Ali Younesi, an adviser to the Iranian president, mocks Obama’s ‘humiliating’ presidency
By Adam Kredo
The Iranian president’s senior advisor has called President Barack Obama “the weakest of U.S. presidents” and described the U.S. leader’s tenure in office as “humiliating,” according to a translation of the highly candid comments provided to the Free Beacon.
The comments by Ali Younesi, senior advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, come as Iran continues to buck U.S. attempts to woo it into the international coalition currently battling the Islamic State (IS, ISIL, or ISIS).
And with the deadline quickly approaching on talks between the U.S. and Iran over its contested nuclear program, Younesi’s denigrating views of Obama could be a sign that the regime in Tehran has no intent of conceding to America’s demands.
“Obama is the weakest of U.S. presidents, he had humiliating defeats in the region. Under him the Islamic awakening happened,” Younesi said in a Farsi language interview with Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.
“Americans witnessed their greatest defeats in Obama’s era: Terrorism expanded, [the] U.S. had huge defeats under Obama [and] that is why they want to compromise with Iran,” Younesi said.
The criticism of Obama echoes comments made recently by other world leaders and even former members of the president’s own staff, such as Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Younesi, a former minister of intelligence in the country, also had some harsh comments about U.S. conservatives and the state of Israel.
“Conservatives are war mongers, they cannot tolerate powers like Iran,” he said. “If conservatives were in power they would go to war with us because they follow Israel and they want to portray Iran as the main threat and not ISIS.”
Younesi took a more conciliatory view towards U.S. Democrats, who he praised for viewing Iran as “no threat.”
“We [the Islamic Republic] have to use this opportunity [of Democrats being in power in the U.S.], because if this opportunity is lost, in future we may not have such an opportunity again,” Younesi said.
The candid comments by Rouhani’s right-hand-man could provide a window into the regime’s mindset as nuclear talks wind to a close.
The Obama administration has maintained for months that it will not permit Congress to have final say over the deal, which many worry will permit Iran to continue enriching uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon.
About the potential for a nuclear deal, Youseni said, “I am not optimistic so much, but the two sides are willing to reach results,” according to an official translation posted online by Fars News.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have adopted a much more pessimistic view of Iran’s negotiating tactics, which many on the Hill maintain are meant to stall for time as Tehran completes its nuclear weapon.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), for instance, wrote a letter to the White House this week to tell Obama his desire to skirt Congress is unacceptable.
“Congress cannot and will not sit idly by if the Administration intends on taking unilateral action to provide sanctions relief to Iran for a nuclear deal we perceive to be weak and dangerous for our national security, the security of the region, and poses a threat to the U.S. and our ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel,” Ros-Lehtinen wrote.
“If the Administration opts to act in a manner that directly contradicts Congress’ intent, then Congress must take all necessary measures to either reverse the executive, unilateral action, or to strengthen and enhance current sanctions law,” she told the president.
“President Obama does believe that by rewarding Iran and permitting it to do whatever it wants in the region, the mullahs in Tehran will be convinced to compromise,” said Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iranian dissident and associate fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
However, “the result has been disastrous: Iran controls 3 Arab capitals (Damascus, Beirut, and Baghdad) and its allies just captured the fourth one (Sana in Yemen) and Iran’s economy has significantly improved,” Ghasseminejad explained.
“Unfortunately, it does not seem that the mullahs reached the conclusion desired by the administration,” he said. “Iranians believe this administration is weak, it has lost its economic leverage over Iran and there is no credible military option on the table. Iran has been rewarded upfront, they now ask for more while are determined to keep their nuclear program intact.”
Iraqi soldiers and Sunni fighters hold a position on the top of a building on the frontine during clashes with Islamic States (IS) fighters on September 17, 2014 in the town of Dhuluiya (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)
Eleven Iraqi police officers were taken to hospital after an ISIS chemical weapons attack, with the Defense Ministry and doctors recently confirming the gas as chlorine. This marks the first officially documented militant attack with the chemical.
The Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants’ chlorine gas attack occurred on September 15, in the town of Duluiyah, located north of the capital, according to a Washington Post report.
The blast followed an exchange of fire between the militants and the members of the Sunni Jabbour tribe, who were guarding the town’s borders.
“It was a strange explosion. We saw yellow smoke in the sky,” said Lt. Khairalla al-Jabbouri, one of the survivors.
The victims talked of the fog that hung close to the ground – a possible indication that it was chlorine, which is heavier than air.
The physicians who treated them also confirmed that their diagnosis was poisoning by chlorine gas.
“They were panicked; we were panicked,” said Kasim Hatim, director of the hospital in the nearby city of Balad, where the officers were taken. “We initially thought it might be a more serious gas, a nerve gas or an organophosphate.”
Image from Google Maps
A recent statement from the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that the IS had used the gas in a “primitive and ineffective way” – in roadside bomb attacks and near several water treatment plants where it had gained access to chlorine. Without indicating the locations of the attacks, the statement said that the militants aimed at impairing “the morale of the Iraqi people in general and our armed forces in particular.”
American defense officials were not aware of the September 15 chlorine attack and referred to the Iraqi government for further information.
Alistair Baskey, spokesman for the National Security Council, told the New York Times on Thursday, “The use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is an abhorrent act. These recent allegations underscore the importance of our work to eliminate chemical weapons in this volatile region.”
There have lately been several reports of IS militants using chlorine gas on the battlefield, however, none had been officially confirmed. They appeared after the jihadists seized a large former Iraqi chemical weapons production plant this summer, whose 2,500 degraded rockets the Iraqi officials claimed unlikely to be fit for use.
Earlier this week, reports were circulating that there was a chemical attack in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani on Tuesday. But the chemical agent the IS militants used couldn’t be identified, as doctors lacked necessary equipment to diagnose the cause of complaints made by Kurdish victims and activists.
As a choking agent, chlorine was widely used during World War I. Nowadays it is sold legally as a key component in industry, but its use as a chemical weapon violates the Chemical Weapons Convention.
