06/22/13: Foreign Policy reports defense budgets peaked in FY 2010, including war funding, and have been down about 10 percent in constant dollars. Factor in the budget sequester for this year, which looks like it will hang on through the rest of the fiscal year and the defense budget will have fallen 24 percent in constant dollars from their height. The future does not look different. If the sequester remains, one can expect another roughly $500 billion to disappear from projected defense budgets over the next nine years. Sales had declined a bit even before sequestration set in, but profit margins are holding strong for the big guys -- Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, L3. The US defense industry has products it urgently wants to sell overseas. Lockheed hopes its F-35 will have a big export market. For Lockheed and the USaerospace industry, F-35 international sales are critical; this is the only fifth-generation fighter on the international market. If it sells, it would guarantee a leading position for US firms in the international fighter market for years to come. Fighters aren't the only market US companies are leaving the country for. Lockheed anticipates 150-200 overseas sales of its workhorse C-130J transport plane. The competition is heating up for shorter-haul aircraft as well. Boeing and Embraer announced that they are marketing the Brazilian KC-390 competitor in Europe and the Middle East. And EADS/Airbus is still hoping for global sales of its long-awaited A300M. As the belt tightens at home, the sales effort is expanding abroad for everyone. Even with defense budgets shrinking in the US and Europe, the increasingly sexy drone market is another prime export target. General Atomics, maker of the Predator and Reaper drones is heading into Europe.
05/01/13: The Hill reports President Obama further blurred the “red line” he has imposed against Syria over chemical weapons on Tuesday, declining to lay out specific consequences if the line is crossed but reiterated that it would be a “game changer” for the entire international community. Asked about possible US military action if it’s confirmed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, Obama said only that the administration would “rethink the range of options” available. As the President sounded a cautious tone, however, there were reports Tuesday afternoon that he might be planning to take new steps, including that Obama is now ready to provide arms to the opposition, although he had not made a final decision. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to confirm or deny that report. Obama also spoke by phone Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strong supporter of Assad, about the chemical weapons allegations.
04/15/13: The New York Times has this piece discussing the uncertain future in Palestine after Saturday’s resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad, the internationally respected Palestinian politician and economist, is widely credited with ending the chaos in the West Bank and putting things in order in his six years in office. But his resignation over the weekend, the result of internal power struggles, has left the Palestinian Authority suspended in political ambiguity and confusion. By accepting Fayyad’s resignation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has put himself in a political bind just as the Obama Administration has been trying to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, because the vacuum created by Fayyad’s resignation presents an opportunity for renewed reconciliation efforts between Abbas’ Fatah party and its bitter rival Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. Healing the rift would be a popular course of action among Palestinians, but it could complicate peace efforts and cause some Western donor nations to consider withholding much-needed funds, fearing that they could be used by Hamas. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union, and it seeks the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state.
04/01/13: The Miami Herald reports optimistic lawmakers on Sunday cautioned they had not finished work on an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. The AFL-CIO and the pro-business US Chamber of Commerce reached a deal late Friday that would allow tens of thousands of low-skilled workers into the country to fill jobs in construction, restaurants, and hotels, but lawmakers from both parties conceded negotiations are not finished. The agreement hasn’t taken the form of a bill and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the “Gang of Eight” Senators searching for a compromise haven’t met about the potential breakthrough. “There are a few details yet. But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves that has to be drafted,” Graham said. Still, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a favorite of the Republican right-wing who functions the group’s emissary to hardcore conservatives, warned he was not ready to lend his name and political clout to a deal. Rubio called the agreement a starting point but pointed out ninety-two Senators from forty-three States haven’t yet been involved in the process.
04/01/13: The Onion reports that while performing his duties as Supreme Leader of North Korea Monday, Kim Jong-un reportedly heard a small voice in the back of his mind telling him that his actions over the last six months have been very strange and wrong. Sources confirmed that the tiny voice, which spoke to Kim at various points throughout the day, quietly suggested that the four-star military general and Worker Party’s secretary is a weird person with out-of-whack priorities who acts in a way that makes little sense to anyone. “You are a very odd man who does things that are bizarre and indicative of a mentally ill person,” the little voice reportedly said following a speech in which Kim issued apocalyptic threats to enemies in the West and predicted the destruction of America. “The things you say on a daily basis are not only extremely creepy and off-putting, but they are also very wrong. You should probably not be the leader of a country.”
UPDATE: April Fool.
