World

Zero Dark Thirty's Morality Brigade

Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden movie doesn't endorse torture. 

(Rex Features via AP Images)
(AP Photo/Sony - Columbia Pictures) Z ero Dark Thirty doesn't even come out until next week, but Kathryn Bigelow's much-hailed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is already provoking outrage in some quarters for allegedly "glorifying"—OK, sometimes it's "celebrating"—torture. As all too bloody usual, the loudest howls are coming from people who haven't actually seen ZD30 , some of whom—yes, Andrew Sullivan, I mean you —really ought to know better. Ginning up controversies about movies without bothering to watch them first is really more Bill Donohue and the Catholic League's sort of thing, and does Sullivan want to be in that company? Since plenty of other folks apparently do, I hope you won't mind two cents from a lowly movie critic who admires the hell out of Zero Dark Thirty and isn't exactly big on vindicating Dick Cheney's world-view. There are really two separate arguments here, and people shouldn't confuse the two—though they already have. One is about factual accuracy,...

Labour’s Rise

The leader of the British Labour Party emerges as a true political leader

(Press Association via AP Images)
On that emotionally charged day in Manchester in late September 2010 when Ed Miliband narrowly beat his brother David to become the new leader of the British Labor Party—largely thanks to trade union votes, Conservatives rejoiced. The younger Miliband, they thought, was too woolly and too left-wing to lead a Labor resurgence; they considered David a much tougher opponent. In opposition since May 2010, after 13 years in government, Labor faced a twin struggle: to convince voters to take them seriously as stewards of the economy again and to make their new leader, only 40 and with relatively thin ministerial experience at the time of his election, plausible as the country’s next prime minister. It has not been an easy ride. Despite the fact that the Tories imposed harsh austerity measures with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, their systematic campaign of blaming the economic mess on Labor’s mismanagement paid off for a while. People were unhappy about the cuts, but they didn’t...

How to Make Allies and Influence Syria

The fall of the Assad regime looks inevitable. The United States and NATO must step in to ensure a peaceful transition.

(AP Photo/Narciso Contreras)
(AP Photo/Hussein Malla) A Lebanese army soldier, stands on top of a tank during clashes that erupted between pro and anti-Syrian regime gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, Lebanon, Wednesday December 5, 2012. Gunmen loyal to opposite sides in neighboring Syria's civil war battled in the streets of northern Lebanon and the death toll from two days of fighting was at least five killed and tens wounded, officials said. The fighting comes at a time of deep uncertainty in Syria, with rebels closing in on President Bashar Assad's seat of power in Damascus. F or months, world leaders and the media have underestimated the strength of the insurgency in Syria. Now, with Bashar al Assad’s regime disintegrating, the international community must come to terms with the impending rebel victory. It is hard to pigeonhole courses of action into "left" or "right" on this issue, and there are no risk-free options, but the United States needs to play a more decisive role in shaping the future of...

Netanyahu: New Look, More Radical Taste

Come the January 22 Israeli elections, the current prime minister will almost certainly keep his title, but with a sharp turn to the far right. 

(AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) I f you haven't seen Moshe Feiglin's satisfied smile or Ze'ev Elkin's scowl in news coverage of Israel over the past week, you have evidence that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be grateful for the U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood: It has diverted attention from his Likud Party's choice of far-right candidates for parliament. Israel goes to the polls on January 22. Conventional wisdom is that the election can bring no change: Netanyahu will stay on for another term as prime minister, heading a coalition of the right. This is an illusion, or at least a distortion. Barring a miracle—a world-class gaffe or scandal, a public threat from the Obama administration to reevaluate relations with Israel, a preternatural move by the parties of the left and center to unite—the next prime minister will indeed be Netanyahu. But not the soft cuddly Netanyahu of the past. His party will have much more clearly crossed the line from conservative to radical right...

Why Are Chemical Weapons Different?

Mustard gas artillery shells in storage at a U.S. government facility in Pueblo, Colorado.
The civil war in Syria came back into the news the other day, when our government warned Bashar al-Assad that should he use chemical weapons against rebels and the population that surrounds them, he will have crossed a "red line." The consequences of the red-line-crossing were left unspoken. Perhaps military action on the rebels' side? An indictment in the International Criminal Court? We don't know, but it'll be bad. Dominic Tierney beat me to it , but this news raised something I've found troubling for a long time. If you order your own civilian population to be shot, burned to death, or cut to pieces with shrapnel, the international community will be very displeased. But if you order that population to be killed by means of poison gas, then that's much, much worse. But seldom do we ask why. So what is it that makes chemical weapons more morally abhorrent than guns or bombs? We often lump chemical weapons in with biological and nuclear weapons as "weapons of mass destruction," but...