ONE GRIM indication that the regime of Bashar al-Assad has been emboldened by the U.S. air campaign in Syria is the fresh reports of chemical weapons attacks on civilian areas. The Institute for the Study of War has compiled 18 allegations by Syrian sources of chlorine gas attacks by the regime since U.S. strikes against the Islamic State began in August. The first strike was reported Aug. 19 — the same day that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had completed the neutralization of the chemical weapons stockpile surrendered by the regime. The most recent was reported last week, when government forces allegedly used chlorine gas against rebel positions in the suburban Damascus area of Jobar.
How can the Assad regime still resort to chemical-weapons attacks months after the completion of a U.S.-led disarmament operation that President Obama claims as a success? One reason is that chlorine was not included in the chemicals the regime was obliged to hand over, even though its use in war violates the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined as part of the Russian-brokered deal. So while handing over stocks of sarin and mustard gas, the Assad forces have been fashioning “barrel bombs” containing chlorine and dropping them from helicopters on neighborhoods held by rebel forces.
After initial reports of such attacks last April, the OPCW dispatched a fact-finding team to investigate. Last month it reported “compelling confirmation” that toxic chemicals were used “systematically and repeatedly” as weapons in villages in northern Syria. The report noted that after the investigation began, “there was a marked reduction in reported chlorine attacks in the months of May, June and July.” But as world attention turned toward the U.S.-led air offensive against the Islamic State in August, the Assad barrel bombs began falling again. “In most cases,” the Institute for the Study of War reported, strikes “occurred in locations inaccessible to OPCW or Human Rights Watch investigators,” making verification virtually impossible.
What emerges from the various reports is that the Assad regime is once again blatantly violating the “red line” drawn by Mr. Obama against the use of chemical weapons — and getting away with it. Simon Limage, a State Department nonproliferation official, said this week that the “evidence strongly suggests the Assad regime is the culprit” for the Syria attacks. The Islamic State, too, may be using chlorine; The Post’s Loveday Morris reports a gas attack that occurred in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad, last month.
The difference is that, while the United States has mobilized a coalition against the Islamic State, Mr. Assad is taking advantage of the fact that the U.S. strategy in Syria is to ignore him. Mr. Obama is resisting entreaties from the rebels and from the Turkish government to make the Assad forces a target, or even to declare a no-fly zone for the Syrian air force. So the regime calculates that chemical attacks that once prompted Mr. Obama to order retaliatory airstrikes now can be carried out with impunity.
Mr. Limage, who was in Brussels, told reporters that the United States was consulting with allies about a response to the chemical weapons attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal. But he added, “the least satisfying part of the conversation is next steps.” That will be true as long as Mr. Obama insists on giving the Assad regime a pass in his Syria campaign.
Islamic State fighters inspect a hill in the outskirts of Syrian town of Kobani, as seen from the Mursitpinar crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, in Sanliurfa province October 23, 2014. Credit: Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach
(Reuters) – Islamic State wrested a Sunni Muslim village in western Iraq on Thursday from tribal defenders who put up weeks of fierce resistance, and the insurgents tightened a siege of the Yazidi minority on a mountain in the north.
The attacks showed Islamic State’s continued operating resilience despite air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces aimed at defeating the ultra-radical Sunni jihadist group, which has captured large expanses of Iraq and neighboring Syria, beheaded prisoners and massacred people from other religious communities, and declared a medieval-style caliphate.
The Albu Nimr tribe had been fending off Islamic State (IS) since early October but finally lost the village of Zauiyat albu Nimr in the western province of Anbar overnight on Thursday.
A small Iraqi army unit was stationed in the village but evacuated by helicopter in the early hours of Thursday, along with leaders from the Albu Nimr, a tribal figure from the village told Reuters in Baghdad.
Residents said the bodies of tribal fighters and soldiers lay strewn in the streets of Zauiyat albu Nimr on Thursday, and the very few who survived the onslaught had been told by IS insurgents to drop their weapons and leave.
“Islamic State are out to purge the village of Bu Nimr members,” said the tribal figure in Baghdad. “Sleeper cells inside the village have been assisting the Islamic State by providing the names and the locations of the houses of prominent resistance members.
“A list of 200 names that include the high officers in our village has been set and all of these names are to be killed.”
The fall of Zauiyat albu Nimr leaves remaining areas under government control in Anbar more vulnerable to seizure by IS, which overran the regional city of Hit early this month.
Islamic State holds much of western Anbar and is looking to isolate pockets of resistance, including the Ain al-Asad air base and the Haditha Dam.
U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes on IS in Iraq in August, citing the duty to prevent an impending genocide of minority Yazidis at the hands of the jihadist insurgents who attacked them around Sinjar Mountain.
Yazidis follow an ancient faith derived from Zoroastrianism. IS considers the Yazidis to be devil worshippers and has killed or captured hundreds and sold many into slavery in a campaign to wipe out the religious minority.
The air strikes helped Kurdish regional forces stem IS advances in northern Iraq and relieved some of the pressure on Sinjar so that a corridor could be opened to evacuate thousands of Yazidis from the mountain.
But Kurdish peshmerga forces have not been able to secure Sinjar, and on Monday, IS militants renewed their assault on the mountain in the northwest Iraq near the Syrian frontier.
Yazidi fighters on the mountain pleaded for assistance to avert more bloodshed and said their weapons were ineffective against armored Humvee vehicles used by Islamic State.
“The situation is really bad and it’s worsening by the minute,” said Barakat, a fighter on the mountain. “We are surrounded by IS militants from all four directions. The streets at the foot of the mountain are completely under IS control.”
Barakat said 500-600 families were stranded on the mountain and although helicopters occasionally dropped supplies and picked up some civilians, they could only lift a small number of people to safety each time.
Awar, another Yazidi fighter, said there were many IS militants on the eastern side of the mountain: “There’s a strong possibility that a large scale attack is coming tonight or tomorrow morning.”