04/01/13: The New York Times has a piece discussing the arduous task facing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in managing the US military budget. As President Obama – who has placed some of the military’s long-favored weapons programs in his sights – continues to negotiate with Congress over a spending and revenue deal, the Pentagon is bracing for a protracted period in which they may have to manage even larger budget reductions than anticipated. “There will be changes, some significant changes,” Secretary Hagel warned at a news conference last week, and he is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week. Already, Hagel has directed General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to conduct a sweeping “Strategic Choices and Management Review” due by the end of May. Their challenge is to trim the Pentagon while also assuring that the military continues to attract high-quality personnel and can maintain American and allied security around the world.
03/25/13: The Miami Herald reports that after two major breakthroughs in less than a week – an accord to end a three-year squabble with Israel and a landmark step by a jailed Kurdish leader to settle a 30-year insurgency – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s star appears to be rising, and with it, the country’s role as a major regional power. Erdogan seemed matter-of-fact and serious on Saturday as he voiced hope that the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation that President Barack Obama brokered on Friday might even help resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute. Israel, for the first time in memory, formally apologized for a military operation and promised compensation to families of eight Turks and one Turkish-American killed in the attack on a ship bringing supplies to civilians in Gaza in July 2010 that ran Israel’s blockade.
03/24/13: Lawfare has this post by Jack Goldsmith discussing a report that the CIA is expanding its role in the campaign against the Syrian regime by feeding intelligence to select rebel fighters to use against government forces. The point of the CIA aid is to stem the rise of Islamist extremists in Syria by aiding secular forces and in particular to blunt the influence of the extremist al Nusra Front, the main al-Qaeda-linked group operating in Syria. Goldsmith highlights the fact that, according to US officials, al-Nusra is deepening its ties to al-Qaeda’s central leadership in Pakistan. The ties to al-Qaeda’s central operations have become so significant that officials are debating whether al Nusra should now be considered its own al-Qaeda affiliate instead of an offshoot of al-Qaeda in Iraq, as it has generally been viewed within the US government. Goldsmith points out that, if the former view is taken, the authority the President has to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) would now extend, for the first time, to Syria.
03/11/13: SCOTUSBlog reports the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday afternoon asked lawyers for a foreign national convicted of war crimes at Guantánamo Bay to answer the Obama Administration’s plea for a new look by that court at the powers of the military commissions to try terrorist suspects. The order does not assure that the court will pursue that issue further, but at least it raises the prospect that it could, as a prelude to a likely Supreme Court appeal. On Tuesday, the Administration asked for en banc review the validity of the convictions of Yemeni national Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al Bahlul. At the center of the controversy is a ruling by the court last October in a different case that military commissions cannot try offenses that took place before they were designated as war crimes by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The DC Circuit held the Act didn’t reach such offenses, concluding that otherwise a serious issue would arise under the Constitution’s Ex Post Facto Clause. The government counters the offenses previously existed and were simply codified by Congress, and has asked the DC Circuit en banc to revisit its previous ruling. In 2006, four members of the Supreme Court held in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that the crime at issue - conspiracy - was not an internationally accepted war crime, but there was no majority holding on the issue.
03/11/13: The Associated Press reports the US Government, led by the Pentagon and CIA, censored files that the public requested last year under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) more often than at any time since President Barack Obama took office. Overall, the Obama Administration last year answered its highest number of FOIA requests so far, and it slightly reduced its backlog of requests from previous years. But it more often cited legal provisions allowing the government to keep records or parts of its records secret, especially the state secrets privilege. Still, the AP’s analysis showed government released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought at about the same rate as the previous three years.
03/11/13: The New York Times reports a new sense of vulnerability created by recent aggressive talk from the North is causing some influential South Koreans to break a decades-old taboo by openly calling for Seoul to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a move that would raise the stakes in what is already one of the world’s most militarized regions. While few in the South think this will happen anytime soon, two recent opinion polls show that two-thirds of South Koreans support the idea posed by a small but growing number of politicians and columnists. In recent weeks, Pyongyang has approached a crucial threshold with its weapons programs, followed by a barrage of apocalyptic threats to rain “preemptive nuclear strikes” and “final destruction” on Seoul.
03/10/13: The New York Times has this in-depth piece reporting on the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen and al-Qaeda cleric who was killed by a CIA drone strike in Yemen in September 2011. The account of what led to the Awlaki strike fills in new details of the legal, intelligence and military challenges faced by the Obama administration in what proved to be a landmark episode in American history and law. The strike that killed Awlaki — a terrorist leader whose death lawyers in the Obama Administration believed to be justifiable — also killed Samir Khan, though officials had judged he was not a significant enough threat to warrant being specifically targeted. The next month, another drone strike mistakenly killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, who had set off into the Yemeni desert in search of his father. Within just two weeks, the American government had killed three of its own citizens in Yemen. Only one had been killed on purpose.
