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William C. Banks: Beware the Military on US Soil

Beware the military on US soil: City and state leaders should be careful what they wish for

By William C. Banks 

“de Blasio and other New Yorkers are still urging a more robust federal military response. Tread carefully.”

(NY Daily News | April 6, 2020) By and large, New York officials have exhibited admirable leadership and clear-headed decision making in response to the worst public health crisis in a century. With staggering numbers of COVID-19 infections and badly overstretched hospitals, New York City and surrounding communities are in dire need of help — and Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have been properly beseeching the White House to commit federal resources to help stem the tide of the virus.

But as it involves the use of the military, this response should have clear limits. Legally and historically, we limit its engagement on U.S. soil for very good reason.

Although Cuomo called up New York National Guard forces early in the crisis to help with the expected medical surge, and although the USNS Comfort has arrived to provide hospitals with desperately needed surge capacity, de Blasio and other New Yorkers are still urging a more robust federal military response.

Tread carefully.

There is no doubt that the U.S. military has always played a key role in society. Soldiers have always stood ready to use their special training, equipment and discipline to help out in emergencies when no one else could.

Most of the time, however, America’s military forces have remained in the background, waiting for direction from civilian leaders to respond to crises and then only in limited ways …

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Why Is Trump So Timid With the Defense Production Act?

By the Hon. James E. Baker

“Why isn’t the government bringing its full arsenal to the fight?”

(The New York Times | April 3, 2020) Every Marine knows better than to pull a knife in a gunfight. But so far, that appears to be the federal government’s approach to battling Covid-19. The president has “invoked” the Defense Production Act, but the government has not used the full authority of the act. There is a difference between invoking a law and using it, just as there is a difference between talk and action.

Governors and health officials tell us that there is a profound gap between the protective equipment, hospital equipment and testing resources that are needed (and will be needed) and what is available (or in the pipeline). Bill Gates reminds us that we will need to produce millions, perhaps billions, of doses of vaccine in 12 to 18 months. This isn’t a passing crisis; we will need more of everything in two months, six months and maybe years.

Don’t let debate over the details of General Motors’ and Ventec’s honorable effort to build more ventilators hide the bottom line: The federal government has all the authority it needs to close the supply gap, allocate resources among states, and prepare for the production and distribution of the vaccine to come. Until the federal government demonstrates — with statistics, contracts and timelines — that the gap is closed and the vaccine pipeline is ready, we should ask: Why isn’t the government bringing its full arsenal to the fight? …

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William C. Banks in Ms.: Voting in a Time of Pandemic

Voting in a Time of Pandemic: The November Election Must Go on as Scheduled

by Stephen Dycus & William C. Banks

The process is entirely out of the president’s hands.

(Ms. | March 27, 2020) With polls showing Trump trailing former Vice President Joe Biden—his likely Democratic opponent in the November election—it is widely rumored that the president might seek ways to postpone the election in order to remain in office.

Such a move would be blatantly illegal: It would place the government of the United States in the hands of one man, abridge the cherished right of those in the U.S. to choose their leaders, and threaten democracy itself.

The Power to Control Elections Lies with States and Congress

The Constitution entrusts the timing and conduct of federal elections entirely to Congress and the states. According to Article I, states prescribe the times, places and manner of selecting senators and representatives—although Congress may change those rules.

The president has no role to play in their election.

Election of the president is a bit more complicated, but here again the Constitution is clear. Under Article II, the President’s term is limited to four years—although she may be reelected for a second four-year term.

The same article gives Congress the job of determining a time for “chusing the Electors,” who are appointed by each respective state, and whose role in selecting the president is spelled out in detail in the 12th Amendment.

The process is entirely out of the president’s hands.

The 20th Amendment to the Constitution says the President’s term ends on January 20th, and the term of her successor “shall then begin.” It also says that if a president has not been chosen by that date, and no vice president has qualified to serve instead, Congress may either designate someone to act as president or may prescribe a new procedure for selecting one.

Invoking this provision, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 states that if no one has qualified to serve as President, the Speaker of the House—or others in a specified line of succession—shall serve instead …

Voting in a Time of Pandemic: The November Election Must Go on as Scheduled

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William C. Banks: Martial Law Would Sweep the Country Into a Great Legal Unknown

By William C. Banks & Stephen Dycus

“So what would happen if, amid the panic of the coronavirus pandemic, the president tried to declare martial law?”