Yazidi combatants said they were short on supplies including food and clothing. “The fighters are holding the ground and are putting a stop to any attempt at climbing the mountain,” said a third fighter who asked to remain unnamed. “We will stay here and fight IS in order to protect our land and our holy shrines.”
Our leaders talk a great deal about vanquishing the forces of evil. But their rhetoric reveals a failure to accept that cruelty and conflict are basic human traits
Hitler Youth circa 1939. Photograph: Heinrich Hoffmann/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
By John Gray
When Barack Obama vows to destroy Isis’s “brand of evil” and David Cameron declares that Isis is an “evil organisation” that must be obliterated, they are echoing Tony Blair’s judgment of Saddam Hussein: “But the man’s uniquely evil, isn’t he?” Blair made this observation in November 2002, four months before the invasion of Iraq, when he invited six experts to Downing Street to brief him on the likely consequences of the war. The experts warned that Iraq was a complicated place, riven by deep communal enmities, which Saddam had dominated for over 35 years. Destroying the regime would leave a vacuum; the country could be shaken by Sunni rebellion and might well descend into civil war. These dangers left the prime minster unmoved. What mattered was Saddam’s moral iniquity. The divided society over which he ruled was irrelevant. Get rid of the tyrant and his regime, and the forces of good would prevail.
If Saddam was uniquely evil 12 years ago, we have it on the authority of our leaders that Isis is uniquely evil today. Until it swept into Iraq a few months ago, the jihadist group was just one of several that had benefited from the campaign being waged by western governments and their authoritarian allies in the Gulf in support of the Syrian opposition’s struggle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Since then Isis has been denounced continuously and with increasing intensity; but there has been no change in the ruthless ferocity of the group, which has always practised what a radical Islamist theorist writing under the name Abu Bakr Naji described in an internet handbook in 2006 as “the management of savagery”.
Main entrance gateway to the Auschwitz camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Sign translates to “Work will make you free.” Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp.
Ever since it was spun off from al-Qaida some 10 years ago, Isis has made clear its commitment to beheading apostates and unbelievers, enslaving women and wiping out communities that will not submit to its ultra-fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. In its carefully crafted internet videos, it has advertised these crimes itself. There has never been any doubt that Isis practises methodical savagery as an integral part of its strategy of war. This did not prevent an abortive attempt on the part of the American and British governments in August of last year to give military support to the Syrian rebels – a move that could have left Isis the most powerful force in the country. Isis became the prime enemy of western governments only when it took advantage of the anarchy these same governments had created when they broke the state of Iraq with their grandiose scheme of regime change.
Against this background, it would be easy to conclude that talk of evil in international conflicts is no more than a cynical technique for shaping public perceptions. That would be a mistake. Blair’s secret – which is the key to much in contemporary politics – is not cynicism. A cynic is someone who knowingly acts against what he or she knows to be true. Too morally stunted to be capable of the mendacity of which he is often accused, Blair thinks and acts on the premise that whatever furthers the triumph of what he believes to be good must be true. Imagining that he can deliver the Middle East and the world from evil, he cannot help having a delusional view of the impact of his policies.
Here Blair is at one with most western leaders. It’s not that they are obsessed with evil. Rather, they don’t really believe in evil as an enduring reality in human life. If their feverish rhetoric means anything, it is that evil can be vanquished. In believing this, those who govern us at the present time reject a central insight of western religion, which is found also in Greek tragic drama and the work of the Roman historians: destructive human conflict is rooted in flaws within human beings themselves. In this old-fashioned understanding, evil is a propensity to destructive and self-destructive behaviour that is humanly universal. The restraints of morality exist to curb this innate human frailty; but morality is a fragile artifice that regularly breaks down. Dealing with evil requires an acceptance that it never goes away.
Saddam Hussein. Reuters photo
No view of things could be more alien at the present time. Whatever their position on the political spectrum, almost all of those who govern us hold to some version of the melioristic liberalism that is the west’s default creed, which teaches that human civilisation is advancing – however falteringly – to a point at which the worst forms of human destructiveness can be left behind. According to this view, evil, if any such thing exists, is not an inbuilt human flaw, but a product of defective social institutions, which can over time be permanently improved.
Paradoxically, this belief in the evanescence of evil is what underlies the hysterical invocation of evil that has lately become so prominent. There are many bad and lamentable forces in the world today, but it is those that undermine the belief in human improvement that are demonised as “evil”. So what disturbs the west about Vladimir Putin, for example, is not so much the persecution of gay people over which he has presided, or the threat posed to Russia’s neighbours by his attempt to reassert its imperial power. It is the fact that he has no place in the liberal scheme of continuing human advance. As a result, the Russian leader can only be evil. When George W Bush looked into Putin’s eyes at a Moscow summit in May 2002, he reported, “I was able to get a sense of his soul”. When Joe Biden visited the Kremlin in 2011, he had a very different impression, telling Putin: “Mr Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.” According to Biden, Putin smiled and replied, “We understand each other.” The religious language is telling: nine years earlier, Putin had been a pragmatic leader with whom the west could work; now he was a soulless devil.
It’s in the Middle East, however, that the prevailing liberal worldview has proved most consistently misguided. At bottom, it may be western leaders’ inability to think outside this melioristic creed that accounts for their failure to learn from experience. After more than a decade of intensive bombing, backed up by massive ground force, the Taliban continue to control much of Afghanistan and appear to be regaining ground as the American-led mission is run down. Libya – through which a beaming David Cameron processed in triumph only three years ago, after the use of western air power to help topple Gaddafi – is now an anarchic hell-hole that no western leader could safely visit. One might think such experiences would be enough to deter governments from further exercises in regime change. But our leaders cannot admit the narrow limits of their power. They cannot accept that by removing one kind of evil they may succeed only in bringing about another – anarchy instead of tyranny, Islamist popular theocracy instead of secular dictatorship. They need a narrative of continuing advance if they are to preserve their sense of being able to act meaningfully in the world, so they are driven again and again to re-enact their past failures.