03/04/13: The Washington Post has this story about Jim Scott, the son of the late journalist Paul Scott, who is involved in a dispute with the CIA over the Agency’s spying on his father in the 1960’s. In 2007 the CIA declassified a trove of documents popularly called “the family jewels,” which revealed the Agency’s unlawful surveillance of the Scott home in an operation code-named “Project Mockingbird.” For the past five years, Jim has sought to declassify and make public any documents Langley might still have on his father and why he was wiretapped. So far, the CIA has released to Jim a handful of intriguing documents, but Jim has been trying to compel the agency to cough up more. A federal declassification review panel is reviewing Jim’s case. Paul Scott died in 2001.
02/10/13: The New York Times reports a proposal is gaining steam that would require court approval before targeting American citizens overseas for lethal force. The idea is to apply the model exemplified by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – created by Congress so that surveillance had to be justified to a federal judge – to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least of American suspects. A drone court would face constitutional, political and practical obstacles, and might well prove unworkable, according to several legal scholars and terrorism experts. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, al-Qaeda fragmenting into hard-to-read offshoots, and the 2001 terrorist attacks receding into the past, they said, it is time to consider how to forge a new, trustworthy and transparent system to govern lethal counterterrorism operations.
02/06/13: The New York Times has this piece discussing yesterday’s big news revealing the “white paper” describing the Obama Administration’s legal justifications for the use of lethal force against American citizens suspected of being unlawful combatants abroad (the paper is here courtesy of NBC News). This piece discusses the Administration’s having kept its arguments secret, and the fact that its disclosure is fueling greater demand for information.
February 06, 2013 at 10:17 AM in Congress, Executive Branch, Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Intelligence, Military, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Politics, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Constitutional Law, Secrecy / Transparency / FOIA, Middle East / Northern Africa, Analysis | Permalink
02/04/13: The New York Times reports a secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a preemptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad. That decision was among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. The rules will be highly classified, like those governing drone strikes. John Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, played a central role in developing the administration’s policies regarding both drones and cyberwarfare, the two newest and most politically sensitive weapons in the American arsenal.
01/27/13: The New York Times today features this piece by Charlie Savage discussing Brigadier General Mark S. Martins, the chief prosecutor of the military commissions system who is leading the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantánamo Bay detainees accused of aiding the September 11 attacks. General Martins is currently involved in a dispute with the Justice Department as to whether to defend a past conviction by those tribunals on a charge of conspiracy after that charge was invalidated by the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a separate case. The dispute involves the thorny question, which has vexed national security law going back to the decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006, as to whether conspiracy to commit a war crime is a standalone offense under the laws of war. On the other hand, Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare argues the dispute between General Martins and DOJ has less to do with substantive questions about the laws of war and as more about tactical legal positions. Both pieces are worth a read.
January 27, 2013 at 11:42 AM in Judiciary / Cases, Executive Branch, Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Military, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Constitutional Law, Detainees / Guantanamo, Terrorist Finance / Material Support, Commentary / Opinion, Analysis | Permalink
11/25/12: The New York Times reports that the Obama Administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that in the event the President lost his bid for reelection, his successor would inherit clear standards and procedures. Despite Obama’s victory, the Administration is still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified. Though publicly the Executive Branch presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the CIA continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, as well as White House counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint.
11/21/12: IntLawGrrls reports the UN Committee against Torture has adopted an authoritative interpretation of the content and scope of the right to redress for victims of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. General Comment No. 3, issued last Friday, is the first interpretive statement by a UN human rights treaty body aimed at clarifying this relatively ambiguous area of international law. It draws from and consolidates decades of the Committee’s jurisprudence on the right to redress, including views that the Committee has articulated in its periodic reviews of states parties and in decisions rendered on individual complaints. The Comment includes the clarification that “the restoration of the dignity of the victim is the ultimate objective in the provision of redress.”
11/21/12: The New York Times reports on the changing dynamics in the uncomfortable relationship between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who all but openly opposed Obama’s reelection in November. After more than a year of Obama needing – and not getting – much support from his Israeli counterpart in his efforts to woo American Jewish voters at home ahead of his reelection, it is now Netanyahu who needs Obama to help shore up his support at home. The Israeli leader is facing an election in January, and if there is one thing that Israeli voters do not like it is any kind of daylight between their Prime Minister and the American President in times of strife.
10/15/12: The New York Times reports most of the arms Saudi Arabia and Qatar are shipping to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are reportedly going to hard-line Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster. That conclusion, of which President Obama and other senior officials are aware from classified assessments of the Syrian conflict that has now claimed more than 25,000 lives, casts into doubt whether the White House’s strategy of minimal and indirect intervention in the Syrian conflict is accomplishing its intended purpose of helping a democratic-minded opposition topple an oppressive government, or is instead sowing the seeds of future insurgencies hostile to the United States.