(The Atlantic | March 27, 2020) The last time martial law—military control of the government—was declared in the United States was December 1941, just hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The territorial governor, acting under a turn-of-the-century statute, handed the government of the Hawaiian islands over to the commander of U.S. forces there. The military governor, as he styled himself, immediately ordered the closure of courts, shut down schools, froze wages, suspended labor contracts, and imposed censorship of newspapers, radio, and civilian mail. He also decreed a curfew and blackout, as well as a ban on the sale of alcoholic beverages—a wildly unpopular measure that was quickly reversed. Despite the fact that there was no threat of a Japanese invasion after the Battle of Midway in 1942, martial law remained in place for another two years.

In 1946, after the war ended, the Supreme Court ruled in Duncan v. Kahanamoku that the statute authorizing martial law in Hawaii did not enable military trials of civilians, and it warned against the “subordination of executive, legislative and judicial authorities to complete military rule”—but it offered no further guidance about the circumstances that would justify a declaration of martial law, or about the consequences of such a declaration. Nor has Congress ever tried to clarify the criteria for or limits of martial law.

So what would happen if, amid the panic of the coronavirus pandemic, the president tried to declare martial law? Without question, military forces directed by state governors—and perhaps even, in extreme cases, by the president—may be uniquely able to help get us through the current crisis. At least 20 state governors have now called up their National Guard to assist with delivery of food and medical supplies, clean public facilities, and adapt some of those facilities to house patients if hospitals become overwhelmed. Guard personnel could also help enforce quarantines ordered by state governors, and even arrest violators. But their role is to support, not replace, civil authorities. The states’ legal power to do all this is clear; it is not martial law …

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Hon. James E. Baker: Use the Defense Production Act to Flatten the Curve

By the Hon. James E. Baker, Director, Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law

“There remain, and will remain, genuine questions involving the police power, public health, and the constitutional role of federalism in allocating responsibility between state, local, and federal authorities.”

(Just Security | March 20, 2020) The novel coronavirus bell curve is coming. We are not quite sure when or what form it will take. But it is coming, and we have rapidly diminishing time to influence its shape. One way we can do so, health experts state, is with more data about who has COVID-19 and who does not. That takes tests. More tests than, apparently, we have. Another way we can influence its shape is through social distancing. That takes widespread discipline and a commitment to our larger communities and not just ourselves. But where we cannot or should not distance, in health facilities and in supermarkets, it may require more surgical masks, gowns, gloves, eye protection, nasopharyngeal swabs, and wipes. More than we have. And, when the curve comes, we know from Italy, China, and South Korea that we will need hospital beds and ventilators–again, more than we have.

We know these things now. Why doesn’t the federal government act? It has the legal authority to do so: The Defense Production Act (DPA). On March 18, President Trump signed an Executive Order invoking the DPA to delegate authority found in Section 101 to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. However, various public statements by the president and vice president cast doubt on whether the DPA will be operationalized at this time or held in abeyance until some unspecified future date after the crisis has worsened. It is time to clear up the confusion, stop talking about the DPA, and start putting it in action.

DPA Background

In moments of crisis, time is sometimes lost because policymakers are unsure of the facts. Not here. We essentially know now what we will need. Time is also sometimes lost because there is genuine policy debate about the best course of action. Not here. We know now what we need to produce and where to send it. And, time is sometimes lost because of uncertainty about the government’s legal authority to act. Again—not here. The DPA provides broad authority for the government to take the necessary actions.

One hopes that the government’s lawyers have considered most, if not all, potential scenarios on a contingency basis. But sometimes new facts beget new and genuine questions of law that in a democracy ought to be resolved before action is taken. Sometimes, too, policymakers hide behind the law to explain inaction. Lacking the will to act, they blame the law and the lawyers for limiting or eliminating their options. But not here. There remain, and will remain, genuine questions involving the police power, public health, and the constitutional role of federalism in allocating responsibility between state, local, and federal authorities. However, there is no doubt the federal government has the authority to direct the industrial strength of the United States to produce more tests, more masks, more ventilators, and more hospital beds and do so now. The answer is the DPA.

