Why Negotiations With the Taliban Aren’t Hopeless
October 10, 2011
Are Afghan negotiations hopeless? In the wake of last month’s assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the head of the country’s High Peace Council, the mood in both Afghanistan and the United States is pessimistic, to say the least. But negotiations are still possible, and understanding why that’s the case, as well as the difficulties of succeeding, requires understanding the history of similar negotiations, quieting Afghan suspicions, and abandoning myths that cloud public discussion. Saying negotiations are possible is a long way from saying that they will necessarily succeed.
September 28, 2011
In the good old days, they were called “the cardinals,” because the chairmen of the appropriations committee were so powerful. An insular group, they met behind closed doors, and, without wasting their time with input from anyone, they decided how the government should spend precious tax dollars. The most legendary example of the appropriator’s might is Charlie Wilson, the Texas representative who launched a covert war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, simply through canny use of the power of the purse. How times have changed.
The Indecency of Harvard’s 9/11 Commemoration
September 13, 2011
Harvard’s “Remembering 9/11” did no such thing. The events on the tenth anniversary of September 11 in Cambridge did little remembering of 9/11 and a whole lot of rehashing of the events in the post-9/11 world. Those people who did talk about 9/11 universalized it ad absurdum.
Why Is the Middle East Still in Thrall to 9/11 Conspiracy Theories?
September 03, 2011
The 9/11 attacks catalyzed a tremendous shift in American foreign policy in the Middle East. Rather than prioritizing petrol, Washington targeted terrorist organizations, dethroned a dictator, and lobbied throughout the region for liberalization. Yet despite the billions of dollars spent policing Baghdad and protecting Benghazi, the unpopularity of the United States in the Arab world continues to be fueled by the belief that Islamist terrorists had nothing to do with 9/11, with many claiming the attacks were an American, Israeli, or joint American-Israeli conspiracy.
What the U.N. Can Do to Stop Getting Attacked by Terrorists
September 02, 2011
For years, the United Nations has taken pains to present itself to the world as an impartial, international institution dedicated to helping people around the world. But when the Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram detonated a car bomb at the UN’s compound in Abuja, Nigeria, last Friday, killing 23 and wounding at least 75, it was a stark reminder that, no matter how hard the UN tries to be neutral, many, especially in the Muslim world, see it as a proxy of Western powers. Indeed, for many groups bent on wrecking havoc, the UN has become synonymous with the United States.
Our Brave Ambassador to Damascus Puts Congress to Shame
August 31, 2011
While much of Washington was spending this past summer loudly conspiring to lower the country’s credit rating, one American official, in a far-off city, was offering a profoundly contrasting example of quiet professionalism. Robert Ford, America’s ambassador to Syria, has shown bravery, tact, and creativity in finding ways to bear witness to the protests and massacres occurring in that country over the course of this year.
What the Libyan Rebels Need to Do Now That They’re in Charge
August 30, 2011
In the wake of Qaddafi’s overthrow, two major questions now present themselves: What are the odds that the NTC leaders will actually succeed at what they appear to be attempting—a revolution of restraint and moderation? And what, if any, broader lessons about foreign policy can we draw from the Libyan revolution? To date, the National Transitional Council in Libya has defied conventional expectations about how a rebel movement should behave.
Threading through the history of the United States is a long line of reviled newcomers. In the 1850s, Irish and German Catholics were vilified by the Know Nothing movement. In the 1890s, Italians were subjected to frequent lynchings. Jews of the 1930s were excoriated by Father Charles Coughlin, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Ku Klux Klan. In the years following September 11, America’s 2.6 million Muslims have often found themselves facing similar kinds of hostility.
My 18 Year Odyssey on the Trail of Osama bin Laden
August 24, 2011
I have covered the story of violent jihadism for the past 18 years, and, more than anything else, it has been a slow process of discovery. Looking back, it seems clear to me that, at any given moment in the story, there was always so much we didn’t know. Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 in Pakistan, although it wasn’t until 2002—when the minutes of the group’s first meetings were discovered by chance in the offices of an Islamist organization in Sarajevo—that the facts surrounding its origins were well-understood.
With Libyan rebels storming the city of Tripoli and the Qaddafi regime almost certain to fall, conversation has turned quickly to the question of what sort of government is likely to spring up in its stead. As our experience watching governments in East-Central Europe and the former Soviet Union transition from communism (both to democracy and autocracy) should tell us, the range of possible outcomes for the country is neither uniform nor inevitable. Indeed, the chances that Libya will make a successful democratic transition depend upon a number of discrete variables.