10/15/12: The Miami Herald reports the US and regional allies are closely monitoring Syria’s chemical weapons – caught in the midst of a raging civil war – but options for securing the toxic agents stuffed into shells, bombs, and missiles are fraught with risk. President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime is believed to have one of the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world. Fears have risen that a cornered Assad might use them or that they could fall into the hands of extremists, whether the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, an Assad ally, or al-Qaeda-inspired militants among the rebels. For now, the main storage and production sites are considered secure. However, some suggest the civil war poses one of the gravest risks of losing control over non-conventional weapons since the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
President Bashar Assad's embattled regime is believed to have one of the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world. Fears have risen that a cornered Assad might use them or that they could fall into the hands of extremists, whether the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, an Assad ally, or al-Qaida-inspired militants among the rebels.
For now, the main storage and production sites are considered secure. However, some suggest the civil war poses one of the gravest risks of losing control over non-conventional weapons since the breakup of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
Syria's suspected arsenal is scattered across a number of locations, mainly in the north and west, where fighting between Assad's forces and rebels seeking to oust him has been heaviest.
"We need to be up front that this is not something very easy to do," Steven Bucci, a former senior Defense Department official, said of attempts to keep the weapons locked up.
The price of military action against the arsenal is prohibitively high, Bucci and others say.
Airstrikes on chemical weapons depots could inadvertently release toxic clouds or expose them to looters. A ground operation would require thousands of troops, and the U.S. administration has pushed back on any suggestion of direct military action in Syria. Pinpoint operations by special forces could easily go wrong.
10/10/12: Haaretz reports Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledged Tuesday that there is “a long way to go” before it would be necessary to take military action against Iran’s nuclear program, but reiterated that he and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were both committed to preventing Tehran from reaching nuclear weapons capabilities. He accused President Barack Obama of being insufficiently committed to stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but failed to point out any substantial differences between President Obama’s policies in that area and the ones he would pursue.
10/01/12: Reuters has this piece by Rebecca Hamilton sketching a quick history of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which is at the center of a case being argued today before the US Supreme Court. The 33-word statute was enacted by the First Congress in 1789 and reads, “The [US] district courts shall have original jurisdiction of any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States.” The question being argued today, in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., is whether, and to what extent, the ATS applies to an incident that takes place in the sovereign territory of a foreign nation. The case also presents the question of corporate liability under the ATS.
09/24/12: The Washington Post’s Fact-Checker blog has this post debunking a current claim that President Obama fails to attend his intelligence briefings. The misleading statistic that Obama has missed half his intelligence briefings has been repeated on television and in the Post itself, but is derived simply from the fact that different Presidents have wanted intelligence briefings in different ways: some have gotten them in writing or through top Cabinet officers, others through face-to-face meetings with intelligence officials. Ultimately, what matters is what a president does with the information he receives from the CIA. Republican critics may find fault with Obama’s handling of foreign policy. But this attack ad turns a question of process—how does the President handle his intelligence brief?—into a misguided attack because Obama has chosen to receive his information in a different manner than his predecessor. As it turns out, no president does it the exact same way. Under the standards of the claim, Republican icon Ronald Reagan skipped his intelligence briefings 99 percent of the time.
08/27/12: The New York Times reports weapons sales by the United States tripled in 2011 to a record high, driven by major arms sales to Persian Gulf allies concerned about Iran’s regional ambitions. A report prepared by the Congressional Research Service said overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals. The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.
08/14/12: CNN reports a Tuesday summit in the Muslim holy city of Mecca will bring together the biggest ally of the Syrian government and its top regional antagonists, with the country’s increasingly bloody civil war topping the agenda. The Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia is among the most prominent countries backing the Syrian opposition, while the Shiite Islamic Republic of Iran across the Persian Gulf casts itself and its allies in Damascus as part of an “Axis of Resistance” to domination of the region by outsiders. Even before the summit began, OIC foreign ministers agreed to suspend Syria from their ranks in a show of support for the Syrian people. The CNN piece does a good job of outlining the stakes for the major players at the conference.
08/14/12: JURIST reports Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a declaration on Sunday that gives his office complete legislative and executive power, abolishing a June declaration that reserved power for the military. The declaration grants President Morsi the power to establish public policy and sign international treaties, and it also allows him to create a new legislature to draft a constitution if the current legislature fails to do so. The post on JURIST also does a good job summarizing the series of constitutional decisions made by Egypt’s President, its military, and the courts that have taken place since Morsi took office.
