US-backed Syrian rebels make great al Qaeda partners

Background

– In November 2014, the CIA-trained and armed Harakat Hazm fighters in Syria got into a confrontation with Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in the Syrian Civil War, and basically fled the battlefield, abandoning their U.S.-supplied anti-tank weapons to the extremists.
– By late December 2014, Nusra Front had taken effective control of all major insurgent operations not aligned with ISIS. All “moderate” and “pro-Western” forces essentially joined forces with Syrian al Qaeda or were cut loose from the action.

Latest Development

McClatchy: “U.S.-backed rebels team with Islamists to capture Syrian city”

Rebels, including members of U.S.-backed groups and al Qaida’s Nusra Front, captured the strategic town of Jisr al Shughur in northwest Syria on Saturday, the second major setback for the government of President Bashar Assad in Idlib province in a month.
[…]
The latest rebel victory came surprisingly quickly, apparently aided by U.S.-supplied TOW anti-tank missiles. Islamist groups announced the battle only Wednesday.
[…]
Videos posted on social media showed that U.S.-supplied TOW missiles played a critical role, destroying dozens of government tanks and vehicles. The opposition run Masar News Network reported that rebel forces captured dozens of regime troops as well as three tanks and three other armored vehicles.
[…]
The U.S. in recent months has severed relationships with some moderate rebel groups that had surrendered weapons to Nusra.

Video posted on social media Saturday showed fighters from two major groups that still receive U.S. support, Division 13 and the Sukur al Ghab Brigades, participating in the fighting, including firing TOWs.

 

Bill’s Inner Monologue

“Teamwork!” he cried, sarcastically, as he thought about how great it is to be a taxpaying adult in the U.S. and to have the ‘opportunity’ to covertly fund heavy arms for extremist groups in Southwest Asia, just like his parents got to do in the 1980s. “These are definitely not policy actions that will ripple back negatively later in my lifetime,” he added, cynically predicting the opposite of his words.

Maybe we can finally drop the pretenses that there’s a serious, non-extremist, independent opposition force of any military significance in Syria…

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

Pictured: Destroyed Syrian Army tanks, August 2012, after the Battle of Azaz. (Credit: Christiaan Triebert via Wikipedia)

What exactly is Chris Christie’s view on contract law?

A NJ.com headline caught my eye: “‘Contract’ isn’t a magic word in N.J. pension legal battle, lawyers argue”

A claim by public worker unions that they have a right to full pension funding challenges the core of New Jersey’s constitutional structure, attorneys for the state said in a brief filed Friday.

 
I find odd the silence from Republicans (and everyone else?) as Gov. Chris Christie’s attorneys appear to challenge the fundamental supremacy of the rule of contract law that holds together much of Anglo-American jurisprudence and property law.

I mean, I guess there’s a valid question about whether or not the state can make and be bound by contracts in violation of the constitution, but I’m not really sure the contract in question is in violation of the constitution.

To my untrained eyes at least, they’re making some pretty bizarre constitutional arguments (mostly centered on state balanced-budget requirements and the like) to prove that contention.

In principle, it sounds similar to the arguments being raised (on the issue of constitutional tax caps) by moderate tax reform advocates, about not binding future legislators by decisions of current legislators/voters — except that in Colorado’s case, they’re challenging the validity of certain state constitutional provisions (which took away the legislature’s effective authority to raise taxes at all) under the U.S. Constitution, rather than (as New Jersey is doing) trying to void contracts because they conflict with stringent state constitutional requirements.

Moreover, even if the New Jersey contracts are indeed unconstitutional, issuing bad-faith contracts is a pretty big problem as far as governing strategies go…and also tends to undermine the strength of contract law in the country.

I don’t have much else to add on this topic at the moment, but I’m flagging it now in case it develops into a bigger story later.

“Polarization”

It never ceases to amaze me how many current analyses of “polarization” between the parties in Congress skip over the multiple waves of party-switchers and solid-partisan district flips in the Solid South (and to a less noticeable extent the northeast in the opposite direction) from the late 1960s into the late 1990s.

Instead, the story is framed along the lines of “Oh my, where did this polarization come from? It just magically appeared! Why don’t they work together like they used to!”