Many view these western interventions as no more than exercises in geopolitics. But a type of moral infantilism is no less important in explaining the persisting folly of western governments. Though it is clear that Isis cannot be permanently weakened as long as the war against Assad continues, this fact is ignored – and not only because a western-brokered peace deal that left Assad in power would be opposed by the Gulf states that have sided with jihadist forces in Syria. More fundamentally, any such deal would mean giving legitimacy to a regime that western governments have condemned as more evil than any conceivable alternative. In Syria, the actual alternatives are the survival in some form of Assad’s secular despotism, a radical Islamist regime or continuing war and anarchy. In the liberal political culture that prevails in the west, a public choice among these options is impossible.
There are some who think the very idea of evil is an obsolete relic of religion. For most secular thinkers, what has been defined as evil in the past is the expression of social ills that can in principle be remedied. But these same thinkers very often invoke evil forces to account for humankind’s failure to advance. The secularisation of the modern moral vocabulary that many believed was under way has not occurred: public discourse about good and evil continues to be rooted in religion. Yet the idea of evil that is invoked is not one that features in the central religious traditions of the west. The belief that evil can be finally overcome has more in common with the dualistic heresies of ancient and medieval times than it does with any western religious orthodoxy.
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A radically dualistic view of the world, in which good and evil are separate forces that have coexisted since the beginning of time, was held by the ancient Zoroastrians and Manicheans. These religions did not face the problem with which Christian apologists have struggled so painfully and for so long – how to reconcile the existence of an all-powerful and wholly good God with the fact of evil in the world. The worldview of George W Bush and Tony Blair is commonly described as Manichean, but this is unfair to the ancient religion. Mani, the third-century prophet who founded the faith, appears to have believed the outcome of the struggle was uncertain, whereas for Bush and Blair there could never be any doubt as to the ultimate triumph of good. In refusing to accept the permanency of evil they are no different from most western leaders.
The west owes its ideas of evil to Christianity, though whether these ideas would be recognised by Jesus – the dissident Jewish prophet from whose life and sayings St Paul conjured the Christian religion – is an open question. The personification of evil as a demonic presence is not a feature of biblical Judaism, where the figure of Satan appears chiefly as a messenger or accuser sent by God to challenge wrongdoers. Despite the claims of believers and advances in scholarship, not enough is known to pronounce with any confidence on what Jesus may himself have believed. What is clear is that Christianity has harboured a number of quite different understandings of evil.
A convert from Manicheism, St Augustine established a powerful orthodoxy in the fourth century when he tried to distance Christianity from dualism and maintained that evil was not an independent force coeval with good but came into the world when human beings misused the gift of free will. Reflecting Augustine’s own conflicts, the idea of original sin that he developed would play a part in the unhealthy preoccupation with sexuality that appears throughout most of Christianity’s history. Yet in placing the source of evil within human beings, Augustine’s account is more humane than myths in which evil is a sinister force that acts to subvert human goodness. Those who believe that evil can be eradicated tend to identify themselves with the good and attack anyone they believe stands in the way of its triumph.
Augustine had an immense influence, but dualistic views in which evil exists as an independent force have erupted repeatedly as heretical traditions within Christianity. The Cathar movement that developed in parts of Europe in the 13th century revived a Manichean cosmogony in which the world is the work not of a good God but instead of a malevolent angel or demi-urge. A rival heresy was promoted by the fourth century theologian Pelagius, an opponent of Augustine who denied original sin while strongly affirming free will, and believed that human beings could be good without divine intervention. More than any of the ancient Greek philosophers, Pelagius put an idea of human autonomy at the centre of his thinking. Though he is now almost forgotten, this heretical Christian theologian has a good claim to be seen as the true father of modern liberal humanism.
Saint Augustine by Caravaggio
In its official forms, secular liberalism rejects the idea of evil. Many liberals would like to see the idea of evil replaced by a discourse of harm: we should talk instead about how people do damage to each other and themselves. But this view poses a problem of evil remarkably similar to that which has troubled Christian believers. If every human being is born a liberal – as these latter-day disciples of Pelagius appear to believe – why have so many, seemingly of their own free will, given their lives to regimes and movements that are essentially repressive, cruel and violent? Why do human beings knowingly harm others and themselves? Unable to account for these facts, liberals have resorted to a language of dark and evil forces much like that of dualistic religions.
The efforts of believers to explain why God permits abominable suffering and injustice have produced nothing that is convincing; but at least believers have admitted that the ways of the Deity are mysterious. Even though he ended up accepting the divine will, the questions that Job put to God were never answered. Despite all his efforts to find a solution, Augustine confessed that human reason was not equal to the task. In contrast, when secular liberals try to account for evil in rational terms, the result is a more primitive version of Manichean myth. When humankind proves resistant to improvement, it is because forces of darkness – wicked priests, demagogic politicians, predatory corporations and the like – are working to thwart the universal struggle for freedom and enlightenment. There is a lesson here. Sooner or later anyone who believes in innate human goodness is bound to reinvent the idea of evil in a cruder form. Aiming to exorcise evil from the modern mind, secular liberals have ended up constructing another version of demonology, in which anything that stands out against what is believed to be the rational course of human development is anathematised.
The view that evil is essentially banal, presented by Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), is another version of the modern evasion of evil. Arendt suggested that human beings commit atrocities from a kind of stupidity, falling into a condition of thoughtlessness in which they collude in practices that inflict atrocious suffering on other human beings. It was some such moral inertia, Arendt maintained, that enabled Eichmann to take a leading part in perpetrating the Holocaust. Arendt’s theory of the banality of evil tends to support the defence of his actions that Eichmann presented at his trial: he had no choice in doing what he did. She represented Eichmann as a colourless bureaucrat performing a well-defined function in an impersonal bureaucratic machine; but the Nazi state was in fact largely chaotic, with different institutions, departments of government and individuals competing for Hitler’s favour. Careful historical research of the kind that David Cesarani undertook in his book Eichmann: His Life and Crimes (2004) suggests that Eichmann was not a passive tool of the state, but chose to serve it. When he organised the deportation and mass murder of Jews, he wasn’t simply furthering his career in the Nazi hierarchy. What he did reflected his deep-seated antisemitism. Eichmann took part in the Holocaust because he wanted to do so. In this he was no different from many others, though his crimes were larger in scale.