08/12/12: The Washington Post has an article about the difficulty in tracking perhaps the most difficult portion of or years, government analysts and watchdog groups have been warning about a specific kind of terrorist threat: the “lone wolf” white supremacist. But they have been hampered by the growing decentralization of a movement that increasingly organizes online. They have had to broaden their mission to address the pressing concerns over international terrorism. And they have butted up against a persistent problem: figuring out who among the throngs that espouse their constitutionally protected hate speech will one day take it upon themselves to commit an atrocity. The difficulties came into focus Sunday when Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran with ties to “white power” groups, opened fire in a Wisconsin Sikh temple.
08/11/12: Wired has an interesting piece today discussing the national defense and security background, or lack thereof, of Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who has just been announced as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Like Romney, Ryan is a fairly blank slate when it comes to national security, and his tech-policy record is a mixed one. Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee, which has a say in shaping military spending. But he’s tended to focus more on the budget deficit and domestic policy than national security. Ryan tends to talk about defense policy choices less as a matter of national survival and more in the context of sensible budgetary choices. In the few public pronouncements Ryan’s made about foreign policy, he’s sounded less aggressive than many in his party, but his geopolitical views may be a work in progress.
08/09/12: The Miami Herald has this piece today giving a basic primer on the steep automatic “sequestered” budget cuts in many areas of government, including national defense, that are scheduled to take effect on January 1 if Congress fails to pass legislation reducing the deficit. It gives succinct answers to significant and frequently asked questions, and is invaluable for those not steeped in congressional politics. Some $110 billion in cuts will kick in, hitting defense and domestic programs equally hard unless Congress figures out over the next five months a way to avoid the reductions. But increasingly bitter partisanship and election-year politics make a solution unlikely before the November elections, leaving the issue to a jam-packed lame-duck session of Congress.
08/08/12: JURIST reports President Obama Monday signed the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012, which provides a number of benefits to veterans and also limits the ability to protest at a military funeral. The law requires that protests be at least 300 feet from the funeral and bars protesting within two hours before or after a ceremony. The newly signed law is apparently written in part to prevent protests like those led by Reverend Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who picket military funerals claiming American soldiers have been killed because the US tolerates homosexuals.
The Supreme Court ruled last year in Snyder v. Phelps that Phelps’s activity is protected by the First Amendment, but there was no law against the protests in that case; it was simply a tort suit for intentional infliction of emotional distress brought by the father of a soldier whose funeral was picketed. It’s unclear how that case will affect the validity of this law.
08/07/12: The Council on Foreign Relations features a piece by Ed Husain discussing how invaluable al-Qaeda has been in aiding the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) in their effort to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, FSA battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, bring discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. The unspoken political calculation among Western policymakers appears to be to get rid of Assad first – weakening Iran’s position in the region – and then deal with al-Qaeda later.
08/07/12: The Washington Post has a piece discussing Sunday night’s attack by militants in the Sinai Peninsula and the challenge it will present to new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Cairo on Monday vowed to act swiftly to restore security in north Sinai after the brazen attack near the Israeli border that killed sixteen Egyptian security personnel dealt Morsi a vexing first crisis. The ambush and the gunmen’s attempt to storm across the border Sunday night brought into sharp focus challenges that could define or undo the presidency of the nation’s first Islamist statesman. The assailants are believed to be Islamist extremists who have secured a foothold near the Israeli border as the area has descended into lawlessness in recent years. There has not yet been any claim of responsibility.
08/04/12: The Washington Post reports that despite repeated campaign promises to have perhaps the most transparent White House in history, new evidence suggests that Obama Administration officials have struggled to overturn the long-standing culture of secrecy in Washington. Some of these high-profile transparency measures have stalled, and by some measures the government is keeping more secrets than before. Media organizations and individuals requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act last year were less likely to receive the material than in 2010 at ten of the fifteen Cabinet-level departments. The federal government was more likely last year than in 2010 to use FOIA’s exemptions to refuse information, and the government overall had a bigger backlog of requests at the end of 2011 than at the start.
08/02/12: The New York Times reports FBI agents on a hunt for leakers have interviewed current and former high-level government officials from multiple agencies in recent weeks, casting a distinct chill over press coverage of national security issues as agencies decline routine interview requests and refuse to provide background briefings. The criminal investigation, which has reached into the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and the CIA, appears to be the most sweeping inquiry into intelligence disclosures in years. It coincides with Senate consideration of new legislation, designed to curb intelligence officials’ exchanges with reporters, that intelligence veterans and civil libertarians fear could be counterproductive and may raise constitutional issues.