Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Kunduz report

The U.S. military's recently released report on the bombing of the Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontières) hospital in Kunduz in October blames human and technical errors.  However, it remains somewhat unclear why the attack continued even after MSF phone calls to Bagram air base reporting that the hospital was being shelled.

By coincidence, I recently ran across a reference to an attack by coalition forces in February 1991 during the Gulf War on an air-raid shelter in Baghdad, killing (according to news accounts at the time) two or three hundred civilians. In that case the U.S. apparently thought the shelter was reserved for Iraqi government leaders; a Human Rights Watch report released after the war argued the U.S. was legally obligated to have warned "the Iraqi civilian population that the facility was no longer considered a protected shelter and provided sufficient time to elapse so that [the] warning could be heeded" (see here - scroll down to the section headed "The Lack of Warning Prior to Attack: The Ameriyya Air Raid Shelter").  Not a precisely comparable situation, but similar inasmuch as misinformation/misidentification apparently played a role. (I'm sure the attack on the Baghdad shelter has been discussed in other places, but I'm not taking the time to research it any further right now.)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Symposium on great-power retrenchment

The current symposium at ISQ Online is about the politics of great-power retrenchment.  The article that is the basis for the discussion has been ungated and can be read (and/or downloaded) here. (I've read neither the symposium nor the article; just passing this along for now.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Republican incoherence

I'm using "incoherence" because it's the politest word I can think of under the circumstances.  Those circumstances being that Jeb Bush has called, albeit vaguely, for ground forces to fight ISIS, and that call has also come from John Kasich (not to mention, needless to say, Lindsey Graham and other Republican presidential candidates, including Trump, although the latter has probably been so vague as to have deniability for anything).

According to an NBC News report of a Kasich speech at the National Press Club:
[he] proposed leading a coalition that includes soldiers fighting on the ground in both Syria and Iraq. He would not indicate a number and said the coalition should not be involved in Syria's civil war.
How soldiers can be on the ground in Syria without being involved in its civil war defies the imagination.  This person is a serious presidential candidate?  Not to mention Trump, Cruz, et al.?  This is a disgrace.

Oh yes, I almost forgot: Kasich also wants a new government agency devoted to spreading "Judeo-Christian values" around the world. (The phrase is in quotes to indicate that these are, from what I gather, Kasich's words.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Landis interview on Syria

From Nov. 9: Joshua Landis interviewed by RT (Russian English-language TV) (h/t).  One point that goes beyond the immediately topical is his argument that there are no state apparatuses in the M.E. separate from the particular regimes that are in control; hence, regime change always means chaos. I might have some further comment on it later. 

ETA: See also, somewhat relatedly, this widely linked piece in The Nation from last month, describing interviews with ISIS fighters being held as prisoners in Iraq.  Interesting on the issue(s) of motivation.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Quote of the day: how culture works

From a post by Timothy Burke about certain campus controversies:
What’s being called appropriation in some of the current activist discourses is how culture works. It’s the engine of cultural history, it’s the driver of human creativity. No culture is a natural, bounded, intrinsic and unchanging thing. A strong prohibition against appropriation is death to every ideal of human community except for a rigidly purified and exclusionary vision of identity and membership.

Even a weak prohibition against appropriation risks constant misapplication and misunderstanding by people who are trying to systematically apply the concept as polite dogma. To see one example of that, look to the New York Times article, which describes at one point a University of Washington advice video that counsels people to avoid wearing a karate costume unless you’re part of the real culture of karate. But karate as an institutional culture of art and sport is already thoroughly appropriated from its origins in Okinawa, and it was in turn an appropriation of sorts from Chinese martial arts–and no martial arts form in the world today is anything even remotely like its antecedents in practice, form or purpose....

What I think many activists mean to forbid is not appropriation but disrespect, not borrowing but hostile mockery. The use of costumes as weapons, as tools of discrimination. But it’s important to say precisely that and no more, and not let the word appropriation stand in for a much more specific situational critique of specific acts of harmful expression and representation.
As they say in the blogosphere, this times 1000.


ETA (11/13): If someone wants to comment about the attacks in Paris, feel free to do so in the thread here. (I'm not going to post separately on it, partly because I don't have much to say beyond the obvious and what can be found elsewhere.)  P.s. I agree with this.