace during the 2011 Yemen Revolution. Source: Al Jazeera English

A few months ago, I wrote an article detailing the dire situation in Yemen following both the Houthi (Believing Youth) uprising in the north and the Southern Movement in the country’s south. Since then, the situation has gone from bad to worse.

Just yesterday, members of the Houthi opposition “beat and detained” demonstrators in Sana’a, the capital.Yemen clearly remains a nation under siege.

Women and children protest for peace during the 2011 Yemen Revolution. Source: Al Jazeera English
Women and children protest for peace during the 2011 Yemen Revolution. Source: Al Jazeera English

Houthi forces, led by Abdul Malik al-Houthi (the brother of the group’s namesake), have successfully taken over much of the state apparatus in Yemen in the past few months. Advancing south at a rapid pace, Houthi rhetoric was heralded by Yemeni citizens (mostly Zaydi Shi’a) with support against the indifference and impotence of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi’s government.

At the same time, the secessionist movement in the country’s south has gained steam, increasing its own gains with the help of Al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). The government, disinterested in the plight of southerners being exploited for their oil resources, lacked credibility in the eyes of many southerners. This disrespect and indifference towards the southern population prompted an on-going movement against the establishment.

Early this year, the Houthi insurgency forced Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa to resign from office after the group took Sana’a by force. Just last week, the Houthis took control of the presidential palace. With Yemeni government officials resigning en masse and the Hadi’s influence dwindling, the Houthis have effectively taken over Northern Yemen. The separatists, on the other hand, have raised the flag of South Yemen (from the pre-republic period of Yemeni history) and taken control of the port city of Aden in the south.

With the situation growing more and unstable by the minute, compromise or intervention in the region is essential to preventing outright chaos like that found in Libya today. Yet with Saudi threatening to cut off financial support until the political situation stabilizes and the US closing its embassy amidst continued drone strikes against AQAP, however, it appears both East and West have written Yemen off as a lost cause, even though both spheres rely heavily on a stable Yemen.

To stabilize their government, Yemen must look within. The Houthis desperately need to consolidate power in the north in order to defeat AQAP’s encroaching threat on the capital. It is imperative the Houthis bring members of the pro-government General People’s Congress that still occupy widespread support in the east and region between Aden and Sana’a to the table. Important too are members of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated al-Islah party that make up a large percentage of the legislature’s minority.

Without meaningful, strategic negotiations between the country’s prominent political parties and the Houthis, there is no hope a peaceful transition. Leaving the power vacuum open in Yemen much longer will certainly spell trouble for Sana’a, Aden, and everyone in between.

By Dana Busgang

On August 7th, 2014, President Obama announced that the US military would be joining a broad coalition of Western and Arab nations with the specific intent to stop the advance of the Salafi Jihadi militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). While the US military has been involved in Iraq off and on over the past decade, this would be the first time that US bombs would be dropped in Syria. About a year ago, the Obama administration was inches away from launching airstrikes against the Assad regime in Syria, but backed off at the last minute when a diplomatic agreement was reached with the assistance of Russia to rid Syria of chemical weapons—a “red line” for the Obama administration. Despite the lack of military action against the Syrian regime, the US government has continued to support “moderate” Syrian rebels fighting the regime.

The clear target of the anti-ISIS coalition is the aforementioned Islamic State group. However, the US has begun quietly targeting other groups. In early November, reports were released that US airstrikes had targeted the al-Qaeda linked group Jabhat al-Nusra in northwestern Syria. Back in April 2013, long before the international war against ISIS began, the head of the then Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that al-Nusra had been a branch of ISI in Syria, and the two groups would now become one group—the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham. However, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, the leader of al-Nusra, rejected the merger, claiming he had not been consulted and confirmed his allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri. After months of tension between the two groups following the proposed merger, al-Qaeda officially broke ties with ISIS in early February 2014, claiming that ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group…does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions.” Following this announcement, open war broke out between al-Nusra and ISIS factions, culminating in an ISIS offensive in Syria’s al-Zor province that left hundreds of fighters from both groups dead.

In addition to launching strikes against al-Nusra, the US military has also conducted air strikes against the Khorasan group in Syria, another al-Qaeda affiliate that very little is known about. The strikes against Khorasan began in September 2014, and have continued into November, with US officials justifying the strikes by claiming that the group was involved in planning “imminent” attacks against the West and the US.

While both Jabhat al-Nusra and Khorasan are designated terrorist groups (although more moderate than ISIS) and part of the al-Qaeda network, the original strategy of defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria made no mention of combatting al-Qaeda and ISIS simultaneously. The two groups, at least for the moment, are sworn enemies and compete with each other for control of land and control of the broader Syria rebellion against the Assad regime. Trying to eliminate two major players, and two enemies, in the Syrian civil war could prove dangerous and counter productive to US led efforts. There have been reports of al-Nusra and ISIS co-operating in order to take on larger (and common) enemies, like the Syrian regime, or the US backed anti-ISIS coalition. While both groups are dangerous on their own, the two of them combined could pose an unprecedented threat to the future of the fragile region. Although the two groups still seem to be in opposition to each other, continued air strikes on both groups could lead to a reunion against a greater enemy.

The other often-ignored variable in this equation is the effect of US airstrikes on the beleaguered Syrian regime. The US has pretty much abandoned hopes of arming moderate rebels to fight Assad’s forces, as this has proven problematic and unsuccessful in the past. The US will also not engage in direct warfare against the Assad regime, in efforts to prevent US troops from being involved in another war in the Middle East. Despite the lack of action, the US still condemns the Assad regime and believes it needs to be deposed. However, it seems that while the US has been focused on defeating ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, the regime’s forces have been steadily regaining territory and strength. As the US bombs the two most powerful enemies of the Syrian regime, are they inadvertently helping Assad regain control of his country? The answer, unfortunately, seems to be affirmative. The Obama administration is currently targeting what it sees as the greater of two evils in Syria, but in order to ensure that Syria does not fall back into the hands of the authoritarian Baath regime, new policies to counteract the gains made by the regime at the expense of ISIS must be enacted.


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On several occasions throughout her campaign, Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has mentioned that part of her plan to defeat terrorist organization “The Islamic State...