The DPA is a Cold War era statute (1950) that derives in turn from World War II era statutes intended to harness the industrial capacity of the United States for war. The statute was drafted with steel and tanks in mind. However, the statute has been reauthorized over fifty times since 1950 and amended to include within its reach not just the traditional defense industrial base, but also the nation’s critical infrastructures, like public health and critical technologies …

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David M. Crane Among Former Officials Challenging Pompeo’s Threats to the International Criminal Court

by Todd BuchwaldDavid Michael CraneBenjamin FerenczStephen J. RappDavid Scheffer and Clint Williamson

(Just Security | March 18, 2020) On March 17, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated from the podium of the State Department Press Room that two explicitly named individuals in the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court would face possible sanctions in connection with the Prosecutor’s investigation of the Afghanistan situation, an investigation approved by the Appeals Chamber of the Court on March 5, 2020.  Set forth below is a statement by Americans who in the past worked to secure the investigation and prosecution of atrocity crimes (genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes):

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has threatened two staffers of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and their families, with punitive sanctions in connection with the Court-approved investigation by the Prosecutor of the Afghanistan situation.  This act of raw intimidation of the Prosecutor’s staff members is reckless and shocking in its display of fear rather than strength …

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David M. Crane is a Syracuse University College of Law Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

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World War III Alarmism: It’s Time to Press for Sober, Rational, & Contextual Analysis of the Iran Situation

By Corri Zoli

Let’s begin with the obvious to self-aware observers of the region: “Iran’s so-called retaliation was not smart, to say the least. It was theater for its gullible constituents, and the US seems willing to let it slide.” So said Hassan Hassan about Iran’s ballistic missile attacks on Iraqi bases (Ain Assad and Erbil), which house US forces.

“To state this point as clearly as possible: we are not on the verge of World War III with Iran, despite social media trends.”

Hassan directs the Non-State Actors Program at the nonpartisan Center for Global Policy, focused on improving Mideast governance and US foreign policy. As if on cue, however, Iran’s state media is reporting “heavy US military casualties.”

Hassan is not the only one piercing the veil of alarmism (largely coming from US observers), confusion and ignorance, and disinformation (coming from Iran).

Ali Vaez, Director of the Iran Project at the CrisisGroup, explains Iran’s need for “face-saving measures” and symbolic revenge. Likewise, Illan Goldenberg at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), decodes Iran’s strategy: “This is our response, don’t hit us back. Regional players stay out or suffer the consequences. This may not be escalation just the response they felt they needed to make. Again, everyone CHILL.”

Pentagon officials, as Jake Tapper reported, explain that “Iran deliberately chose targets that would not result in the loss of US life,” emphasizing “[d]eliberate targets, minimum damage, maximum warning/effect.” Even Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif is eager to announce the attacks as “concluded,” even while he justifies this newest round of missile attacks once again on Iraq (after the Dec. 27, 2019, Kirkuk airbase and December 31 embassy attack) as “self-defense.”

“Facing complex conflict dynamics also means we must be open to unexpected or countervailing developments.”

To state this point as clearly as possible: we are not on the verge of World War III with Iran, despite social media trends.

Quite the opposite, the US government has set limits—first economically, now militarily with the Soleimani strike—on Iranian regional escalation dynamics at least since 2017, which caused a bipartisan Congress to reissue sanctions. Historically and in recent years, Iranian asymmetric warfare—with Soleimani at the helm—has hurt stability in the region. It has also become increasingly brazen—targeting Saudi refineries, downing US and Israeli drones, attacking vessels in the Gulf of Oman, and going after civilians in Syria.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether the best US-Iranian foreign policy approach today is limit setting to reestablish deterrence, as per the Trump Administration, or appeasement, engagement, and integration into the geopolitical community, for the previous Obama Administration.

Every public policy—particularly in the demanding domains of international security and foreign affairs—has strengths and weaknesses. What is not fair or good faith analysis, however, is to ratchet up global public fears about impending war as a way to win support for one’s “side.” That confuses policy with politics, without doing the hard, nonpartisan analytical work of contextual analyses, producing facts and evidence, and trying to include multiple—often contradictory—perspectives.

Such an approach reveals a lack of genuine concern about the people facing conflict dynamics first-hand in the Middle East, those who already face extensive human rights violations and are currently protesting such conditions, caused most often by their own leadership and unaccountable forms of governance.

Just last month Iran faced what The New York Times called its “worst unrest in 40 Years,” with anti-government protests across 21 cities—not to mention across the region—followed by the typical “brutal crackdown,” with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps help, resulting in more than 1,500 protesters killed.

For deeper analysis of how Iran and Soleimani’s approach to covert asymmetric warfare destabilized and stalled progress in governance across the Middle East, there are plenty sources for thoughtful, contextual analysis. Hassan’s Guardian essay explains the blow in the defeat of Soleimani to Iranian regional hegemony, domination, and military imperialism. Such an ambitious project was already facing grassroots challenge in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria from cross-community protests. Moreover, Kim Ghattas notes that Soleimani was not only a problem for the US, but “haunted the Arab world,” so that his death has been greeted with often quiet “elation.”

