Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Bashar al-Assad

Pence Gave Away Trump’s Biggest Policy Advantage and Kaine Didn’t Even Notice

The Vice Presidential debate last night between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence was a sad affair–Pence was able to “win” the debate without knowing any policy by repeatedly attacking Clinton’s record while only vaguely referencing policy issues. Rather than force Pence to defend his vague policy assertions, Kaine relied on a variety of canned talking points, many of which were personal attacks on Trump that moved the conversation away from the issues (Kaine repeatedly referenced my 5 bad anti-Trump arguments instead of my 5 good ones). This made Kaine look like he was running from policy, allowing Pence’s assertions to go unchallenged and giving Pence command of the room. Pence was able to accuse Kaine of running an insult-driven campaign, and Kaine’s response to that was to petulantly interrupt, get defensive, and resort to more insult-driven talking points, all of which reinforced Pence’s point. There were many claims Pence made that were open to attack, but I want to focus on one in particular today–Pence eliminated the major policy difference between his campaign’s and Kaine’s on Syria, and in so doing he eliminated the foreign policy case for Trump.

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What the Arab Spring Teaches Us About Armed Rebellion

Horrible things have been happening to Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Syria’s largest city. Large parts of the old city has been destroyed, though not for the first time–the city was sacked as recently as 1440 by Tamerlane, a vicious Mongol conqueror who is estimated to have killed 5% of the world’s people. All told, the Syrian Civil War has killed more than 270,000 people, creating more than 4 million refugees and displacing 7.6 million. These high losses have not resulted in any constructive political change in Syria–Bashar al-Assad’s faction remains the strongest in the country. The conflict has made no one better off aside from the Islamic State, which has used the chaos to carve out a slice of territory for itself:

Syria and Iraq 5 May 2016

The Syrian government is red, the Iraqi government is purple, the rebels are green, Islamic State is black, and the Kurds are orange. When the Syrian Civil War started, a lot of people in the west were excited by the possibility of overthrowing the Assad regime and creating a new democracy in the Middle East. Instead we have a bloody power vacuum filled in which the only winners are terrorist organizations. What’s interesting about this is that Syria is not an isolated case–the Arab Spring revolutions that turned violent all went so badly, while those that remained peaceful sometimes achieved meaningful results.

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Hillary Clinton is like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

When I watched the third democratic debate, I was amused and horrified with the way Hillary Clinton defended the decision to intervene in Libya:

…we have to continue to do what is necessary when someone like Gadhafi, a despot with American blood on his hands, is overturned.

This is precisely the same way that George W. Bush continues to defend the Iraq War:

One thing is certain: The Iraqi people, the United States and the world are better off without Saddam Hussein in power

On these accounts, overthrowing dictators is the right decision because dictators are bad, and we should get rid of bad people. This reminds me way too much of the plot of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2Spoilers for that movie follow, if you care about such things.

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The Democratic Party Debate: 5 Reasons Why Sanders Won and Clinton Lost

I watched the first Democratic Party debate, hosted by CNN. CNN also hosted the second Republican Party debate, and in both debates it tried to get the candidates to fight each other on camera for the entertainment of the viewing public, repeatedly asking questions designed to get candidates to criticize or attack one another. In the republican debate, this tactic worked perhaps too well–the debate deteriorated into a series of personal attacks, with little relevant policy content. For that reason, I didn’t bother to write up an analysis of the second republican debate–there was little of substance to analyze. The democratic candidates did a better job of resisting their baser instincts, and we did manage to get some interesting exchanges on serious policy issues, particularly between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. In these exchanges, it was quite clear that Sanders was the winner–his arguments were significantly stronger and more convincing than Clinton’s.

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Leave Iraq to Its Fate

So, once again, the United States has decided to intervene militarily in Iraq. Ostensibly, the Obama administration is intervening for humanitarian reasons–to help a number of Yazidis escape from ISIS, the radical Sunni organization that has seized territory in Syria and Iraq. Yet Obama has also signaled that this intervention will be long-term, which means the goals go far beyond getting these Yazidis out of their immediate jam. The real long-term goal is likely the same goal the United States had in Iraq 10 years ago–a stable, democratic, US-friendly government. Ultimately, this intervention rests on the same fundamental misunderstanding of Iraq with which the Bush administration entered in 2003.

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