No doubt something like the type of evil that Arendt identified is real enough. Large parts of the population in Germany went along with Nazi policies of racial persecution and genocide from motives that included social conformity and obedience to authority. The number of doctors, teachers and lawyers who refused to implement Nazi policies was vanishingly small. But again, this wasn’t only passive obedience. Until it became clear that Hitler’s war might be lost, Nazism was extremely popular. As the great American journalist William Shirer reported in his eyewitness account of the rise of Hitler, The Nightmare Years:
“Most Germans, so far as I could see, did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of their splendid culture was being destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work were being regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation … On the whole, people did not seem to feel that they were being cowed and held down by an unscrupulous tyranny. On the contrary, they appeared to support it with genuine enthusiasm.”
When large populations of human beings collude with repressive regimes it need not be from thoughtlessness or inertia. Liberal meliorists like to think that human life contains many things that are bad, some of which may never be entirely eliminated; but there is nothing that is intrinsically destructive or malevolent in human beings themselves – nothing, in other words, that corresponds to a traditional idea of evil. But another view is possible, and one that need make no call on theology.
What has been described as evil in the past can be understood as a natural tendency to animosity and destruction, co-existing in human beings alongside tendencies to sympathy and cooperation. This was the view put forward by Sigmund Freud in a celebrated exchange of letters with Albert Einstein in 1931-32. Einstein had asked: “Is it possible to control man’s mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness?” Freud replied that “there is no likelihood of our being able to suppress humanity’s aggressive tendencies”.
Freud suggested that human beings were ruled by impulses or instincts, eros and thanatos, impelling them towards life and creation or destruction and death. He cautioned against thinking that these forces embodied good and evil in any simple way. Whether they worked together or in opposition, both were necessary. Even so, Freud was clear that a major threat to anything that might be called a good life came from within human beings. The fragility of civilisation reflected the divided nature of the human animal itself.
One need not subscribe to Freud’s theory (which in the same letter he describes as a type of mythology) to think he was on to something here. Rather than psychoanalysis, it may be some version of evolutionary psychology that can best illuminate the human proclivity to hatred and destruction. The point is that destructive behaviour of this kind flows from inherent human flaws. Crucially, these defects are not only or even mainly intellectual. No advance in human knowledge can stop humans attacking and persecuting others. Poisonous ideologies like Nazi “scientific racism” justify such behaviour. But these ideologies are not just erroneous theories that can be discarded when their falsehood has been demonstrated. Ideas of similar kinds recur whenever societies are threatened by severe and continuing hardship. At present, antisemitism and ethnic nationalism, along with hatred of gay people, immigrants and other minorities, are re-emerging across much of the continent. Toxic ideologies express and reinforce responses to social conflict that are generically human.
Mass support for despotic regimes has many sources. Without the economic upheavals that ruined much of the German middle class, the Nazis might well have remained a fringe movement. Undoubtedly there were many who looked to the Nazi regime for protection against economic insecurity. But it is a mistake to suppose that when people turn to tyrants, they do so despite the crimes that tyrants commit. Large numbers have admired tyrannical regimes and actively endorsed their crimes. If Nazism had not existed, something like it would surely have been invented in the chaos of interwar Europe.
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When the west aligned itself with the USSR in the second world war, it was choosing the lesser of two evils – both of them evils of a radical kind. This was the view of Winston Churchill, who famously said he would “sup with the devil” if doing so would help destroy “that evil man” Hitler. Churchill’s candid recognition of the nature of the choice he made is testimony to how shallow the discourse of evil has since become. Today, no western politician could admit to making such a decision.
In his profound study On Compromise and Rotten Compromises, the Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit distinguishes between regimes that rest on cruelty and humiliation, as many have done throughout history, and those that go further by excluding some human beings altogether from moral concern. Describing the latter as radically evil, he argues that Nazi Germany falls into this category. The distinction Margalit draws is not a quantitative one based on the numbers of victims, but categorical: Nazi racism created an immutable hierarchy in which there could be no common moral bonds. Margalit goes on to argue – surely rightly – that in allying itself with the Soviet Union in the struggle against Nazism, the west was making a necessary and justified moral compromise. But this was not because the Nazis were the greater evil, he suggests. For all its oppression, the Soviet Union offered a vision of the future that included all of humankind. Viewing most of the species as less than human, Nazism rejected morality itself.
There should be no doubt that the Nazis are in a class by themselves. No other regime has launched a project of systematic extermination that is comparable. From the beginning of the Soviet system there were some camps from which it was difficult to emerge alive. Yet at no time was there anything in the Soviet gulag akin to the Nazi death camps that operated at Sobibor and Treblinka. Contrary to some in post-communist countries who try to deny the fact, the Holocaust remains a unique crime. Judged by Margalit’s formula, however, the Soviet Union was also implicated in radical evil. The Soviet state implemented a policy of exclusion from society of “former persons” – a group that included those who lived off unearned income, clergy of all religions and tsarist functionaries – who were denied civic rights, prohibited from seeking public office and restricted in their access to the rationing system. Many died of starvation or were consigned to camps where they perished from overwork, undernourishment and brutal treatment.
Considered as a broad moral category, what Margalit defines as radical evil is not uncommon. The colonial genocide of the Herero people in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) at the start of the 20th century was implemented against a background of ersatz-scientific racist ideology that denied the humanity of Africans. (The genocide included the use of Hereros as subjects of medical experiments, conducted by doctors some of whom returned to Germany to teach physicians later implicated in experiments on prisoners in Nazi camps.) The institution of slavery in antebellum America and South African apartheid rested on a similar denial. A refusal of moral standing to some of those they rule is a feature of societies of widely different varieties in many times and places. In one form or another, denying the shared humanity of others seems to be a universal human trait.