Well, it was pretty easy to work across party lines when the Segregationist Pro-Corporate-Welfare Anti-Communist Democrats could vote together with the Ultra-Conservative Anti-Regulation Anti-Communist Republicans, while the liberal Democrats voted with the progressive Republicans.

Chart 2 at this link shows a pretty clear peak in party overlap on votes between the 1965 Civil Rights Act and the formal 1968 launch of the Republican Party’s Southern Strategy in Nixon’s first successful presidential campaign, which started to break and convert the Solid South from the Democrats to the Republicans.

DemocraticSolidSouth_1876-1964

In other words, before then, there was a phase where large sections of each party’s members of Congress actually probably belonged in the opposite party but were grouped for historical and geographical reasons (usually Civil War related) in the “wrong” party…and then that phase came to a crashing halt when Democrat Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and Republican Richard Nixon explicitly appealed to the angry southerners to leave the Democratic Party and join him. Voters and their Congressmen began switching in droves. As the Goldwater-Reagan wing gained control of the Republican Party from 1964 to 1980, in part on the strength of this reactionary influx in the Deep South, they in turn purged the moderate and liberal Republicans who represented the northern Lakes and New England states in the Senate and the northern cities in the House.

To explain shifts in voting behavior in Congress over the past 50 years, we need some way of visualizing ideological grouping distributions, not just separation of party affiliations, which in the past were often arbitrarily based in historic-geographic allegiances until more recently. (There are also geographic allegiances now, but it’s a very different kind.) It’s pretty hard to talk about “polarization” without acknowledging that the ideologies didn’t line up well with the party labels for quite a while in American history.

After all, cousins Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt more or less supported similar agendas as president, despite being from different parties, and they were each both warmly supported and deeply opposed by rival factions within their own parties. Conversely, progressive Governor Thomas E. Dewey and hardline conservative Senator Robert A. Taft both theoretically represented the Republican Party at the same time period but had almost polar opposite ideologies and issue positions.

There are no longer cross-party conservative coalitions and cross-party progressive coalitions in Congress. They have sorted almost entirely into their respective parties. Technically, that by definition means there’s “more” polarization in Congress, but only in a superficial sense. A more serious analysis would have to take into account whether moderate, conservative, and liberal members are voting less frequently together — or at least in combinations of two of the three — than they used to do, regardless of party label.

The bigger thing to worry about is not so much whether the parties have sorted themselves ideologically but how that development changes the role of rules and procedural hurdles in each chamber of Congress (and between chambers). If it’s now harder or easier for one particular ideological coalition to gain control of all power points in Congress by being in one party, instead of two, that changes what kind of proposed legislation makes it through to law.

In particular, I think it’s far more likely now that there will be no ideological overlap between the majority leadership and minority leadership — the people controlling the levers and valves on legislation — because the odds are more in favor of a liberal Democratic leadership facing off against a conservative Republican leadership, instead of liberals controlling both parties at the same time or conservatives controlling both parties at the same time, which was often a feature of mid-20th century Congress.

Hindu nationalist PM not very vocal against Hindu terrorism

A New York-based Indian civil rights activist questions Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “deafening silence on activist assassinations” in an op-ed for Al Jazeera America.

Modi has remained silent about the recent spate of assassinations, attacks and threats from an umbrella of far-right forces, including Sanatana Prabhat, Bajrang Dal, Abhinav Bharat and other paramilitary groups implicated in organized massacres or terrorist bombings. Attacks against Christians and Muslims have increased. Violence against Dalits [untouchables] and women is also on the rise, stoked by a political culture of cruel disregard for the marginalized. This alarming current of far-right fundamentalism has crept into India’s cultural and political spheres more quickly and dangerously than even its critics had feared.
[…]
These religious-right forces have been glorifying Nathuram Godse, Mohandas Gandhi’s killer and an RSS member, and even plan to build a temple in Godse’s name. If allowed to go unchallenged, this hateful ideology — manifested in assassinations, the desecration of churches and the intimidation of secular activists and minorities — will shatter the dream of a free, pluralistic and democratic India.