Facing complex conflict dynamics also means we must be open to unexpected or countervailing developments.

Some analysts see the post-Soleimani moment as a win for the region, whether for a stronger Iraq, or a weakened Quds Force. Even non-Trump supporters—such as political risk analyst, Ian Bremmer—note that while there is no “end” to the US-Iran conflict, no “mission accomplished” yet, “for everyone who thought killing Soleimani was going to lead to war, no; it established red-lines and deterrence,” and, more importantly, potentially opened “ a real window” for diplomacy. Ultimately, Bremmer sees the Iran choice as a big “win” and a “big opportunity going forward.”

While it is a bit early to tell, scholars at their best have a public duty to pursue the truth wherever it leads—which may result in inconvenient facts and discoveries—but that ultimately helps to advance society in some way. As a cross-culturally focused law and security scholar, I believe that truth-seeking must include multiple and diverse perspectives, particularly needed to get a complete picture of “wicked problems” or complex social phenomenon, like conflicts.

Yet, the public should also ask hard questions about information accountability today, particularly as information technologies disrupt traditional news reporting standards and methods: why ratchet up ordinary Americans’ fears? Who is responsible and what is their motive for spreading such fear? Is it just to get “clicks” or are we purposely misunderstanding a situation that involves the most serious issues as war, peace, life, and death?

I won’t answer those questions in this analysis, but we all need to insist that public—especially expert commentary and journalism—elevates the discussion and that analysts base their claims in facts, evidence, and informed inquiry, particularly when understanding is such a priority in cases of active conflict.

 

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The Soleimani Airstrike: An End to His Signature Middle East Strategy?

By Corri Zoli

Less well-known than Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden or ISIS’s Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the covert Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had widespread strategic influence throughout the Middle East. He was responsible for standing up and activating a clandestine infrastructure of organized armed groups from Hezbollah to Hamas and for ongoing instability and insurgency in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and elsewhere. It is for this reason that several terrorism scholars and expert observers—myself included—have identified the Soleimani airstrike as far more significant than that of Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

“Critics of this action will fixate once again on the Trump Administration’s strategy, positing the US as responsible for Mideast conflict and crisis. Some of these critics ignore Soleimani’s two decades of militant infrastructure-building.”

While the repercussions of his death for Mideast dynamics are still unknown, even in these polarized times, the defeat of Soleimani should warrant a clear-eyed recognition that his two decades of orchestrating a covert signature strategy for Mideast insurgency and instability has come to an end.

First, the facts as currently known. On Jan. 3, 2020, Soleimani—head of the elite, external clandestine Quds Force, a division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—was targeted and killed by a US drone airstrike, authorized by President Donald J. Trump. The strike happened as Soleimani and four Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) members—including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) Commander Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Āl Ebrahim (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis)—exited their aircraft at Baghdad International airport.

The five has just arrived from Lebanon or Syria, signaling coordination between Iran’s IRGC and the Iraqi-state supported umbrella PMF, often called the new Iraqi Republican Guard. PMF includes more than 40 largely Shia militia and terrorist groups, including Iran-supported KH, the Khazali Network, and Badr Brigades.

While some commentators have pointed to a post-US strike escalation of tensions, the drone strike that killed Soleimani and company was in fact a response to KH’s provocative 31 Dec., 2019, attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad—a breach of international law—and its 27 Dec., 2019, attack on the Iraqi K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk, which hosts US Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) personnel. During that attack, KH rockets—more than 30—killed a US civilian contractor and injured four US and two Iraqi military personnel. It is for these immediate precursor reasons that the Department of Defense has characterized the Soleimani strike as “defensive.”

Forgotten in recent news, however, were a series of highly provocative attacks since 2017 by IRGC across the region. Last year alone, these include the May 2019 Gulf of Oman oil tanker attacks damaged six commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers; the May 2019 Saudi pipeline attack and the Sept. 14, 2019, unprecedented drone hit on Saudi Aramco’s two major oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais; and the June 20, 2019, attack on a US RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone for which Trump intended to respond but reversed his decision, instead requesting a United Nations Security Council closed-door meeting on Iranian regional escalation. This pattern is why former US military commanders in the region, such as Gen. David Petraeus, have framed the Soleimani strike as a need to reestablish “deterrence.”