Describing Isis’s behaviour as “psychopathic”, as David Cameron has done, represents the group as being more humanly aberrant than the record allows. Aside from the fact that it publicises them on the internet, Isis’s atrocities are not greatly different from those that have been committed in many other situations of acute conflict. To cite only a few of the more recent examples, murder of hostages, mass killings and systematic rape have been used as methods of warfare in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Rwanda, and the Congo.
A campaign of mass murder is never simply an expression of psychopathic aggression. In the case of Isis, the ideology of Wahhabism has played an important role. Ever since the 1920s, the rulers of the Saudi kingdom have promoted this 18th-century brand of highly repressive and exclusionary Sunni Islam as part of the project of legitimating the Saudi state. More recently, Saudi sponsorship of Wahhabi ideology has been a response to the threat posed by the rise of Shia Iran. If the ungoverned space in which Isis operates has been created by the west’s exercises in regime change, the group’s advances are also a byproduct of the struggle for hegemony between Iran and the Saudis. In such conditions of intense geopolitical rivalry there can be no effective government in Iraq, no end to the Syrian civil war and no meaningful regional coalition against the self-styled caliphate.
But the rise of Isis is also part of a war of religion. Nothing is more commonplace than the assertion that religion is a tool of power, which ruling elites use to control the people. No doubt that’s often true. But a contrary view is also true: politics may be a continuation of religion by other means. In Europe religion was a primary force in politics for many centuries. When religion seemed to be in retreat, it renewed itself in political creeds – Jacobinism, nationalism and varieties of totalitarianism – that were partly religious in nature. Something similar is happening in the Middle East. Fuelled by movements that combine radical fundamentalism with elements borrowed from secular ideologies such as Leninism and fascism, conflict between Shia and Sunni communities looks set to continue for generations to come. Even if Isis is defeated, it will not be the last movement of its kind. Along with war, religion is not declining, but continuously mutating into hybrid forms.
Western intervention in the Middle East has been guided by a view of the world that itself has some of the functions of religion. There is no factual basis for thinking that something like the democratic nation-state provides a model on which the region could be remade. States of this kind emerged in modern Europe, after much bloodshed, but their future is far from assured and they are not the goal or end-point of modern political development. From an empirical viewpoint, any endpoint can only be an act of faith. All that can be observed is a succession of political experiments whose outcomes are highly contingent. Launched in circumstances in which states constructed under the aegis of western colonialism have broken down under the impact of more recent western intervention, the gruesome tyranny established by Isis will go down in history as one of these experiments.
The weakness of faith-based liberalism is that it contains nothing that helps in the choices that must be made between different kinds and degrees of evil. Given the west’s role in bringing about the anarchy in which the Yazidis, the Kurds and other communities face a deadly threat, non-intervention is a morally compromised option. If sufficient resources are available – something that cannot be taken for granted – military action may be justified. But it is hard to see how there can be lasting peace in territories where there is no functioning state. Our leaders have helped create a situation that their view of the world claims cannot exist: an intractable conflict in which there are no good outcomes.
“This group was in a position to train without any sort of interference, they were able to recruit operatives,” he said.
“We saw that they were looking to test explosives. So they were in the advanced stages of plotting. They had both that intent and that capability that put them into nearing an execution phase of an attack.”
Little was known about the Khorasan group before US Central Command announced it had launched 46 cruise missiles against eight of the group’s training camps and command centres to the west of Aleppo in Syria.
At the time, officials said the group posed an “imminent” threat to the US. Reports suggested it was developing clothing laced with undetectable explosives as a way of smuggling bombs on to aircraft.
It is thought to comprise senior al-Qaeda figures, veterans of the war in Afghanistan, who are working closely with the Nusra Front.
Muhsin al-Fadhli, a former confidante of Osama bin Laden, is its leader.
Privately American intelligence officials have admitted the strikes failed to inflict much damage on the group.
Mr Olsen agreed, saying that the type of “hardened, seasoned veterans” who had joined Korasan meant the threat was unlikely to have been reduced.
People depart the gymnasium while President Barack Obama makes a campaign speech for Maryland gubernatorial Democratic candidate Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown at an Early Vote Rally at Dr. Henry Wise High School in Upper Marlboro, Md., Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (Image source: AP/Cliff Owen)
A new survey release by Gallup shows that Americans’ faith in the government to handle Ebola has dropped substantially in the past two weeks.
Confidence in the government response dropped from 61% when Gallup first asked the question on October 5th down to 52 percent two weeks later. On October 12th the same question was at 60 percent, meaning nearly all of the decline happened in the past week. There is a clear partisan divide in the results, with Democrats much more confident (71%) in the government’s response than Republicans (37%).
Despite the drop in confidence, most Americans do not seem to be panicking. Only 20% of respondents believe Ebola will become a crisis or major epidemic in the U.S., up just two points from two weeks ago. That seems to track with the 24% of respondents who say they are personally worried about getting Ebola. Gallup notes that this is similar to the results for people who worried about catching the H1N1 virus back in 2009.
WASHINGTON — In taking office during two overseas wars and the Great Recession, President Obama set out to restore society’s frayed faith in its public institutions, saying that the question was not whether government was too big or small, “but whether it works.” Six years later, Americans seem more dubious than ever that it really does.
With every passing week or month, it seems, some government agency or another has had a misstep or has been caught up in scandals that have deeply eroded public confidence. The Internal Revenue Service targets political groups, the Border Patrol is overwhelmed by children illegally crossing the Rio Grande, the Department of Veterans Affairs covers up poor service, and the Secret Service fails to guard the president and his White House.
Now public esteem for the long-respected Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has plummeted with the arrival of Ebola on American shores. A new CBS News poll found that only 37 percent of Americans thought the centers were doing a good job, down from 60 percent last year. In fact, of nine agencies tested, seven that were judged highly by a majority of Americans last year have now fallen below 50 percent. Only one, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was rated well by a majority, and that by just 51 percent.
There is a “moral bankruptcy” that’s settled into leadership of America in the White House and throughout Washington, D.C., Dr. Alveda King—the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.—said in an interview Friday morning.