Taking Opposite Tacks on Iran and Syria

Viewed from the region, talk of war takes on a different hue.

(AP Photo/Idlib News Network ENN)
Syrian rebels stand next to weapons that were captured from the 46th Regiment base—a major pillar of the government's force—near the northern city of Aleppo, Syria. Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 F rom the Gulf metropolis of Dubai, Iran is barely 90 miles across the water, less than the driving distance from New York to Philadelphia. On a clear day, the country’s coastline can be seen from the city’s skyscrapers; at night, diners in the city’s highest restaurant can look out across the Persian Gulf and see lights on the Iranian side. Ties of family, friendship, and business connect Iran with its Arab neighbors, but that proximity also focuses the minds of Arab leaders on the consequences of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon. Even now, Iran is often unnecessarily provocative: At the start of this year, it threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow strip of water between the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai is the largest city, and Iran, through which millions of barrels of oil are shipped...

The Gaza Cease-Fire: A Beginning, Not an End

Last week's successful negotiations will be a failure of leadership if they do not pave the way for an end to the occupation.

(Sipa via AP Images)
(Sipa via AP Images) A Palestinian girl is seen cleaning off debris from a chalkboard inside Al Shejaia school in Gaza City. The school was damaged when Israeli forces targeted a building next to it with an airstrike. T he political landscape of the Middle East has changed drastically over the past two years, but the successful negotiation of a cease-fire last week should have demonstrated that the support and active engagement of the United States is still essential if, in Secretary Hilary Clinton’s words, a “durable solution” is to be found. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has once again reasserted itself on the international agenda, it’s important to step back a bit and reaffirm that a durable solution not just to the current violence but to the conflict itself remains a key U.S. national-security interest. In the week leading up to Israel’s offensive, most of Washington had been consumed by the news of retired General David Petraeus’s resignation as CIA director because of the...

Deterrence Can't Replace Diplomacy

Israel's offensive shows the limits of military intervention.

(Rex Features via AP Images)
(Rex Features via AP Images) Smoke rises after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza strip. The combined death toll in six days of airstrikes and rocket attacks has climbed to nearly 100. A s I write, and pray for a ceasefire, rockets continue to swarm out of Gaza; Israeli planes continue flock to strike the Hamas-ruled enclave. This has been an unequal battle in at least two ways. The rockets are indeed a form of terrorism, tired as that word is: The men firing them want to kill random people for a political purpose. Only the technological wizardry of the Iron Dome anti-missile system has kept Israeli casualties low. Israeli pilots, in contrast, aim smart bombs at military targets. But if a bomb is misaimed or the target is inside a crowded neighborhood, the blast is stupid; it kills children as easily as Hamas fighters. Thus the toll rises among people whose only offense is living in Gaza. So for Israel, there has been a rising moral and a strategic cost, even if the...

Obama's Next Move in the Middle East

There are lots of possible courses of action that the president could take in his response to the fighting in Gaza, but which is the best?

(AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
The fighting in Gaza over the past week tees up some difficult choices for the Obama administration. But not the choices you might think. The pundit-verse wants to argue—as it always does—about who is at fault, whose civilians are more innocent, whose targeting is more wicked. This is tapped-out domestic politics, and it is tiresome. More to the point, it does not help ; it encourages a short-term, tunnel-vision response that will wind up back in the same place—which is to say more deaths, more escalation, another Cast Lead, and loss of credibility and ability to make tough decisions stick. Yes, the administration must push hard, and help Egypt push Hamas hard, for a cease-fire. And no, no administration would choose this moment, in the middle of the Israeli election campaign and with Hamas rocket fire escalating in recent weeks, to “get tough” on Israel. Those are the easy choices, like them or not. The hard choices involve settling on a unified theory of what our core interests in...

Israel's Airstrike Gamble

What—beyond temporarily reducing militants' long-range rocket capabilities—does the country hope to achieve by launching attacks in the Gaza Strip?

(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
(AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed) Hamas supporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah carry obituary posters of Hamas mastermind Ahmed Jabari as they march in support of the people of the Gaza Strip. On the third day of a military operation prompted by a rocket attack just south of Tel Aviv, Israel targeted dozens of sites it said Gaza gunmen were using to fire rockets. The Israeli offensive has not deterred the militants from firing more than 400 rockets aimed at southern Israel since Wednesday, the military said. T he rocket that landed in the Mediterranean Sea south of Tel Aviv yesterday represents yet another troubling escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not since the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles fell on the city, has Tel Aviv come under similar missile attack. There are reports of more rockets fired at Tel Aviv this morning, and the world waits to see whether the 16,000 Israeli reservists called up today means a ground invasion of Gaza similar to 2008-...