From a broader strategic perspective, for those unfamiliar with the region, the killing of Soleimani uncovers plenty of questions about the region’s politics and conflicts: Why in the world would Iran sponsor an irregular militia to attack a sovereign embassy, which Iraq as the host nation is required to protect? Why would Iran support the targeting of a neighbor’s military airbase, particularly when the world’s most powerful military force is on base? Broadening the aperture, why would Iran—with Soleimani as its operational mastermind—ally with Russia to support Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, since 2012, in the Syrian Civil War with brutal atrocities against his own people? Moreover, why would Iran seek to destabilize Yemen—supporting the Houthi insurgency—at Saudi Arabia’s doorstep, thus drawing the Gulf Arab states into the fray?

Welcome to the dynamics of proxy warfare and Soleimani’s signature strategy in the Middle East. At its core, Soleimani aimed to blend the power of the state (Iran, and its political power) with the dynamic activism of violent extremist and militant groups, much like the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Middle East expert Ali Soufan observed. That strategy alone—where nonstate groups can draw on the power of a state—warrants a more disruptive response which utilizes all instruments of national power, including economics and kinetics.

Still one of the best strategic profiles of Soleimani is Dexter Filkins’s 2013 New Yorker essay, “The Shadow Commander” in which Filkins explains how Soleimani was shaped by the 1980s Iran-Iraq War (with its use of chemical weapons) and then tasked as early as 1998 to advance the 1979 Iranian Revolution and reshape the Middle East into the Shia Crescent zone of influence. As part of this vision, Soleimani went on—all at the same time—to help direct and fund Assad’s war in Syria, Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon, and the ongoing insurgencies against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq (since 2001).

Soleimani’s endgame was to reshape the Mideast into a zone of Iranian influence, thus, advancing the Iranian revolutionary flame ever forward. While this goal is by no means unique to Soleimani—Iran’s Supreme Leaders share this core aspiration—what was unique to the general was his powerful execution of this goal by building a vast covert organizational infrastructure of dozens of Iran-backed militant and terrorist organizations. These proxies and special groups have been increasing at rapid rates due to fighting against US coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Syria and against Islamic State.

In light of Soleimani’s long-term signature strategy, it is not surprising to see successive US administrations designate these proxy and covert forces as terrorist organizations. On April 8, 2019, Soleimani’s IRGC and Quds Force were both designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, augmenting earlier Obama-era Treasury designations in 2007 and 2010. Likewise, in July 2009 under executive orders 13438 and 13224—covering those who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq—the Obama Administration designated Kata’ib Hezbollah a terrorist organization, the only Iraqi Shiite militia so designated by the US. Soleimani himself was a “specially designated national” (SDN) since 1999, again in 2010 under EO 13382, with additional sanctions after his foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States.

Such tactics also were used at home. In early December the world witnessed an Iran “convulsed” by what The New York Times called its “worst unrest in 40 Years,” with anti-government protests across 21 cities. These protests were followed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “brutal crackdown”—with IRGC involvement—resulting in more than 1,500 protesters killed. Iranians were protesting rising fuel prices, the result of economic mismanagement and EU and US sanctions issued in response to IRGC provocations. These included the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which passed overwhelmingly by both houses in 2017 (including sanctions against Russia and North Korea).

There’s no doubt Soleimani will be replaced, but his successor will have very large strategic shoes to fill. Reports indicate that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has regrouped and will replace the head of its agile, covert militant network with Quds Force deputy Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani.

Governments in and beyond the region are collectively holding their breath, hoping that violence will not escalate. Some—such as Russia, Iran’s ally in Syria—criticized the US action and, in turn, praised Soleimani for having “faithfully served and defended the national interests of Iran.” Any realistic account must address the conflicting, multiperspectives in the region. In addition to celebrations among communities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, journalist Kim Ghattas notes that Soleimani was not only a problem for the US, he “haunted the Arab world,” so his death has been greeted with often-quiet “elation.” While Iraq’s parliament will ask for the removal of US forces, some see the post-Soleimani moment as a win for a stronger Iraq. No doubt, US military servicemembers, directly targeted by the IRGC especially in Iraq, offer important insights.

Critics of this action will fixate once again on the Trump Administration’s strategy, positing the US as responsible for Mideast conflict and crisis. Some of these critics ignore Soleimani’s two decades of militant infrastructure-building or the audacity of Kata’ib Hezbollah to target its neighbor’s embassy and airbase. They also forget that KH Commander Muhandis—killed along with Soleimani—was the alleged mastermind of the US and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983, as well as the assassination attempt on Kuwait’s emir in 1985. Such forces have been hard at work for a long time.