“All of our leaders—or many of our leaders—are just morally bankrupt right now,” King said when asked if President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have helped or hurt the black community in America. “They’re not calling on God. We still stay ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘One Nation Under God’ but we’re not practicing that. We need to call on God. There’s a moral bankruptcy in this country and we really need to come back to God.”
Dr. King is part of an effort that will be announced publicly early next week by various conservative black, Hispanic and Tea Party leaders to reach out to the black community and get them engaged in an effort to help urban centers reject big government in favor of smaller, limited government. The project, called “Restore The Dream 2014,” includes other black leaders like TheTeaParty.net’s Niger Innis, FreedomWorks’ the Rev. C.L. Bryant, radio host Wayne Dupree, Conservative Campaign Committee chairman Lloyd Marcus, Conservative Review president Deneen Borelli, columnist Star Parker, former U.N. Commission on Civil Rights ambassador Ken Blackwell, and others.
Dr. Alveda King
In an interview, Innis—whose father Roy Innis has led the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the major organizations behind the Civil Rights movement, since 1968—said that progressive and big government policies have created a “welfare state that has largely not only destroyed the black and increasingly so Latino—and American family generally—they have killed the types of incentives that had led people to achieve and build a better life for themselves.”
“You can have opportunity right in front of your door but you’re terrified to open it because you’re a victim,” Innis said. “So those two realities that you have now since a leviathan of the federal government that is trying to fashion itself as a cradle-to-grave big daddy government—going to take care of you from cradle to grave and give you all sorts of disincentives to climbing that economic ladder, and by the way if you do climb that economic ladder they’re going to punish you punitively with taxes that are going to undermine you.”
“If you dare want to open up a business, they’re going to cripple you with regulations and taxes and they’re going to make it easier for you to be a rational human being and just get government benefits rather than being a liberated individual who can climb that economic ladder,” he continued. “So you have that real but not concrete phenomenon of big government mentality crippling you and then you have on a parallel track victimization syndrome overriding it that says—you pick the minority—‘you are a victim and you are the underdog so you can never achieve.’ That is a dangerous recipe and it is a recipe that has dominated urban centers for more than 50 years and what we’re trying to do is liberate them.”
King said that economic indicators show that during Obama’s presidency, things have gotten dramatically worse for black Americans.
“The data is going to indicate black people lost out in every single leading economic category during the Obama years,” King told Breitbart News, noting that liberal commentator Tavis Smiley agrees with her and that they’re not trying to “demonize” or “cast aspersions” on Obama, but the truth needs to be told. “That’s terrible. There’s nothing that’s been done to enhance our lives but there’s all sorts of things that were done to [give us stuff] like free access to abortion, free birth control in a healthcare clinic. But that’s nothing that’s going to help us economically, intellectually, physically health-wise and otherwise—there’s nothing being done for us. Black home ownership is 31 percent less than the rest of the country. Poverty rates have increased from 12 percent to 16.1 percent. Income for blacks is $20,000 less than the national average. Thirty-five percent of young blacks are out of work.”
That’s just the beginning of the black community’s woes under Obama, she said. Education, immigration, and health concerns are abound too.
“I’m not so locked into a political party—Republican, Democrat, independent—it doesn’t matter to me what your party affiliation happens to be,” King said. “We just need to vote and have common sense and good morals when we elect our people. We need hope. We need for the lights to come back on. We need to shine the light of the Lord and the love of the Lord back onto the country. We need a restoration, and that’s how we can restore the dream.”
King pointed Breitbart News to her uncle’s famous “Give Us The Ballot” speech, which he delivered in May 1957 in Washington, D.C., and discussed how he the black community could effectuate change by voting. “Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said in that speech. “Give us the ballot, and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the South and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence. Give us the ballot, and we will transform the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.”
King said that the black community needs to do the same today to use the ballot to change the liberal policies that are hurting them.
“We have to now in this century understand what my uncle and father talked about, which is that we are part of an equal community where everyone has an equal place in society,” King said. “Giving people government handouts without dignity, that’s not working. Giving people HHS mandate healthcare with free contraceptives and free abortions, that’s not going to help people. So we want to do more. We want our children better educated. We want better education, more jobs, opportunity, so people can contribute to society—so those are our goals.”
King also said she agrees with her aunt Coretta Scott King, MLK’s wife, who in 1991 wrote a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asking him to actually enforce immigration laws so that illegal aliens wouldn’t have a “devastating impact” on blacks by taking jobs away from them.
“I did go down to the border with Glenn Beck because actually I was concerned about the children,” King said. “I do not agree with open borders and you’ve got people who take these little children, cut them up and fill them with drugs then sew them back up and send them over here. I did want the children to be fed, I wanted them to have a warm meal and try to get them back home. I do not support open borders and I certainly agree with my aunt on that.”
The group plans to gather at the MLK memorial in Washington, D.C., on Monday, and then will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then onto Ferguson, Missouri—the site of the shooting death of Michael Brown earlier this year, something that has sparked controversy in the black community nationwide.
A colleague called me during the run-up to the Iraq war in March 2003. It is going to be unlike anything the world has ever seen. Shock and Awe. The war will be over before it starts. An inside player in the Bush administration, he was in a position to know what was in store.
Little did we know that the opening days of the second Iraq war marked the end of the era of America as the world’s dominant military power. It is not that America’s military power declined, but rather the salience of that power. Since the invention of the atomic bomb, the United States has had to choose in any given military or proto-military engagement which weapons were appropriate to use and which were deemed inappropriate or disproportionate to a given conflict. While some envisioned the invention of the atomic bomb as a weapon that would make war itself unimaginable, the invention of increasingly powerful weapons has only complicated the nature of warfare for the dominant power.
In the first days of the Iraq war, the massive missile strikes were delayed in favor of a decapitation strike that failed due to faulty intelligence. Shock and awe never unfolded as the tour de force of the administration’s imagination and the war that was to spark an Arab spring, with Iraqis seizing the opportunity to embrace their Jeffersonian future, was an abject failure. It plodded on for a decade until the American public had had enough. Looking back, it is apparent that the opening days of the Iraq war marked a seminal moment in American military power and foreign policy reality, but one that we have yet to discuss, to debate and to learn from as a nation.