Greece's Very Real Fiscal Cliff

The tired country's parliament continues to enact austerity measures to ensure Eurozone financial help keeps flowing, to the anger of many affected parties.

(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Last Wednesday night, I sat in the press stalls inside the main hall of Greece’s parliament watching a critical bill being debated. While Americans were still distracted by the results of their own election, Greece’s ruling coalition, made up of three parties that straddle the center, was struggling to pass new cuts and reforms necessary for continued financial help for the debt-ridden country. As the measure was attacked by deputies from SYRIZA, the hard-left official opposition, and the populist-right Independent Greeks, I heard yelling and commotion from inside the parliament building. My first thought was that the tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered outside in the pouring rain had broken through the lines of police and made it into the building. The reality was even worse. The screaming came from the employees of parliament, a notoriously well-connected and privileged enclave of the public sector, who had learned they were going to be included in stricter pay and...

Liberté, Égalité, Homosexualité

When it comes to marriage equality, the French are surprisingly behind the times.

(Flickr/Guillaume Paumier)
(Flickr/Guillaume Paumier) A gay pride march in Toulouse, France. The placard quotes Brigitte Barèges, a member of the French National Assembly who sparked controversy for her comments on same-sex marriage: "Why not let people get married to animals too?" F rance exists in the American imagination mostly in caricatured form. On matters of sex, in particular, the French are thought of as being ahead of the curve, transcending the bounds of traditional morality—a perception shared by American progressives, who admire them for being liberated, and by conservatives, who consider them amoral libertines. It may therefore come as a surprise that on matters of gay marriage and the full legal recognition of gay couples, France has lagged behind both the United States, where nine states recognize same-sex marriage, and a number of other European countries. But this is about to change: A few days ago, the French cabinet approved a draft bill on the legalization of gay marriage and adoption in...

Romney's Continent-Crossing Coattails

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
(AP PHOTO/Nati Harnik) Israeli Prime Minister-elect Benjamin Netanyahu, left, glances at Prime Minister Shimon Peres during a ceremony at the Knesset in Jerusalem Monday, June 17 1996. Netanyahu is expected to present his new government to the Knesset Monday, and reportedly is shaping a cabinet which will exclude or sideline his rivals in the right-wing Likud party. S himon Peres, just 89 years young, is under pressure "from politicians and ex-generals" to run again for prime minister of Israel against Benjamin Netanyahu, or so say unsourced news reports. Peres, in politics since the time of King David or at least of FDR, denies he'll give up his ceremonial post as Israel's president for another run. Ex-prime minister Ehud Olmert, according to other unreliable reports, awaits the outcome of the U.S. election before deciding whether he'll return to politics in a bid to unite Israel's fragmented center and left and save the country from Netanyahu. As the American campaign heads toward a...

Peeking In on Canada's Election

AlexSBurton Last year, Canada's Liberals—the party of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, the party that held power for most of the 20th century—suffered a crushing electoral defeat. Its representation in the House of Commons was cut by more than half, and for the first time in its history, the Liberal Party fell to third place in the number of seats, behind Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives and the more leftist New Democratic Party (NDP). Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff immediately announced that he would step down, triggering a leadership campaign that officially begins this November. The early favorite is Trudeau's son Justin, but a number of other candidates have entered the race. We interviewed one of them, Alex Burton, a prosecutor and party activist from Vancouver, about his campaign to lead the Liberals, the differences between American and Canadian politics, and his views on his neighbors to the south. This year, Mitt Romney spent $233 million during the Republican...

Mitt Romney, Language Cop

Mitt Romney, saying things.
There were a number of strange moments in last night's debate, the most substantively meaningful of which was almost certainly Mitt Romney's declaration that "when I’m president, we'll make sure we bring our troops out [of Afghanistan] by the end of 2014." For the last year, Romney has been criticizing Barack Obama for having precisely this position, saying that we can't tell the enemy when we're leaving and our departure has to be determined by events on the ground. In the foreign policy version of Moderate Mitt, that apparently is no longer operative. But the oddest thing Romney said had to be this: "I'd make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it." As I've observed before , Romney's critique of Obama on foreign policy has always been primarily linguistic. He takes issue not with what the President has done, but what he has said. He apologizes for America! He didn't use the word "terror"! He...

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