 
It is, of course, not terribly surprising that this non-response would come from the administration of Prime Minister Modi, whose international claim to fame before taking the helm of India’s government last year was his alleged role in genocidal incitement against Muslims during the February 2002 riots in the state of Gujarat, when he was Chief Minister there. Although investigations in India have never officially tied him to causing the fatal mass violence that followed, he certainly didn’t do much to prevent or stop it. His ruling BJP has long stoked tensions against non-Hindus (and neighboring Pakistan) to drive its voter turnout, although that was not the main factor in their decisive 2014 victory over the corrupt and incompetent Congress Party.

flag-of-india

Break week for the radio show

We’re off this week due to Patriots’ Day and the Boston Marathon, since we record in Massachusetts, so there’s no new episode of the Arsenal For Democracy radio show today. We should be back next week. As usual, we’ll have plenty of new articles here on the website until then.

27 days in, high toll compels Saudis to halt Yemen bombing

Note added April 22, 2015: Less than a day later, Saudi bombing resumed. The naval blockade will continue indefinitely.

27 consecutive days of Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen will come to an end.

Saudi Arabia’s government claims they have met their tactical objectives against the Houthi rebels, and averted their “takeover” of the country, but there’s actually no immediate sign that the Houthis have been dislodged or even substantially set back, let alone defeated. The New York Times reported that Houthi-held territory, from the Saudi border to the capital to the coast, remained entirely intact after the 27 days of bombing.

The bigger reason compelling a halt to the bombing seems to be the very high civilian death toll and infrastructure annihilation from the Arab coalition’s fairly sloppy or lazy targeting. NYT:

The Saudis have come under international pressure because of the bombings, which hit a number of civilian targets, including a camp for displaced Yemenis, in which dozens were killed, and a storehouse of emergency aid administered by Oxfam, the relief agency. Oxfam called that strike “an absolute outrage.”

On Monday, the Saudis struck a target near Sana, the capital, that caused an enormous explosion that left at least 25 people dead, medical officials there said.

 
In isolation, perhaps the Saudi government would not care about that, but the United States applied pressure on the matter:

A senior American official said “there have been discussions” in the past several days among officials from the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi partner in the campaign, about ending the bombing. Asked why, the American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Too much collateral damage.”

 
Anonymous U.S. generals at CENTCOM reportedly say they were given no advanced warning by Saudi Arabia before the start of the operation last month and believed it was “a bad idea.”

This U.S. concern with the high civilian toll is itself because

“A good number of the American arms that have been used in Yemen by the Saudis have been used against civilian populations,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an assertion that Saudi Arabia denies.

 
It is unclear so far whether the Saudi naval embargo will also be lifted, allowing vital food and water aid to be delivered to the starving Yemeni population.

Patriots’ Day 240

Today, in Massachusetts it’s Patriots’ Day, a holiday on which this year we mark 240 years since the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 — depicted with some artistic license in the Capitol frieze currently featured at the top of this website.

For those of you not fortunate enough to be from Massachusetts, that was the day that the great and democratic people of this state decided to liberate the rest of the dithering colonies from Great Britain, over a year before everyone else could be bothered to sign the Declaration of Independence.

You’re all welcome.

Now here’s a photo I took last 4th-of-July Weekend of a cow next to Battle Road in Lexington. This cow is wholly unimpressed by your lack of Massachusetts-centric patriotism today.

Credit: Bill Humphrey for Arsenal For Democracy

Photo Credit: Bill Humphrey for Arsenal For Democracy

Conservatives can hate Massachusetts all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that we shot first at the monarchy.

As a native, I can assure the rest of the country that we definitely haven’t forgotten about any of the early events leading to the Revolution. Massachusetts took a lot of the brunt of the British response before and during the American Revolution. Things like the Third Amendment are mostly about how we really don’t want British troops living for free in our houses in Boston. The American Revolution is a big part of Massachusetts history classes from grade school through high school, and the historical sites are literally all around us.

Contrary to the snide remarks of conservatives in many other states, I think we Bay Staters have a pretty solid handle on what the American Revolution was about and what unreasonable government oppression looks like. Nevertheless, Massachusetts folks by and large seem pretty happy with the progressive agenda they’ve been voting their representation into office to enact. If it were tyranny — or even mildly inconvenient, as in the case of tea taxes passed without legislative representation — we would have noticed by now.

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