This became vividly apparent when ISIS beheaded its first victim, an act to which many had the same immediate and visceral reaction: We should nuke them. A decade earlier, I watched the utterly barbaric video of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi beheading Nicholas Berg, and now, as then, a video of a beheading garners a response unlike any other form of intentional brutality.
Nuke them. Using nuclear weapons would of course be inconceivable. But the visceral response to the ISIS acts encapsulated the larger problem that we now face: We are unwilling to use the military capabilities that we have, and our adversaries understand this. And worse, in not using the capability at our command, we are rendered impotent, unable to respond with means at our command to those who show no such restraint.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have been challenged by what it means to be the dominant superpower in the world. We have deployed military assets around the world, with a specific focus on key regions. We have surrounded the Russian landmass with military assets and a coordinated defense alliance through NATO. We have built a network of bases along China’s coastline from the Sea of Japan to the South China Sea. We have a network of military assets surrounding Iran. We have a network of bases in place to defend our interests in the Middle East. And we have aircraft carrier battle groups deployable across the world.
The doctrine of shock and awe–a metaphor for our ability to subdue conflicts through intimidation before they turn into full fledged wars that has been essential to our notion of military power in the world–died in Iraq. Perhaps the limits to what we were willing to do in war were first manifest in Vietnam. And perhaps it was what Ronald Reagan realized when he considered his choices in the aftermath of the bombing of the military barracks in Beirut in 1983 and chose to pull out.
But in the wake of Iraq, Americans now know instinctively that, whether for moral, financial or practical reasons, we are not willing to use the military capability that we have so carefully built for so many years. We are no longer interested in pursuing military action as a solution to each new conflict that the world turns to us to solve, but having built our credibility around our military power, we have neither the capability nor the respect for alternative paths to conflict resolution. While for domestic political reasons we have been unable to have a serious national discussion about this new underlying reality, our increasing disinclination to use the military capability that constitutes so much of our identity in the world has become inherently destabilizing.
Vladimir Putin understands this. He understands that he has great latitude to pursue Russia’s strategic interests in Ukraine before he will risk seeing any American military response. Xi Jingping understands this as well. He understands that China has great latitude to impose its will and territorial ambitions in the South China Sea before America will consider any serious military response.
And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s protege, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, understands that if the world is going to wait for a committed American response to the ISIS threat in the Middle East, the world is going to have to wait a while. Baghdadi, like Putin and Xi, understands that shock and awe is only a meaningful doctrine if it is backed up by the commitment to use military force–real force, even disproportionate force, the force that makes one a superpower–on the ground.
If war is politics by other means, and we have effectively taken the use of our full military capacity off the table, it is time that we have a real discussion about the implications of this for our foreign policy and how we engage in the world. So far, Congress has been willing to seriously engage the question of where we go from here, which the Senate made clear when it refused to hold a debate on launching military strikes against ISIS.
The cornerstone of American foreign policy since the end of the Second World War has been the deployment and implicit threat of disproportionate military capacity. But now the veil has been lifted and the world knows that the days of shock and awe are behind us. In our political discourse we continue to posture as though nothing has changed. But we are only fooling ourselves, our adversaries have already figured it out.
David Paul is the President of the Fiscal Strategies Group
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani listens during a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the United Nations Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014, on the sidelines of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly. (AP Photo/Jewel Samad, Pool)
By Victor Morton
The Washington Times
In another example of the White House bypassing Congress to avoid a vote it would lose, the Obama administration will not to seek congressional approval to suspend sanctions against Iran if a deal on the Islamic republic’s nuclear program can be reached, The New York Times reported Sunday night.
According to the report by David Sanger, citing American and Iranian officials, Iran has agreed in principle that a “suspension” of sanctions would be enough for them to take away from the negotiating table.
“But Mr. Obama cannot permanently terminate those sanctions. Only Congress can take that step. And even if Democrats held on to the Senate next month, Mr. Obama’s advisers have concluded they would probably lose such a vote,” The Times wrote.
The difference between a temporary suspension and an outright revocation can keep attorneys up at nights, but there is no immediate-term difference and the Obama administration plans to use that to its advantage.
“We wouldn’t seek congressional legislation in any comprehensive agreement for years,” one senior official told The New York Times.
A deal with Iran probably would not be a formal treaty and thus would not constitutionally require the Senate’s approval, but lawmakers of both parties say that doesn’t matter — they don’t want the administration undermining sanctions Congress has duly passed.
“Congress will not permit the president to unilaterally unravel Iran sanctions that passed the Senate in a 99-0 vote,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican.
Indeed, Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sponsored legislation that would impose further sanctions on Iran if a nuclear deal isn’t inked by the Nov. 24 deadline set by the negotiating countries — Iran, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, representing the European Union.
“If a potential deal does not substantially and effectively dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program, I expect Congress will respond. An agreement cannot allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear state,” he told The Times over the weekend.
The talks are still haggling over such issues as the scope of international inspections and details of the nuclear-related facilities Iran will continue to have.
Iran also wants broader relief from United Nations sanctions that, for example, bar it from importing dual-use equipment.
JERUSALEM — Israel is deeply concerned about the trajectory of the ongoing negotiations concerning Iran’s nuclear program. The talks are moving in the wrong direction, especially on the core issue of uranium enrichment.
Although Iran has modified its tone recently, there have hardly been any changes of substance since the soft-spoken president, Hassan Rouhani, took over the reins from his aggressive predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Neither administration has budged from the insistence that Iran should retain most of the 9,400 operational centrifuges it deploys to enrich uranium, as well as its nearly completed nuclear reactor in Arak, which could produce plutonium in the future.
Iran has softened its inflammatory anti-Western rhetoric and shown some flexibility on less important issues but we must not be duped by these gestures. President Obama must stand by his declaration that no deal with Iran is better than a bad deal.