While we do not know what happens next, with Soleimani’s demise, Iran and its proxies have lost their strategic architect.

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Corri Zoli’s Expertise in Demand as Media Make Sense of Iran Crisis

Corri Zoli, Director of Research for the Institute for Security Policy and Law, helped local media make sense of the Jan. 3, 2019, assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the subsequent Iran Crisis, and what this US military action means for the security of an already volatile Middle East region.

SU Professor: “Something Had to be Done” to Stop Gen. Soleimani’s Influence in Middle East Conflicts

WAER | Jan. 6, 2020

“Something had to be done. Former General David Petraeus was in the news the other day saying, listen, we had to reestablish deterrence somehow because the moves were getting more and more audacious. Closer and closer to US civilian populations, closer and closer to armed forces.”

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SU Counterterrorism expert: Soleimani death may be more significant than Osama bin Laden

CNYCentral | Jan. 3, 2020

… Zoli says Soleimani had even greater military reach throughout the region. He was a man, Zoli says, who helped support unrest in Yemen, Syria and was a key figure behind insurgencies against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The IEDs were as a tactical strategy in the field was pioneered by Soleimani. So many American service members think of him as responsible for these,” Zoli said.

She says Soleimani was covert but calls him an operational mastermind who built an enormous infrastructure of terrorist groups throughout the Middle East …

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What Led to Airstrike That Killed Iranian Military Commander?

Spectrum News | Jan. 3 2020

“I think everyone is holding their breath in the Middle East right now, there’s significant concern that there will be increased conflict, escalation, dynamics that will involve retaliation,” said Zoli. “There’s no doubt that the US is preparing for that.”

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The Burden of a Militarized US Foreign Policy

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from Medium.com | Oct, 30, 2019) What role should American troops play — some would say, standing in the crossfire — between distant governments and groups engaged in protracted armed conflicts, whose grievances long predate 9/11? What US obligations are owed to parties of these conflicts, even partners, particularly if their issues — which they believe are worth fighting and dying for — have little to do with US national strategic priorities? How many of the long-term conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which the US is often expected to manage, are defined by the same, solvable problems — ethnic strife, capitulation on human rights, bad actors using political violence rather than building pluralistic consensus — which could be solved if local governments would simply govern their own diverse constituencies with care and accountability? In the Mideast in particular, these “conflict drivers” create economic-conflict traps and erode region-wide stability. Should the US then pick up the pieces?

“What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered.”

Unfortunately, there are far too many wars to which these questions apply — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen (between Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, and Iran), Pakistan and India, in fractured Syria, lawless Libya, Sudan, and South Sudan, even the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict. If we broaden the lens to include — not just active wars and internal strife — but low-intensity conflicts and hybrid threats, the numbers rise to include post-Arab Spring Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, and the Syrian-Civil War spillover into Lebanon. Is it reasonable to expect American servicemembers to protect and police these nations’ in light of their security threats, much of which stems from internal governance deficits? Can the American public feasibly support US intervention — at a cost of trillions, not to mention in lives — in 10 Mideast conflicts out of 16 nations?

What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered. Few analysts mention the dismal empirics of war, the backdrop for weighing the merits of any lasting US presence in Syria, from policy, strategic, democratic, and other perspectives. From a democratic perspective, for instance, American voters have spoken, twice, in the last two elections, supporting both Obama and Trump Administrations’ promise of “no new wars.” From a policy perspective, the picture is even more bizarre: despite Obama’s best intentions, his own political appointees would not let him extricate the US from the Mideast. Hence, Obama called his Libyan intervention the “worst mistake” of his presidency, even as he initiated this and two other new US interventions in Syria and Yemen, adding three more wars to US ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (which Obama tried unsuccessfully to end in 2011). Biden, who presided over Obama’s withdrawal ceremony in Iraq in December 2011, said: “thank you, Obama, for giving me the opportunity to end this goddamn war.” Such a sentiment was short-lived and, as most analysts believe, the prerequisite for the rise of ISIS in the Levant.

These examples illustrate how easy it is for all of us — even Presidents with foreign policy authority — to get lost in the mixed media messages, the twists and turns of self-serving politics, the topsy-turvy world of policy recommendations, and the “fog of war” complexities of conflict, all of which inexorably push for more war …

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